How can bamboo reduce vulnerability to climate change, while providing income for local communities?


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By Tim Cronin, INBAR

CIFOR scientist Nick Hogarth in China.

Cancun, Mexico, 1st December, 2010: As negotiators struggle to break the north-south deadlock on climate change action, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) has pointed to the important role bamboo can play in reducing the vulnerability of developing country communities to the impacts of climate change, while providing a reliable and sustainable source of income.

Negotiators from more than 190 countries have gathered in Cancun, Mexico, for the 16th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP16), in the hope of reaching agreement on a future global strategy to address climate change. The host country is rich in bamboo resources, including throughout Cancun’s home state of Quintana Roo. Mexico is experiencing a housing shortage of 3 million homes. What do these seemingly unrelated facts have to do with climate change and how can a humble grass help?

“Bamboo is a remarkable resource for driving economic development, and is readily available in many of the world’s poorest countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America,” said Coosje Hoogendoorn, INBAR’s Director General. “It helps support the livelihoods of more than 1.5 billion people, generates more than US5 billion in annual trade and can grow up to 1 meter a day. Now, with the issue of climate change to deal with, bamboo has become even more important.

“One major way bamboo can assist communities to cope with climate change is in low-cost, sustainable, climate-resistant housing,” said Hoogendoorn. “Latin America has an especially rich tradition of building with bamboo, and its strength and flexibility make it one of the best materials we have to withstand floods, storms and earthquakes. Not only this, but bamboo is affordable, renewable and can create jobs in harvesting, processing, transport and construction.”

INBAR has recently launched a major project in Latin America, funded by the World Bank, to help communities use elevated bamboo housing to prepare for the impacts of climate change, which are likely to include an increased frequency of extreme weather events. The project will provide quality bamboo housing to withstand floods and storms, and will strengthen bamboo supply chains to create income and employment.

“Bamboo housing has been around for centuries, but many people don’t understand its full potential and still see it as the poor man’s timber,” said Alvaro Cabrera, INBAR’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean. ““In fact, bamboo is stronger for its weight than steel, it’s cheaper than timber, uses far less energy in processing than concrete and can dance in earthquakes.

“We’re focusing our efforts on making sure that bamboo houses can provide safer homes for vulnerable people this way they can reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change; and they can make money by building a sustainable industry that requires little investment. Bamboo should be referred to as the wise man’s timber.”

Mexico, the host of COP16, is rich in bamboo resources, especially throughout the states of Veracruz, Puebla, Tabasco and Quintana Roo (which includes Cancun). But despite a growing domestic market for bamboo shoots and handicrafts, Mexico makes up just 2% of global bamboo trade. According to Alberto Jimenez Merino, Leader of the Agriculture Group for Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), far more can be done to develop the bamboo sector.

“Bamboo can do so much to provide housing and employment, especially in times of crisis,” said Merino. “But we need the right policies. For example, we need to recognise bamboo in building codes, especially in relation to disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change. If we don’t recognise and legitimize the use of bamboo it will never realize its full potential.”

As negotiators struggle to reach consensus on a global strategy to address climate change, bamboo offers a way forward for developing country communities. While squabbles continue in the meeting rooms, bamboo can offer a range of low-cost, profitable, low-carbon development opportunities now, while simultaneously helping vulnerable communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

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