The grass with thousands of uses

To seize a sizable share of the US$20 billion global bamboo market, a line agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is pushing for the creation of a state coordinating agency for bamboo development.

The Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) is supporting Senate Bill (SB) No. 1478 – also known as the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Act (PHILBIDA) – as it will sharpen coordination of the many dispersed bamboo programs in the country.

Once approved, the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council (PBIDC) will be created.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the authors of proposed bill, told the Senate Congress: “I believe that the bamboo industry is one of these high potential industries if given proper attention and priority by the government. If developed, it could generate more jobs and bring inclusive growth in the countryside.”

Currently, only a handful of countries are competing in the bamboo industry around the world. “There is a great potential for the Philippine bamboo industry to get the bigger pie in the world market and be on the top export products of the country,” Zubiri said, adding that the bill aims to make bamboo and its products as one of the main actors in Philippine export industries.

According to the senator from Bukidnon, the absence of a government agency focused on bamboo hinders development of the industry. “There is no institution that is dedicated to oversee the development of the bamboo industry,” he said. “Among the impediments to realize bamboo industry in the Philippines are the dispersed programs, unsupportive policies, and lack of incentives to attract investments.”

In Davao City, one of those who believed in bamboo as economic booster was the late city councilor Leonardo Avilla III. When he was still the officer-in-charge of the city’s Agriculture Office, he said that the bamboo industry in the Philippines has the potential to grow. “But it needs a proper research and government support for it to prosper,” he pointed out.

There is money in growing bamboo. This is the reason why farmers in Iloilo has recently underwent training on bamboo production after knowing the crop’s high return on investment and quicker payback compared to other long-gestating crops.

“Bamboo is considered to be the best conservation material because of its low maintenance compared to other plantations aside from the fact that there is a high return on investment and faster payback in bamboo,” said Dr. Henry A. Adonardo, ERDB executive director.

Based on studied plantations in Central America, “The REDD Monitor” placed bamboo’s return on investment at 26%. REDD stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Planting bamboo is environment-friendly. It can help address the problem of climate change. Some studies showed that bamboo plants can sequester 12 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

Not only that. Bamboo is an effective tool in addressing soil erosion, landslides, and flooding.

There are so many potentials from bamboo. Furniture makers and wood craftsmen who shift from wood to bamboo are expected to share in the huge export bonanza expected from a growing demand for bamboo furniture and bamboo handicrafts in the global market.

“We’re not talking here of raw bamboo for export, but finished products made from bamboo. From roots to tip, you can make soap, medicines, cosmetics, furniture, bricks, clothing, paper, floor tiles, wall panels, drinks, vegetables – even surf boards from bamboo,” said an official from Department of Trade and Industry.

There are a million uses of bamboo. According to an article, which appeared in “Reader’s Digest,” bamboo “is delicate enough to be used in phonograph needles, yet strong enough to be used in bridge construction.” As such, bamboo can replace or indirectly decrease consumption of three critically scarce resources: wood, metal, and oil.

Bamboo is also edible. Its shoots are a source of food rich in fiber, nutrients, Vitamins A, B, and C. Bamboo shoots are made of 88.8% moisture, 3.9% protein, 0.5% fat, 5.7% carbohydrates and 1.1 minerals.

“The amino acid content of bamboo is higher than cabbage, carrot, onion and pumpkin. Bamboo also contains 17 different types of enzymes and more than 10 kinds of mineral elements, such as chromium, zinc, manganese, iron, magnesium, nickel and cobalt,” said the press release.

In Maasin, Iloilo, the bamboo charcoal is one of its major products. The company Iloilo Kawayan Marketing is reportedly producing the charcoal that is considered to be a natural product and is ecologically friendly.

“Used as a fuel, it is smokeless and odorless and is best for barbecues,” the press release said. “Bamboo charcoal works as a natural fertilizer and pesticide. It is also used as a deodorizer. It can filter tap water. Put pieces of bamboo charcoal in a jug of tap water, then leave it for 4-5 hours. The water in the jug will taste like mineral water.”

With its anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, bamboo charcoal is now used as soap ingredient. “It cleans the skin deeply. Because of the incredible absorbency of the bamboo charcoal with activated carbon, the soap can clean to the very bottom of skin pores and does not leave a residue on the face. The newly cleaned skin pores can receive natural moisturizing from the body’s oils,” said the press release.

In Puerto Princesa, Palawan, bamboo is known not as a crop but as part of tourist attraction. At Ugong Rock in barangay Tabaginet, a bike with a frame made of bamboo is the newest attraction.

Called the Bamboo Zip Bike, the adventure is a fun combination of bike and zipline that will surely give the tourists, both local and foreign, the thrill and the possibility to enjoy nature,” wrote Athena Colline L. Verdey, the author of the report.

The Bamboo Zip Bike Adventure, as it is called, allows thrill-seeking visitors to explore the breathtaking scenery in Ugong Rock using a bike made out of the bamboo plant on a 250- meter long high-wire suspended at about 90 feet from the ground.

“Along with two more traditional ziplines, the bamboo zipbike adventure is now one of the most popular activities in the city,” Verdey wrote. “It is usually included in tour packages offered by various travel agencies and has made headlines as the first tourist spot offering an environmental-friendly cycling adventure.”

The Ugong Rock Multipurpose Cooperative (MPC) introduced bamboo zip bike adventure to the public in October 2016. It was inspired by the first-ever zip bike launched in Bohol but comes with a twist.

Staying true to their commitment of being an environment steward, the MPC uses bikes made out of an abundant local raw material, the bamboo plant. And through the DOST’s flagship program Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP), the cooperative was able to start the pioneering project. They were able to acquire zip bike facilities such as bike lanes, cable wires, harness, and handmade bamboo bikes.

In the Philippines, bamboo grows anywhere. Often, it will grow on marginal farm areas not much good for anything else. “It is a pity that we have neglected this important crop for so long,” deplores Roy C. Alimoane, the director of Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center.

But before growing bamboo, you need to know where you are going to plant it. “Bamboo has two different classifications. If they are planted in private lands, they are considered agricultural products. But if they are planted in forest lands, they are non-timber forest products which require gatherers to secure a permit before harvest,” explained Director Ricardo Calderon of the Forest Management Bureau, another DENR line agency.

Not all bamboo species grown in the country are economically important, however. Only eight so-called erect species are extensively used: “kauayan-tinik,” “kauayan-kiling,” “bayog,” “botong,” giant bamboo, “bolo,” “anos,” and “buho.” Most species of bamboo mature three to four years after initial shoot development.

The Philippines is the fifth most important exporter of bamboo products in the world, according to the International Trade of Bamboo and Rattan 2012 report. The top exporter is China.

Under PBIDC, SB 1478 will also create the Bamboo Industry Research and Development Center (BIRDC) which will have these functions: promote establishment and management of bamboo nurseries, plantations and processing facilities that would accelerate the production and commercialization of bamboo and various bamboo products; promote market access of its technologies and products; and evaluate the performance of industry programs and projects.

Other functions include partnering with the private sector and other government and non-government agencies in the implementation of the Philippine Bamboo Roadmap (PBR); accepting grants, donations and contributions from local and international donors; and conducting capability-building initiatives for farmers, processors, designers, and other 10 stakeholders.

“I believe that with support and attention, the Philippine bamboo industry will reach greater heights, that is appropriate for the tallest grass on earth,” Zubiri said. “It is only then that we will be able to truly say that bamboo is the grass of hope for the Filipino people.”