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Finally, a serious bamboo development plan (Part II)

Bamboo plantation (Photo Courtesy of www.southcotabato.gov.ph)

Bamboo plantation
(Photo Courtesy of www.southcotabato.gov.ph)

The ubiquitous bamboo has significant potential to create employment and thereby reduce poverty particularly in the countryside. It has many uses: Material for light construction, for handicrafts, for food as bamboo shoots, for paper and pulp and source of biomass for renewable energy.

And, as importantly, bamboo renders valuable ecological services in the conservation of soil and water resources. With its dense, matted root system, bamboo is an ideal species for protection of riverbanks and erosion-prone slope lands and rehabilitation of degraded watersheds.

There are continuing efforts by national government agencies, local governments, some state universities and colleges (SUCs), and the two government banks, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to promote the development of the bamboo industry.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) and the private sector directly engaged in bamboo are active players including a number of major corporations which have incorporated bamboo in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) portfolios.

The recently released Bamboo Industry Development Roadmap put out by the Board of Investments (BOI) may just be the impetus and game changer needed to bring these actors together and energize the bamboo industry in a big way.

Correction

A reader. Dr. Florentino Tesoro, retired professor of wood science at UP Los Baños and former executive director of the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI-DOST), kindly corrected the bamboo statistics in my last week’s column:

The estimated number of bamboo culms (poles) required in the BOI-inspired bamboo industry roadmap is 107 million each year. There are 204 bamboo clumps or hills per hectare, each clump producing on the average five culms per year. Thus, roughly, one hectare of bamboo will produce 1,000 culms per year. The hectarage projection is therefore 107,000 hectares (not 525,000 hectares as written).

The current estimated total bamboo production is 10 million culms. Thus, we need to scale up bamboo pole production by a factor of 10 times between now and 2040, the time frame of the BOI roadmap.

Establishing commercial bamboo plantations and processing plants

If the objectives of the bamboo industry roadmap were to be realized, a number of challenges/constraints need to be addressed. First and foremost is the need for contiguous lands dedicated to bamboo plantations, and, necessarily, the establishment of bamboo processing plants that will absorb the raw materials.

Private lands in the uplands and slope lands are suitable for bamboo. However, the bigger opportunities are in lands classified as production forests many of which are covered by forest management agreements (IFMA, SIFMA, CBFMA) with peoples organizations and those areas subject to ancestral domain claims by indigenous peoples.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and local governments working closely together should bring the peoples organizations and indigenous peoples who have use rights to the lands in touch with potential private investors and the banks to broker mutually beneficial business arrangements.

The second constraint is the availability of cheap planting materials. Bamboos rarely produce seeds and they are conventionally propagated by cuttings. Close to 25 million cuttings are needed and they have to be produced cheaply to moderate establishment costs.

Previous local experiments to rapidly propagate bamboo seedlings from nodal cuttings with the classic Murashige and Skoog tissue culture medium fortified with benzyl adenine have been successful. What needs to be done is to translate these laboratory findings into commercial nursery practices for at least eight of the most important commercial species.

Dr. Reynaldo Ebora, executive director of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD-DOST) called up and assured me that the solution is underway. The Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) has resumed development work on micropropagation of the commercial bamboo species with research support from PCAARRD.

Time to deregulate bamboo use

The third constraint which has come up time and again in bamboo industry dialogues is the requirement by DENR that every time bamboo is transported, the owners/traders/truckers must secure a certification from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Offices (CENRO) that the bamboo were obtained from private plantings, and not illegitimately harvested from public forests.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to obtain CENRO verification because bamboo farms are almost always in far, inaccessible places. CENRO offices are undermanned and there are not enough forest officers to verify origin of the bamboos.

Trucks laden with bamboos are routinely stopped by police and inspected at their pleasure, delaying transport and adding to the costs.

The better way is a one-time application/registration of bamboo farms. Should the CENRO fail to visit/certify within six months through no fault of the bamboo grower, the application should be deemed approved.

Even better is the outright deregulation of the cutting, transport and utilization of bamboo and fast-growing tree species like gmelina, falcata, mangiun and other cultivated species. Police inspection of these forest products serve very little purpose, unnecessarily increases costs of doing business and present opportunities for petty graft. [Attention DENR Secretary Gina Lopez]

Role of NGOs — the Philippine Bamboo Foundation, Incorporated

Perhaps unique among commodities/crops is the very strong, organized advocacy of NGOs for bamboo because of its broad appeal as source of livelihood to reduce poverty, as a source of pride for its prominence in arts, handicrafts and culture, and for its environment value, for soil, water conservation and greening.

One such leading NGO is the Philippine Bamboo Foundation, Inc., led by its energetic president, Edgardo Manda, who used to be general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA).

The Foundation which has been in operation since 1998 is dedicated to promote research, development and education on all aspects of the bamboo. Rather unusual for an NGO, the Foundation has formal access and draws upon a pool of scientists and experts on bamboo from its botany, silviculture, handicraft production, processing and utilization and market development.

It provides training to interested parties on bamboo propagation, processing, utilization and conservation. It is currently working with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and other service providers in the formulation of a Training Regulation for the training of workers in the bamboo industry.

The Foundation’s most recent output is a book titled “Bamboo — Grass of Hope,” which should be released shortly. The book has among its authors bamboo experts from Los Baños, namely Aida Lapis and Felizardo Virtucio (both of Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau [ERDB-DENR]); Florentino Tesoro (FPRDI-DOST) and Armando Palijon (College of Forestry and Natural Resources-UP Los Baños).

There are many other equally successful NGOs in many parts of the country which are simply too many to enumerate. These NGOs will be playing prominent roles in the development of the bamboo. They should be recognized by government and extended the necessary incentives.

To be continued . . . (Part III)

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Dr. Emil Q. Javier is a Member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and also Chair of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP)  . For any feedback, email eqjavier@yahoo.com.