AGRITRENDS: Bamboo can help mitigate climate change

A bike with a frame made out of bamboo has become an attraction at Ugong Rock in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Aptly called the Bamboo Zip Bike, it 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.”

Athena Colline L. Verdey, in a press release disseminated by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), wrote: “The Bamboo Zip Bike Adventure 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.”

It was inspired by the first-ever zip bike launched in Bohol but comes with a twist. Introduced to the public in 2016, the Ugong Rock Multipurpose Cooperative – an organized group of indigenous people – provided a new kind of adventure and experience to its clientele while staying true to their commitment of being an environment steward by using a bike made out of bamboo, which is abundant in the area.

The DOST helped the cooperative through its Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP).  “The cooperative was able to start the pioneering project delivering sustainable livelihoods and opportunities to the people in their community,” Verdey wrote.  “They were able to acquire zip bike facilities such as bike lanes, cable wires, harness, and handmade bamboo bikes.”

This Filipino ingenuity is a welcome good news on how the community, if organized, can help boost the economy without destroying the environment that support the activities.  But even better is that by protecting the bamboo, they are helping mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“A number of bamboo species are potential tools for carbon sequestration and combatting climate change,” Hans Friederich of the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) reports.

“Bamboo plants store carbon at a fast rate, and bamboo products can effectively ‘displace’ more emissions-intensive materials such as cement, steel and plastic,” Friederich points out.

Recent INBAR research suggests (well-managed) bamboo can store 200 to 400 tons of carbon per hectare per year. “With such high carbon storage rates, there is clearly potential for countries to integrate bamboo into their climate mitigation plans,” he says.

As Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change puts it: “Bamboo and rattan can make an important difference in the fight against climate change. Nature-based solutions like bamboo do not just contribute to sustainable development, they also help build the kind of world we want.”

As this developed, Senator Loren Legarda said the country’s bamboo sector requires technical and fiscal support from the government to make it more competitive in both local and international markets.

“The lack of technical knowledge, promotion and local research on bamboo hinder the development of the local bamboo industry. Bamboo offers a cheaper alternative to hardwood, timber and other raw materials used for furniture or handicraft making. We need to invest more on research and development, bamboo cultivation, processing and product development to spur economic activities,” she said.

Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committees on Finance and Climate Change, has long been advocating the use and promotion of bamboo in the Philippines as a climate change mitigation and disaster resilience tool. “Bamboo plays an important role in climate change mitigation as it absorbs more carbon dioxide and releases more oxygen into the atmosphere than trees,” she stressed.

“Bamboo is not a weed, it’s a flowering plant. Bamboo is a magnificent plant,” commented Steve Lacy.  Thomas Alva Edison supposedly used a carbonized bamboo filament in his experiments in developing the light bulb. Alexander Graham Bell also used bamboo for his first phonograph needle.  “You can eat, wear, and build with bamboo,” said Michael Block.

There are a million other 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.

Already, bamboo is being used as scaffolding and concrete reinforcement in the construction of buildings.  In Bangladesh, where 73% of the population lives in bamboo houses, bamboo provides pillars, walls, window frames, rafters, room separators, ceilings and roofs.  Throughout rural Asia it is used for building bridges, from the sophisticated technology of suspension bridges to the simpler pontoon bridges.

In the Philippines, bamboo is also indispensable in the fishing and banana industry, particularly in Davao region.  Fishermen use bamboo as material for making rafts, fishing rods, outriggers for bancas, and for fishpens.  In salt-water areas, bamboo is used as stakes in the culture of mussels and oysters.

Bamboo is also used in the manufacture of musical instruments like horns, clarinets, saxophones, flutes, piccolos, xylophones, and drums.  In Java, Indonesia, 20 different musical instruments have been fashioned of bamboo. The world-famous bamboo organ at the Roman Catholic Church of Las Piñas is a historic example of the importance of bamboo.

There are also sophisticated uses of bamboos – charcoal for electric batteries, liquid diesel fuel obtained by distillation, and enzymes and media for shoot extracts used for culturing disease-causing bacteria.  The white powder produced on the outer space of young culms for the isolation of a crystalline compound its medicinally useful.

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,” the press release added.

The young bamboo shoots are a good source of vitamins and minerals.  Nutritionists claim that bamboo shoot is low in carbohydrates and crude fat, and it has plenty of crude fiber, making it an ideal vegetable for people who want to reduce.  Eighteen amino acids are reportedly present in bamboo shoot.  Just a health warning: shoots of some species contain toxins that need to be leached or boiled out before they can be eaten safely.

Unknowingly, bamboo is a superb reforestation species due to its varied utility and importance in controlling soil erosion and stabilizing riverbanks.  There are three main reasons why bamboo is a superb crop for cogonal areas: both bamboo and cogon belong to the same plant family and so are compatible; bamboo grows faster and taller than cogon, and can quickly shade out the later; and bamboo is not killed when the cogonal area is burned accidentally or deliberately.

The bamboo business is labor intensive, more so during the first two years of operation.  Studies have shown that labor alone eats around 90 percent of the total production cost.  But the beauty of bamboo growing lies in passing the first two critical growing years.

“If the bamboos survive, you are assured of money for the next 30 to 50 years,” says a bamboo grower.  Another good thing: the price of bamboos does not suffer from severe fluctuations unlike pork and chicken.  In fact, they are priced depending on the diameter, volume and distance traveled.

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 Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center.

“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. Adornado, executive director of the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB).

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.

All over the globe, there are 91 genera and about 1,000 species of bamboo, generally known as kawayan in the Philippines.  Until now, no one knows how vast are the areas planted to bamboo.  Major producing provinces are Abra in the North, Pampanga in Central Luzon, Iloilo, Davao and Bukidnon in the South.

Bamboo is widely distributed all over the country.  The major genera are Arundinaria, Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, Gigantochloa, Guadua, Schizostachyum, Thysostachys, Lalebra, Phyllostachys, Cophalostachyum, and Dinochloa.