Regulations dwarf bamboo potential: expert

    Great potential. Furniture accounts for 17 percent of global bamboo trade.

    Bamboo is under government control.

    “In the Philippines, all facets of bamboo production and use, from nursery to harvest, is under the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources),” said Ramon Razal of the Department of Forest Products, College of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of the Philippines Los Baños.

    “It is a deterrent to bamboo production” that hinder its potential, he said in a forum hosted by the National Academy of Science and Technology, Department of Science and Technology.

    Even when planted in private land, a Certificate of Verification is required by the DENR before harvest is allowed. If harvested in natural stands in public land, forest charges are imposed.

    A bill is now before Congress to correct or ease these constraints, Razal said.

    The potential of the grass, for it is part of the grass family, is enormous, Razal said, pointing to at least seven out of 100 species that are now commercially important.

    Five are erect species, 10 are climbing bamboos. The most common is kawayan tinik followed by buho.

    In 2016, China, the world’s No. 1 producer, exported over a billion dollars of bamboo products, according to the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization.

    It is followed by the European Union at $151 million which, even if it doesn’t grow bamboo, exports a lot of finished products sourced from other countries.

    Indonesia comes after at $136 million, then Vietnam, $85 million. The Philippines lags at No. 5 with just $27 million in exports.

    In 2018, the major buyers were Russia, Switzerland, China/Hong Kong, Iran and Malaysia.

    In 2016, engineered bamboo products made up 24 percent of global trade, followed by bamboo shoots at 20 percent, woven bamboo products at 19 percent and furniture, 17 percent.

    Engineered bamboo is an ideal substitute for timber and used for veneers, strands, fibers, strips or slats, woven mats or flattened and glued to form a composite material.

    Bamboo is a structural grass material, an economic resource and non-timber forest product, Razal explained.

    “It is an erect, climbing woody grass that is hollow and jointed. When bent, it springs back when the pressure is released,” he added.

    These characteristics make bamboo an ideal everyday material, the culms, length, diameter, roundness and thickness important structural characteristics.

    “As a grass it is successful, growing continuously from the base so it is not destroyed by grazing and mowing,” said Razal. “It is very resilient.” That is, bamboo stands are able to survive an average of 20 typhoons each year and recover easily.

    It takes a long time to mature, some dying after flowering, although many more continue to thrive.

    “Almost all parts are used,” said Razal, from fuel to food, farming to fishing, from housing to handicrafts. Industrial uses include bamboo paper, health and beauty products, toothpaste from bamboo charcoal, surfboards, bicycle and car parts, even computer keyboards.

    The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization lists more than 1,500 different traditional uses of bamboo.

    At the other end of the loop, about 3,000 companies worldwide are engaged in the production of various bamboo-based products such as panels, flooring, pulp, charcoal, edible shoots and other daily-use articles.

    The interior of the Madrid International Airport showcases laminated bamboo materials. The Bordeaux St. Jean Train Station features bamboo flooring.

    Which goes to show, Razal said, that bamboo has been transformed from a “poor man’s to a wise man’s timber.”