Harnessing the potential of the versatile bamboo

Next to rice, the bamboo is regarded as the staff of life in many parts of Asia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This is because the giant grass species is staple food in Asian countries. Bamboo sprouts, for instance, are a popular food item in Southeast Asian and East Asian countries. The bamboo’s versatility is on a par with that of coconut, which is widely regarded as the tree of life.

FAO said the bamboo can also be used in the construction of houses, bridges, furniture, fishing poles, water pipes, weapons, bags, baskets and cloth. Unlike other grass species, cultivating the bamboo does not require much in terms of resources and time. Citing studies, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARD) said the bamboo requires little attention during its growing/production cycle and can occupy the same ecological niche as that of trees.

Despite its versatility, the bamboo is not cultivated as extensively as other crops. Millions of hectares are devoted to rice and corn—the staple food of Filipinos—and even coconuts. Compared to these crops, the PCAARD said there are only around 39,200 to 52,700 hectares of bamboo plantations in the Philippines. The attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology said, however, that only 7 percent of these are in private plantations.

Sen. Cynthia A. Villar noted that Filipinos have yet to recognize the economic importance of the bamboo. The senator, who attended the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress in China last year, noted that Chinese farmers who have a 1-hectare plantation could earn P1.5 million a year. This is because they were taught to process bamboo into other products.

The cultivation of bamboo requires only a modest capital investment to generate a steady income, but the private sector is not too keen on it due to the lack of a comprehensive policy. Also, the requirement of a certificate of verification for harvested bamboo dampens private-sector investment in bamboo cultivation (See, “Study: PHL bamboo industry lacks comprehensive policy,” in the BusinessMirror, August 26, 2018). PCAARD said the COV is a legal document used by traders and shippers for the movement of bamboo from point of origin to destination and serves as proof of the legality of source.

If the government is looking for other crops that farmers can plant, the bamboo is a viable alternative. The government can encourage its cultivation by repealing the order that requires the COV and by investing in the construction of processing plants. Congress should also consider giving the Department of Environment and Natural Resources the budget it has requested to expand bamboo plantations next year (See, “DENR needs funds to expand bamboo plantations,” in the BusinessMirror, August 26, 2019). The P5 billion being requested by the DENR is small change compared to the numerous benefits that can be derived from planting bamboo.

The government could help farmers and companies find other uses for the sturdy bamboo by investing in research and development. Incentives will go a long way in encouraging the private sector to go into the cultivation and processing of bamboo. Aside from their role in fighting climate change, bamboo plantations will increase the country’s wood supply and even the availability of jobs, particularly for those in the countryside.

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