Bamboo bends towards sustainable industry

Quick growing bamboo could become a sustainable industry for building materials and even fibres for the garment industry, according to the organiser of the Bamboo Green Growth and Carbon Finance Conference that took place at Raffles Hotel last week.

Organiser Eric Mousset, who also serves as president of the French Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, said that combined with newly developed environment-friendly glue, bamboo can be pressed and glued into beautiful wood flooring, for which an increasing demand could been seen worldwide.

“There are technologies and methodologies to play around with, different types of glue, and it is quite a versatile product. The good news is that the glues in recent years there has been research and development carried out. Now we have glues that are biodegradable and environment friendly. The entirety of the value chain is sustainable from environmental quality.

“The next step is to develop the industry at a national level, and the way is to implement some bamboo transformation factories to produce beams and boards with special glues that create a product that is harder than the hardest timber.”

Mousset says having bamboo as a substitute for timber makes sense because bamboo flooring is actually a superior product that people are choosing worldwide in greater numbers.

“Now you also have to consider export potential because there is a growing global demand for bamboo products especially bamboo flooring. This is because of growing number of customers who are environmentally minded worldwide.”

In order to think of Cambodia as an exporter of bamboo products, the example of China is considered.

“It is reasonable to consider Cambodia as an exporter in that market. To get there would mean that the Cambodia bamboo industry would have to reach the similar productivity levels as China. China holds close to 70 per cent of global bamboo market. China has been able to optimise their value chains. Bamboo factories in China are able to use every single part of bamboo,” Mousset said.

While most of the bamboo used in Cambodia and elsewhere in rural Asia is split by hand and beaten flat to make floors for houses, fish traps and other products, Mousset said it would be possible to invest in the development of machines to split the bamboo as a Cambodian industry.

“The Chinese bamboo value chains are entirely optimised, and it will take a few years for a country like Cambodia that starts from scratch to attain similar productivity levels. But, demand is growing worldwide.”

Mousset said the bamboo industry is a possibility for carbon finance to combat global warming because bamboo is a member of the grass family of plants, not trees.

“It is been proven that a hectare of bamboo forest will absorb a significantly higher level of carbon emissions than woods or trees. That is one reason why bamboo farming should be more attractive to carbon finance than the trees. The second good property of bamboo is that it regrows very quickly. For construction applications, you have to wait five years for cellular density of bamboo, but five years is still very quick compared to wood,” he said.

“Bamboo is not a tree, it is a grass, and therefore escapes the definition of forestry for many ministries. Another goal is to raise awareness about the many potentials of bamboo. There is another nice property to bamboo which is stabilising and replenishing degraded land.”

A year and a half ago, Mousset appointed a professor from China named Lou Yiping, who is a member of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), to conduct a feasibility study here in Cambodia.

Dr Lou Yiping is world expert on the bamboo value chain.

He presented concept notes on the Cancun Climate Change Conference in November, 2010. That’s one of the reasons Mousset was asked to organise the bamboo conference in Phnom Penh last week.

The sponsors included Beijing-based Administrative Centre of China Agenda 21 (ACCA21), the Beijing-based French Development Agency (AFD) and the French Global Environment Facility.

“Another supporter was IISR, International Institute for Scientific Research, a local think tank, and they were instrumental in liaising with the ministry of environment,” Mousset said.

“The purpose of the workshop was to exchange experience on bamboo development projects especially from a policy and regulation perspective. We wanted to find out how we could amend local and global regulations to make them become favourable to bamboo products.”

There’s a United Nations programme called UN-REDD which stands for The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries that channels carbon finance for reforestation.

“This does not include bamboo and we’d like to make it include bamboo,” Mousset said. Another use is bamboo chips to create bamboo charcoal to create renewable energy.

More than 50 people attended the conference at Raffles in Phnom Penh last Thursday and Friday, Secretary of State for the Ministry of the Environment Khong Sam Nuon.

People came from China, Vietnam, India, Germany and France to attend the conference.

Mousset said that since the textile industry is so important for Cambodia and because Cambodia has to import all the fabric, the manufacture of bamboo fibre clothing would be ideal.

“This economy relies on the textile industries. Imagine if the local garment industry was able to source some of its inputs from within the Cambodian boundaries. This would result in higher value for the domestic economy.”

Bamboo fibres have more absorbency than cotton, but the drawback is, the acid used in the fibre process is not environmentally friendly, Mousset said.

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