Looking behind the bamboo curtain


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Many people consider bamboo a kind of ’poor man’s timber’. Since so many lower-income people depend on bamboo fully or partially for their livelihoods, particularly in Asia, some groups have begun to promote bamboo production as a way to reduce poverty. They assume that since bamboo is important to poor people, investments in the bamboo sector will inevitably help the poor.

Manuel Ruiz Perez, Zhong Maogong, Brian Belcher, Xie Chen, Fu Maoyi, and Xie Jinzhong tried to find out if this was true by surveying 200 bamboo farmers in eight townships in China. They recently published their results in World Development in an article titled ’The role of bamboo plantations in rural development: the case of Anji County, Zhejiang, China’.

Since 1979, China has moved away from collective agriculture to a family – based production approach known as the ’household responsibility system’. Producers no longer have to sell their forest products to the state and the country’s economy has improved. That has led to higher demand for forest products, including bamboo.

The World Development article looks at these changes in the case of bamboo and how they influenced farmers’ incomes and wealth using descriptive statistics and multiple regression analysis. The authors’ main finding is that poorer farmers lack the resources to take full advantage of the opportunities in the bamboo sector. Middle income groups rely on bamboo the most for their incomes, while higher income groups receive the largest absolute share of bamboo earnings. Richer families also have other complementary or alternative off-farm income opportunities besides bamboo. Rather than being the ’timber of the poor’, bamboo in Anji represents a good option mainly for farmers already on the income-growing track. When the authors compared income growth across eight bamboo -growing townships they found that even though income growth rates were similar across townships, higher absolute increases in better-off townships resulted in an increasing income gap.

This serves as a warning flag for forestry development projects (especially those based on bamboo and other non-timber forest products) aimed at helping the poorest sections of rural communities.

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If you would like to request a hard copy of the paper, please send an e-mail message with your postal address to: T.Suhartini@cgiar.org.

To comment on this message or the article, you can write Manuel Ruiz-Perez (M.Ruiz-Perez@cgiar.org) or Brian Belcher (B.Belcher@cgiar.org).