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‘Smart man’s timber’ offers ‘opportunity’ in the face of climate change

Changing perceptions about bamboo and its uses.
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Harvesting bamboo shoots in China. Nick Hogarth/CIFOR
Harvesting bamboo shoots in China. Nick Hogarth/CIFOR

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Bamboo and rattan present an “enormous opportunity” for both mitigating and adapting to climate change, said Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to panelists at a recent conference.

Pachauri began the discussion at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta by enumerating a litany of impending threats to humanity due to climate change unless significant mitigation and adaptation measures are adopted, as laid out in the IPCC’s recent reports. Threats include rising average temperatures, extreme climatic events, and rising sea levels.

In a moment of optimism, though, Pachauri noted: “There is also an enormous opportunity here because forests, and bamboo and rattan in particular, are great sources of storage of carbon dioxide.”

“The advantage of bamboo and rattan and essentially forestry species,” Pachauri continued, “is that you can carry out adaptation as well as mitigation simultaneously by focusing on these species which are really an enormous resource for human society.”

Research by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) has showed the value of bamboo as a low-carbon source for food, construction material, fiber and even energy when the left over material is used for charcoal. Bamboo can provide all this while supporting a high level of biodiversity required to maintain ecosystem services. Because bamboo grows quickly in difficult conditions, such as on steep slopes, it is an important alternative to other crops and contributes significantly to the income and resources of the rural poor.

Bamboo and rattan are two of many non-timber forest products (NTFPs) that sometimes fall through the cracks of policy formation because they are not clearly classified as agricultural or timber, and thus do not fall under the purview of either ministries of agriculture or forestry, argued Manoj Nadkarni, Program Manager of the Non-Timber Forest Products Programme at INBAR.

Because of this, “sustainable management of non-timber forest products requires a lot of coordination,” said Hans Friederich, Director General of INBAR.

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Forestry has recognized that NTFPs deserve more attention in policy, according to Tachrir Fathoni, a Director General in the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. Timber represents only 10 percent of the value found in forests, while 90 percent of the extractable value is found in NTFPs, Fathoni explained.

In a bid to give NTFPs a policy “home,” the ministry has attempted to promote various NTFPs through specific programs, Fathoni said.  One important decree instructs forest permit holders to give access to forest villages and communities in forest management, including access to non-timber forest products. The ministry has identified and classified more than 500 NTFPs in Indonesia, Fathoni said.

In 2009 the Ministry created an NTFP development strategy, selecting a few specific products and pilot regions.  The strategy aims to improve both livelihoods and biodiversity. Fathoni also highlighted a few areas that required additional work to support NTFP development in Indonesia — issues of accurate data and information, upstream and downstream industry development, and the limited availability of processing technology.

Indonesia’s NTFP strategy offers one positive example of national government efforts to address the role of NTFPs like bamboo and rattan. The panel concluded that efforts like these should be expanded.

Research and communications were two key gaps that the panel saw in the development of bamboo and rattan. Friederich called for more research both on bamboo production and industrial uses.

In addition, the panel called for better communication to persuade consumers to purchase more sustainable material goods such as bamboo and rattan. “Some people still call bamboo the poor man’s timber; I would call it smart man’s timber,” he said. “How do you convince people to not buy teak but to buy bamboo?” he said.

Pachauri called on private industry to fill this gap. “This is really a task for designers, advertisers, marketing people so that our perceptions change about bamboo,” he said, “and that would make an enormous difference in the whole cycle of production, conversion and marketing.”

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