Bamboo can restore land, support villages, and save our climate

In the 1970s, courageous Irish designer Linda Garland discovered the giant bamboos of Bali, Indonesia, and all the ways in which they were used in the traditional Indonesian way of life. She integrated them into many of her interior designs, and given that many of her clients were high profile, many came to call her the “Queen of Bamboo”.

She and her design team created sofas, chairs, beds, and jewelry, and other designers began to replicate their work. Indonesian president Suharto presented her with the Upakarti Award for her work in catalyzing more than 10 cottage industry areas in Bali – which flourished into multimillion dollar institutions in Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia. 

Linda Garland (World Bamboo)

Unfortunately the resulting shockwave of demand for bamboo began to have very bad effects on bamboo and wood forest areas, so Linda created a working group, the “Environmental Bamboo Foundation”, which became an official organization in 1992. It promoted bamboo as a timber alternative, supported research, and worked with communities to reforest and restore degraded lands with bamboo. She helped develop a system for preserving bamboo for long-term use, known as the “vertical soak and diffusion system”. 

In 1995, she hosted the International Bamboo Congress in her home in Bali, which brought together many different people in an interdisciplinary and interindustry dialogue. With the support of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment, the Foundation finalized the First National Strategy for conserving and using bamboo in Indonesia, which was launched by the Minister of Environment Dr. Sarwono Kustmajaya in 1997.

Linda, who died in 2016, “opened her door (and her heart) to students and designers, investigators and dreamers,” the World Bamboo Foundation said as it recognized her posthumously as a World Bamboo Pioneer Award. Her youngest son, Arief Rabik, himself a bamboo expert, received the award in her name.

“Linda pioneered a new world of bamboo – one with tradition but with technological and design innovation – and she realized the vast environmental benefits, which are today touted to mitigate climate change.”

Her work lives on in the 1000 Bamboo Villages program, launched at COP 21, which is now led by Arief, who is considered as the world’s top bamboo forestry and harvesting expert. In Indonesia, where bamboo has been identified as a key to restoring degraded landscapes whilst at the same time creating a community-based restoration economy in participating villages, the foundation drew on his expertise to combine sustainable bamboo production with community empowerment and land restoration efforts.

EBF photo

Bamboo agroforestry is a strategic resource for climate change mitigation, the Foundation says. Each hectare of bamboo forest can absorb 50 tons of carbon dioxide every year, and a typical bamboo clump acts as a 5,000-litre water holding tank on the topsoil, healing watersheds and mitigating the risk of flooding while serving as a natural windbreak during storms.

Each Bamboo Village is at the heart of a thriving agroforestry complex in which villagers create nurseries that increase bamboo’s growth and survival rate, even in the most degraded landscapes. “Our goal is to empower the community to efficiently manage their landscape, creating economic incentives that reinforce positive changes. We design our program to support the community with an integrated agroforestry system: socialisation, survey, transport, innovative coding, mounding, and sustainable harvesting.” The goal is to achieve 1,000 Bamboo Villages by 2029.

“We came up with a solution,” Arief says. “Learn how our 1000 Bamboo Villages Program empowers rural farmers in Indonesia to become land restoration champions while driving a village-based bamboo industry,” in this December 2019 YouTube video.

By Sean McGrath from Saint John, NB, Canada – Bamboo, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37623726

While the 1,000 Bamboo Village focus is Indonesia, the Food and Agriculture Organization sees many possibilities for bamboo’s use in sustainable development around the world. It estimated in 2020 that bamboo covers at least 35 million hectares of land across Africa, Asia and the Americas. Bamboo area expanded by 50% between 1990 and 2020, largely because of new expansion in China and India. In 2019, US $3.054 billion of bamboo products were exported.

But while bamboo can be an important part of sustainable development in the Global South, particularly as a tool for poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation, there are gaps in knowledge which the FAO is working with the International  Bamboo and Rattan Foundation (INBAR) to fill.

By supporting improved reporting on global bamboo resources, FAO and INBAR should help bamboo-rich countries in the Global South to realise the full potential of this ‘bank in their backyard’, says the FAO.

Sources:

1000 Bamboo Villages. Environmental Bamboo Foundation, Dec. 10, 2019

Linda Garland. World Bamboo, n.d.

Putting bamboo on the map. FAO, 2020.

Ways to save the planet: Swap concrete for wood. People fixing the world, BBC, Aug 24, 2021.

Environmental Bamboo Foundation website.

Bamboo – the Tradition of the Future. Anthrotecture, Mar. 19, 2020.

Bamboo – the industry of the future, now. INBAR, Jan. 15, 2017.