In Africa’s Vanishing Forests, the Benefits of Bamboo
September 4, 2012 Leave a comment
In the district of Asosa, the land is thick with bamboo. People plant it and manage the forests. They rely on its soil-grabbing roots to stabilize steep slopes and riverbanks, cutting erosion. They harvest it to burn for fuel, to make into charcoal sticks to sell to city dwellers and to build furniture.
Asosa is not in China, not even in Asia. It is a district in the west of Ethiopia, on the Sudanese border. To many people, bamboo means China. But it’s not just panda food — mountain gorillas in Rwanda also live on bamboo. About 4 percent of Africa’s forest cover is bamboo.
Soon it may be much more. Bamboo may provide a solution to a very serious problem: deforestation. In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 percent of the people cook their meals over wood fires. The very poorest cut down trees for cooking fuel; those slightly less poor buy charcoal made from wood in those same forests. Every year Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland. Terence Sunderland, a senior scientist at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research, said that in southern Africa, even trees that can be used for fine carving, such as ebony and rosewood, are being cut down and made into charcoal.
Deforestation starts a vicious circle of drought and environmental decline. Burning wood releases the carbon stored inside. And deforestation accounts for at least a fifth of all carbon emissions globally. As tree cover vanishes, the land dries out and the soil erodes and becomes barren — a major reason for Ethiopia’s periodic famines.
How does bamboo improve on hardwood? Cut down a hardwood tree and it’s gone. It will take several decades for another to grow in its place; it can take a century for a forest to grow back after cutting. But bamboo is a grass, not a tree. Under the right conditions, it can grow a full meter a day — you can literally watch it grow. It is also fast maturing. A new bamboo plant is mature enough to harvest after three to six years, depending on the species. Most important, bamboo is renewable. Unlike hardwood trees, bamboo regrows after harvesting, just as grass regrows after cutting. After it is mature, bamboo can be harvested every single year for the life of the plant.
Bamboo has other advantages. Its roots grab onto soil and hold it fast. Plant bamboo on a steep slope or riverbank and it prevents mudslides and erosion. And bamboo is parsimonious with Africa’s most precious resource: water.
“In Africa you want everything,” said Dr. Chin Ong, a retired professor of environmental science at the University of Nottingham in England, who was formerly a senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi. “You want firewood, you want to reduce erosion, to maintain the water supply, generate cash and employment. Bamboo comes the closest — it gives you the most things.”
In the last five years or so, Ong said, Ethiopia has realized that bamboo is a more profitable and greener solution. INBAR’s program is a four-year project financed by the European Commission and the Common Fund for Commodities, a United Nations organization. The technology comes from China. The project provides bamboo seedlings and trains people to manage bamboo plantations.
Because bamboo requires few nutrients, it can grow in soil inhospitable to other plants — not only does it thrive there, it can reclaim the land so other plants can thrive, too. Its roots leach heavy metals from the soil, hold the soil together and draw water closer to the surface. One example is a project in Allahabad, India, to reclaim land whose topsoil had been depleted by the brick industry. In 1996, an INBAR project planted the land with bamboo. Five years later, villagers could farm the land again. Dust storms — a local scourge — were greatly reduced. The bamboo also helped raise the water table by seven meters. In 2007, the project won the global Alcan Prize for Sustainability.
Bamboo’s tensile strength makes it a good construction material, and it is also used for furniture, flooring and textiles, among other things.
In some ways, the challenge in Africa is not to introduce bamboo, but to persuade people and governments that it has commercial uses. “We’ve taken policymakers from Africa to China and India where bamboo used in everyday life — and there’s still very poor adoption,” said Ong.
Lamboo strives to protect and promote this remarkable resource by working with various international organizations to ensure that the bamboo used in our products is sourced from responsibly managed bamboo plantations and nurseries. Additionally all bamboo used for Lamboo products come from a select list of bamboo species that is not used as a food source by wildlife. If you want to learn more about Lamboo’s commitment to sustainability, please contact us here.
visit our website at www.lamboo.us or contact us at email@example.com 866-966-2999