Bamboo: The Secret Weapon for Forest Restoration?
In the world of forestry, bamboo doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Dismissed as a weed or marginalized in traditional forest management, bamboo could actually play an important role in forest and landscape restoration. With adequate attention, investment and the right standards in place, it could become a major renewable and sustainable crop—if we can update our outmoded view of it.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Perceptions of a natural resource often shape how it is used. In this case, bamboo’s problem can be traced back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The advent of modern agriculture and modern forest management changed the European approach to plant management. Forests became a commodity valued as “timber,” while other plants were divided between “crops” (valuable plants) and “weeds” (unwanted plants).
This framing has persisted into modern times, and leaves little space for bamboo. Stuck somewhere between forestry, horticulture and agriculture, bamboo doesn’t fit neatly into any category. Many years later, international forestry institutions still tend to overlook bamboo as an important natural resource.
Bamboo: Versatile, Renewable and Overlooked
This is unfortunate, considering the role bamboo could play in alleviating some of the demand on forests. In the midst of climate change and rapid global development, we face an urgent need to provide innovative responses to natural resource use.
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet. With approximately 1,400 species, it is highly versatile and rapidly renewable. Long used as a timber alternative for furniture, charcoal, crafts and food (in the form of bamboo shoots), new technologies are extending bamboo’s value in flooring and construction, for pulp and paper, viscose and rayon fabrics, and even in the construction of wind turbines.
Yet bamboo’s potential continues to be overshadowed by outmoded policies. In order for bamboo to compete with established commodities in the global marketplace, it needs to adhere to recognized standards of sustainability. Yet those standards, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, have fallen short amongst bamboo practitioners who wish to see bamboo recognized as having specific management requirements as a grass and not a tree. Moreover, because bamboo plantations are often in areas of low economic development, it can be difficult for farmers to shoulder the associated costs of a certification like FSC.
In response, the Rainforest Alliance is developing an alternative natural fibers standard, open to public review until March 17. Creating a recognizable, accessible sustainability standard for bamboo farmers in the marketplace could spark new development of bamboo industries. Should this standard become a certification scheme, however, there is no guarantee that it will alleviate the significant challenges inherent in third-party certification standards for smallholders. Much work still needs to be done to create equitable, global standards for bamboo small-holders.
The Potential for Bamboo Forest and Landscape Restoration
Bamboo could also play an important role in the growing field of forest and landscape restoration (see map). To date, around 47 percent of the world’s potential forest area has been cleared or degraded to make way for crops, cattle, cities and roads. The 2011 Bonn Challenge calls on governments to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020. As a native species across tropical, sub-tropical and some temperate areas bamboo could contribute significantly to restoring degraded landscapes.
In order to achieve large-scale restoration, artificial boundaries of forestry and agriculture need to be assessed and landscapes viewed as “mosaics” —areas that can provide different functions. Globally, 1.5 billion hectares would be best-suited for mosaic restoration, in which forests, trees and bamboo could be combined with other land uses, including agroforestry, smallholder agriculture and settlements. By planting bamboo in parts of landscapes, degraded lands could be restored to productive use, thereby alleviating some of the development pressures on forests.
Already, China’s growing influence in Africa, high demand for bamboo products, and management expertise could lead to more development of bamboo resources across the continent, with Ethiopia poised to “lead the bamboo revolution." Bamboo stakeholders have been convening in Africa to assess the potential of landscape restoration with bamboo. The State Minister for Agriculture in Ethiopiab highlighted that “bamboo is considered the most important, fast-growing, strategic intervention for afforestation and reforestation in the mountainous and degraded areas in the country.”
Case studies of bamboo restoration remain relatively small-scale, but some have shown promise. In Africa, the organization African Bamboo is preparing nurseries for large-scale restoration of degraded lands with bamboo. In Latin America, EcoPlanet Bamboo has been active in Nicaragua, restoring 5,000 hectares of degraded pasture land. Likewise, in India, INBAR completed a prize-winning bamboo restoration project, which turned a degraded mining area into green, productive land.
Of course, bamboo cannot be a panacea—there are still management and propagation challenges to overcome, as well as concerns that it is grown and harvested sustainably. For example, plant monocultures—like some bamboo plantations in China—can lead to increased susceptibility to pests and diseases, as well as soil degradation and a loss of biodiversity. However, if done correctly, bamboo can contribute to restoring degraded land globally whilst providing sustainable industries and livelihood development.
In order for bamboo to reach its potential for forest and landscape restoration, a number of key actions need to be conducted, such as:
- Mapping areas suitable for bamboo forest and landscape restoration
- Investing in developing sustainable supply chains of bamboo products
- Developing bamboo management standards to guarantee sustainable supply and production
History has shown us that the value of natural resources changes throughout time. It is time to reassess bamboo’s famous “weedy” reputation and evaluate how it can be used for climate change resilience and restoration. Today’s weeds can become tomorrow’s valuable resources.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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