Written by Jonny Williamson
The Western world has finally started to acknowledge what the developing world has known for centuries, with bamboo undergoing an image renaissance in the last decade. The valuable material has an impressive list of uses and can even help combat climate change with a capacity for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In the run-up to this month’s World Bamboo Congress, Kamesh Salam, of the South Asia Bamboo Foundation, said:
“On a global scale, bamboo is a major commodity and source of livelihood, especially for poor people in rural areas. Over one billion people live in houses made of bamboo. In India alone over two million tons of bamboo is used for paper.”
“(Bamboo) is a source of biomass of the booming renewable energy markets, with Europe alone looking to import substantial quantities as part of its renewable energy program.”
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Bamboo is the world’s fastest growing plant, some species growing up to one metre a day, and able to reach its full height in a single season. China currently produces 80 percent of the world’s bamboo, with demand expected to rise with improved technology and processing techniques. The new methods allow the plants biofuel properties to be exploited, as well as enabling the versatile material to compete more effectively on the Western wood market.
Bamboo has a host of applications which include construction, carpentry, flooring, furniture, textiles, cuisine, cooking, paper, pulp, clothing, cosmetics and as a substitute for charcoal.
The many uses and sustainable nature of bamboo has seen an increasing number of Western investors seeking to capitalise on its growing demand over the last decade, creating a boom in plantations in countries from Nicaragua to Indonesia.
However there are risks associated with the plant including the devastation which can be wrecked by floods and pests, the political climates of the producer countries and the lack of international laws governing the sustainability of bamboo plantations.