Bamboo for Sustainable Development

Bamboo — a highly versatile giant green grass that grows chiefly in the tropics — has recently become known as the ‘wonder plant’ by agronomists and architects. According to INBAR, “Bamboo and rattan can help millions of poor rural and urban producers lift themselves out of poverty and thrive.”

The Association of International Research reports that the international trade of bamboo and rattan products amounted to $2.5 billion in 2013 and is predicted to continue rising. Bamboo provides low-cost green housing and infrastructure, as well as a wide range of biofuels.

Aside from the low cost and maintenance of bamboo, environmentalists have linked the plant to climate change mitigation, which would earn companies increased income through carbon credits, says journalist Zipporah Musau.

This highly productive plant is extremely effective in sequestering carbon, taking in twice as much carbon dioxide as trees and meeting all the necessary criteria for countries’ sustainable development goals.

The bio-energy provided by bamboo opens the gateway for sub-Saharan African homes to use the green grass instead of firewood or charcoal, which promotes the discontinuation of deforestation, land degradation and indoor pollution.

As the population in Africa continues to grow, the massive harvesting of firewood and charcoal will be unable to sustain the continent, thus opening the gateway for bamboo.

INBAR’s general director asserts that “bamboo will be a strong pillar of Africa’s future green economy. It will help reduce poverty and protect the environment, and provide a practical and rapid solution for some of the natural resource and poverty challenges facing many African countries today.”

The wonder plant grows incredibly fast, which makes it easy for farmers to harvest and market the plant. Bamboo can be sold commercially to construct furniture, roofing, fencing, floor tiles, walls, ceiling and many other building materials.

Other uses of bamboo for sustainable development can be found in the paper and pulp industry. Bamboo can be converted into newsprint, toilet paper and cardboard, saving Africa’s forests in the process.

Domestically, bamboo can be used to make baskets, canoes, fishing kits, bicycles, fences, toothpicks, school desks, pencils and rulers, etc.

Bamboo farming has the potential to create thousands of jobs due to intensive labor. Zipporah Musau notes that Bamboo plants are typically planted, maintained and harvested by hand, taking up to eight years to mature. In Ghana, about 1,500 people were employed when a commercial project recently began.

INBAR notes that the challenge that accompanies the expansion of the bamboo market is the lack of finances and the absence of a national policy and strategy program to develop and use bamboo resources. However, as awareness of the “miracle plant” grows, so too does the potential of bamboo for sustainable development in emerging markets.

Megan Hadley

Photo: Flickr

Ethiopia Embraces Bamboo
According to the government of Ethiopia, the country is experiencing an industrial boom due to the supply of bamboo, foreign investment, and interest from foreign markets.

Although there has been no existing bamboo economy in Ethiopia, minister for agriculture and rural development Mitiku Kassa has said that the country now has the right mix of resources, foreign interest, and investment to create an industry from the 2.47 million acres of bamboo previously untouched.

Africa Bamboo, a public-private partnership between Ethiopia and a German development group, plans to invest over $10 million into manufacturing for bamboo flooring products. Associate engineer Felix Boeck of Africa Bambo commented that there was much market potential for bamboo in Europe. “We believe that there can be a reliable and effective supply chain built here in Ethiopia to create a bamboo manufacturing industry,” said Boeck.

Unlike traditional wood sources, bamboo is fully sustainable and sees regrowth within three years. In comparison, trees can take up to 30 years until they are mature enough to harvest again for wood. Many local farmers hope to capitalize on the booming bamboo industry in the country, and hope that foreign investment is available to small-scale growers.

Other organizations are stepping in to ensure that the government of Ethiopia recognizes the vast potential that bamboo has to create economic growth and development.

Christina Kindlon
Source: Guardian

CIFOR Bamboo 2_opt
A case study from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) finds that bamboo has the potential to answer the problem of poverty in rural China. Nicholas Hogarth, a researcher with CIFOR, asserts that despite bamboo’s many uses and qualities, its potential to increase income for many households living in poverty remains surprisingly untapped.

Bamboo is used on a daily basis in the region to make household utensils, handicrafts, scaffolding and so on. The commodity is easily harvested, incredibly durable and flexible, relatively light and readily available. Hogarth’s study finds that there is much potential for bamboo to heavily benefit the region. Bamboo is an important “green” step as it is a valuable non-wood forest product. Bamboo, through its international commodity value, is increasingly seen as an answer to provide economic means to livelihood development and those in poverty.

Hogarth identifies the concern that most farmers’ knowledge about utilizing this resource is limited to smaller-scale management rather than for commercial production. In areas where off-farm income opportunities are scarce, forestry enterprises such as bamboo shoot production should be capitalized on. In his study, he writes that benefits could be provided to the poor in “areas of China’s south-western provinces, where over 73 percent of all new bamboo plantations have been established in recent years.”

Hogarth hopes that the ongoing research could serve as a catalyst to bring more focus to larger-scale and access to bamboo production.

– Rafael Panlilio