What makes bamboo and rattan such valuable non-timber forest products?
Forest-based enterprises, including the harvesting, collection, processing and sale of non-timber forest products such as bamboo and rattan, constitute a major source of income for millions of rural people, particularly land-poor and landless families, in many parts of the world. With careful management and added value, bamboo and rattan can provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for millions of people, especially in rural areas.
Several aspects make bamboo and rattan particularly critical non-timber forest products. Both plants mature fast, to a hard, yet flexible, woody substance, and are harvestable within a small number of years. They are also self-regenerating: once harvested, both plants both grow back, without the need to replant. This means that a well-managed bamboo and rattan area can provide a sustainable, regular source of income within a short time. In addition, both bamboo and rattan can be harvested and processed using simple, handheld tools, without the need for heavy machinery or electric equipment.
Rattan is harvested for its cane, a versatile renewable material. The larger diameter canes are used for making furniture, carpet-beaters and walking sticks while the smaller ones are for baskets, mats, fish traps, tyres, bird cages and coarse wickerwork. Split rattan canes are utilised for the production of finer wickerwork (such as furniture), casings and cords.
Bamboo’s efficient structural design—a strong, hollow tube, with relatively high bending strength and tough outer skin—makes it a very useful plant. Giant woody bamboos, such as Moso and Guadua, are used in the construction of houses, scaffolding and bridges. Smaller bamboos can be treated in a similar way to rattans, to make handicrafts and furniture. Bamboo can also be processed to become a source of biomass energy for cooking, heating and electricity, or as fodder for animals.
In recent decades, industry developments have vastly increased the potential of bamboo and rattan as a renewable, biobased material. Engineered bamboo composite is now being used for flooring, decking, panels and pipes, and bamboo pulp and paper can create recyclable alternatives for single-use plastic or wood products, including cutlery, cups, paper and packaging. And rattan is being trialled for use as a biobased bone replacement material.