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Finally, a serious bamboo development plan (Last of the series)

Putting the pieces together

All the elements for a broader-based, more productive and sustainable bamboo industry are in place. The bamboo is not only uniquely adapted to our wet tropical environment, it is also providentially resistant to typhoons. It is a valuable species for protecting riverbanks and erosion-prone hillsides and for rehabilitating watersheds.

The demand for its current uses for light construction, furniture and handicraft manufacture, for use as props/stakes for bananas and fish pens and bamboo shoots for food remain strong and only partially met. The potential to scale up to produce paper and pulp, engineered bamboo and biomass as source of renewable energy have yet to be exploited.

The national agencies (the Department of Trade and Industry [DTI], the Department of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR], the Department of Science and Technology [DOST], and the Department of Agrarian Reform [DAR]) each have specific activities and projects supporting the propagation, utilization and promotion of bamboo together with many local governments non-government organizations (NGOs) and private corporations. The two large government banks, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), have dedicated lending programs for bamboo enterprises.

The challenge is coordinating these portfolio of activities ad initiatives into a coherent, focused and sustained national effort. The recently published Board of Investments (BOI-DTI) bamboo industry roadmap may just be the impetus needed to get the bamboo industry going.

Focus on the forty bamboo OTOPs

It is very tempting to launch for the sake of inclusivity and political correctness a country-wide bamboo program calling on all provinces, cities and towns to embark on bamboo production. However, since people and resources are never enough to succeed over a wide front, we believe this is not the way to go.

The better approach is to initially focus efforts in the forty municipalities which have chosen bamboo as their product under the DTI One-Town-On-product (OTOP) program. Eight of these bamboo OTOP towns are in Region I; and five each in Cordillera (CAR) and Region IVA. Among the provinces, Abra has the most with five bamboo towns.

The essential ingredients for success are in place: 1) bamboo handicraft and furniture makers, 2) skilled craftsmen, and most importantly,3) the political will of the municipal councils and local leaders.

In order to make an impact the on-going programs on bamboo of the various agencies should be directed to these 40 bamboo OTOP towns.

Modern, efficient processing tools and equipment are vital components. The bamboo processing equipment used by local furniture and handicraft makers are inefficient, mostly improvised and dated. DTI should therefore target these OTOPs towns in the placement of the DTI Shared Service Facilities (SSF) whose modern bamboo processing equipment are eventually turned over to the users and their cooperatives.

Likewise, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) should make available its technical, business and initial equipment support for small and medium scale enterprises in the department’s Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) program in the bamboo OTOP towns. Technology improvement should be directed to village-level enterprises for making charcoal and briquettes, canned bamboo shoots and bamboo slats for engineered bamboo production.

Since sourcing of reasonably-priced bamboo poles is almost always the most immediate constraint, a priority activity is the establishment of accessible, commercial scale bamboo plantings in the OTOP town itself and nearby localities. If each of the bamboo OTOP towns will target 1,000 hectares of new plantings, these will add up to 40,000 hectares, half of the total 80,300 hectares target over the 25-year period of the bamboo industry road map (2016-2040).

A thousand hectares would require 250,000 bamboo cuttings (including provision for mortality and replants). At P50 per cutting, the gross value of the planting materials is P12.5 million. This could be a good stand-alone business for individual entrepreneurs, for cooperatives, for agriculture schools and for local governments.

For example, the provincial board of Ilocos Sur on the initiative of Congressman D.V. Savellano recently established a “bamboo corridor” covering the five towns of Sto. Domingo, Masingal, San Juan, Cabugao and Sinait. The province may decide to set up bamboo propagation nurseries to supply the requirements of these five towns. Commercial bamboo nurseries are eligible projects under the Land Bank of the Philippines’ (LBP) “Kawayan” lending program, with a very affordable equity requirement of only 10 percent for local government units (LGUs).

I am sure one of Ilocos Sur’s illustrious sons, Dr. Florentino Tesoro, who is a recognized wood science and leading bamboo specialist in South East Asia, will be happy to oblige, if asked to help.

Abra province which by far has the most number of bamboo OTOP towns should similarly be interested.

At the farm level, the biggest costs of planting bamboo are 1) planting materials (250 pieces per hectare at R50 each, for a total cost of worth R12,150), 2) basal fertilizers (four bags complete fertilizers at R1,200 each worth, R4,800), and 3) labor for hauling planting materials, digging holes and planting and ring-weeding.

Should the local government decide to advance the direct cash costs for planting materials and fertilizers, the cash requirement is about R16,950 per hectare or R17 million for 1,000 hectares over a five-year period. These investments can likewise be sourced from the Land Bank or Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). The individual bamboo growers can refund the advance starting the fifth year after the bamboo plantations come into full production.

Bamboo plantations in public forest lands

After the bamboo OTOP towns, the next priority are the prospective commercial bamboo plantations for paper and pulp, engineered bamboo and biomass for renewable energy which will be established in the public lands designated as production forests covered by 1) forest management agreements with people’s organizations, and 2) ancestral domains claimed by indigenous peoples.

With assured income from outright leases of R10,000-R15,000 per hectare per year for raw, undeveloped lands and prospects for employment as farm workers, harvesters and processing plants workers, the people’s organizations and indigenous people should find these business propositions with processing plant investors attractive.

However, these arrangements will not come to pass without the active intervention of the local government unit (LGU) officials who should serve as honest brokers — first, guarantee to the people’s organizations and tribal councils that the LGU officials will see to it that the latter are not exploited, and second, assurance to investors of the physical security of their persons and their investments.

Organizing the people’s organizations and the tribal councils to come to terms with the potential bamboo processing plants investors will easily take two years. Another 3–4 years will be needed to finance and construct the processing plants and establish the plantations.

The Key: An empowered Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council (PBDIC)

What had been missing all along is a lead agency that will provide coherence, central direction and coordination of the essential activities in the bamboo value chain.

An attempt was made in 2010 with the issuance of Executive Order 879 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo creating the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council (PBIDC). Since the mandate and expertise on bamboo are spread across several agencies, rightfully EO 879 did not contemplate establishing a new organization but simply provided for a cabinet-level council of public and private stakeholders. It provided for an Executive Committee with a token secretariat of personnel from the Cottage Industry Technology Center (CITC) which unfortunately was recently phased out. It also created a Technical Working Group (TWG) of on-call individual experts designated by the cooperating agencies.

The PBIDC was provided a pittance of R20 million which has long been exhausted and never replenished. It was made do with part-time personnel, was given little executive and regulatory clout and therefore only partially fulfilled its mandate.

We sustain the premise of Executive Order (EO) 789 that there is no need for a new separate bamboo development entity. However, EO 789 should be amended to provide the PBIDC the needed executive and regulatory clout and endow it with more and regular operating funds to perform its direction-setting, coordinating and capacitating functions. Seconding professional staff to constitute the Council Secretariat has not and will not work. The secretariat needs full-time professionals.

However, moving forward, the PBIDC should be made permanent and secure by way of legislation as provided in the draft Senate Bill No. 665 filed by Senator Bam Aquino.

 

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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.