Building a Green Future with Bamboo
Bamboo and rattan can mitigate pressing global challenges, particularly climate change, desertification and biodiversity. That’s why the versatile plants are incorporated as nature-based solutions into agroforestry policies globally. This is the mission of the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR), a multilateral intergovernmental institution headquartered in Beijing. Established in 1997, the organization currently has 48 member countries from Asia-Pacific, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania. Borja De La Peña Escardo, global policy officer at INBAR, joined the organization in 2018 and took China Today behind the scenes for a look at bamboo’s potential and the role INBAR is playing to maximize this potential in China and around the world.
De La Peña believes that the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change are issues of great concern to the current generation. His experience as a policy adviser at the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations in New York made him realize that in addition to regional conflicts, the serious challenges facing the world also include the sustainable development of humanity.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, with a large root system and strong adaptability. The plant is very helpful in averting land degradation. It is also a renewable resource that can be harvested annually and used as a substitute for wood in making various durable products. In addition, bamboo and rattan are a key part of biodiversity. Bamboo forests are characterized by their large carbon sequestration capabilities, which play an important role in mitigating climate change.
De La Peña affirms that back in his home country in Spain, Terminal Four of the Madrid Barajas Airport has a bamboo ceiling, with all of its building materials sourced from China. The Spanish Pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai was made of more than 8,000 pieces of wickerwork, shaped like a giant basket. The examples showed the wide practical application of bamboo and rattan, De La Peña asserted.
He believes that bamboo and rattan are the most traditional and environmentally friendly building materials, and the craft of hand-woven basketry is well known in both the East and the West. This provides a strong foundation for cultural communication between Europe and China, as well as opening new avenues of cooperation fostering sustainable development.
China is one of the countries with the richest bamboo resources in the world. Chinese people use bamboo as an affordable source of clean energy, and as a low-carbon and environmentally friendly disaster-resistant building material. Eco-friendly bamboo products can be widely seen across the country. The plant also provides food and a shelter for rare and endangered animals, such as giant pandas and mountain gorillas, thus playing an important role in protecting biodiversity and balancing ecosystems.
According to the Forest Resource Statistics of China (2014-2018) released by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, bamboo forests in China cover 6.7 million hectares of land, and there are more than 500 species of bamboo plants of 39 genera spread across the country. The 2020 Report on the International Trade of China’s Bamboo and Rattan, released by INBAR, noted that the total import and export of China’s bamboo and rattan products in 2020 reached US $2.3 billion, US $2.27 billion of which was export.
“China is the world’s second largest economy with an important growing global influence. With our headquarters in China, we can promote the development of the global bamboo and rattan industry through cooperation with the Chinese government, and make contributions to the global ecological and environmental protection, by sharing the knowledge and experiences from China as a leader and pioneer in the bamboo sector,” said De La Peña.
Over the past four years, De La Peña has visited many places in China, including Mount Jiuhua in Anhui, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and Fenghuang Ancient Town in Hunan, Jiuzhaigou scenic spot in Sichuan, the Lijiang River in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and Wuzhen Water Town in Zhejiang. The most fascinating experience for him was walking through thick bamboo forests in Zhejiang’s Anji County and Sichuan’s Yibin City. “I am fortunate to be able to enjoy the natural sceneries and rich cultures of China,” he said.
“Bamboo and rattan are also one of the most valuable non-wood forest products in the world, and an important means of livelihood for millions of people,” added De La Peña. In the bamboo production areas of Fujian, Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces, he was impressed by the local farmers who work closely with business owners to promote inheritance and innovation while making bamboo and rattan products. This is how the knowledge of the entire process is passed on to the next generation, guaranteeing a strong production capacity. He added that due to their hard work and persistency, coupled with the government’s preferential policies, the local enterprises are able to succeed and prosper, creating job opportunities and wealth.
“In Chishui City in Guizhou, we have trained a group of 25 women, together with UNESCO, to make creative bamboo weaving products, while increasing the capacity of at least 50 local cooperatives and practitioners in creative design and marketing of bamboo-related handicrafts,” said De La Peña.
Chishui is a famous bamboo town in China, with a bamboo forest area reaching 88,533 hectares. It boasts a number of bamboo-related intangible cultural heritages, such as bamboo weaving products. In recent years, the local bamboo industry has developed rapidly, with paper products made from bamboo becoming increasingly popular throughout the country.
In 2019, the Chishui World Heritage Sustainable Livelihood Project was included within the framework of the UNESCO-led project that supports the use of intangible heritage in poverty alleviation. With bamboo-related green products and creative cultural handicrafts as the main focus, the Project aims to strengthen sustainable bamboo handicrafts production and capacity building through the development of training centers and courses. This will ensure that making bamboo handicrafts becomes accepted as a valuable vocation and will enhance the number of young people involved, contributing to rural revitalization and locally-based employment for the youth.
Then in 2021, as China transitioned strategically from “targeted poverty alleviation” to “rural revitalization,” intangible cultural heritage, seen as a valuable cultural resource, played an increasingly bigger role in the development of rural regions. “We are strengthening culture-oriented, innovative and inclusive socio-economic development in China, which will promote the link between natural heritage and intangible cultural heritage for sustainable development of local communities at the Chishui World Heritage Site,” emphasized De La Peña.
“At INBAR, we think that the bamboo and rattan industries have great potential. More and more governments and businesses have identified bamboo and rattan as fantastic nature-based solutions that can contribute to solving many of the threats to humanity,” said De La Peña. He believes that the bamboo and rattan industry can help the post-pandemic economic recovery by improving people’s livelihoods, and creating jobs for vulnerable communities around the world.
Even though the pandemic has reduced international exchanges and travel, INBAR has managed to organize online seminars and tours aimed at bringing the experience of different regions in China to global partners in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Europe and North America.
Anji County in east China’s Zhejiang Province is a famous bamboo town with a well-developed bamboo industry. In August 2021, an online course about the utilization of bamboo and its value-added products was held by INBAR, with 235 attendees in the bamboo industry from 53 countries including Ghana, India, and Cameroon. The online training also included a virtual tour of Anji’s bamboo forest and workshops, which helped the countries with bamboo resources to understand the integrated development of bamboo businesses in Anji, as well as the industry’s contribution to rural revitalization and sustainable development. Attendees even talked with local farmers and business owners via video link. In addition, they visited the processing factories of bamboo chopsticks, curtains, mats, floor boards, and furniture, gaining in-depth knowledge about the processing and operation model of the manufacturers.
INBAR is very active in the global arena. In 2021, the organization’s exhibition stands were seen at the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, and the 15th meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. In addition, they will organize in November 2022, for the 25th anniversary of the Establishment of INBAR, the 2nd Bamboo and Rattan Congress in Beijing.
“We are promoting the use of bamboo as an available, scalable and natural solution for climate change mitigation,” mentioned De La Peña. In China, bamboo provides a type of affordable and sustainable building material for people, and well-managed, regularly harvested bamboo forests can store a large amount of carbon, that is why bamboo projects are increasingly included in the carbon markets. Using bamboo to create products can help protect timber resources, while promoting sustainable development in some of the poorest areas of the world.
In South America, INBAR is implementing Amazon Basin projects in countries such as Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.The projects are not just helping to reverse land degradation, but also enriching the variety of bamboo products and create employment opportunities for local women, youth, farmers, and indigenous groups.
“Using the example of China to scale up sustainable management and exploitation of the bamboo resources globally will have a great impact on local economic development as well as environmental management in developing countries,” concluded De La Peña.
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