Bamboo biomass/an alternative to timber: potential ‘green gold’ in India, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Dom. Republic

by Dave

 - News – The Ecologist

From India and Indonesia to Colombia and Costa Rica, the number of bamboo plantations worldwide is rising as quickly as the fast-growing crop itself. Some of the world’s most impoverished countries are realising the potential of this versatile tree-like tropical grass, which in so many respects seems worthy of its nickname: ‘green gold.’

Because it can reach full, harvestable maturity within five years, it is being touted as an alternative to dwindling timber supplies. Its success could mean hectares of hardwood forest being saved from the chainsaw.
Strong and cheap, bamboo construction projects are already repairing shattered communities in countries like earthquake-prone Haiti – but its cohesive properties work on an organic level too. Growing out of a tangle of carbon-sequestering underground stems, it can help reforest landscapes denuded by development or natural disasters, binding topsoil to prevent erosion.

The UN’s TECA platform (technologies and practices for small agricultural producers) has given the income-generating potential of single-family-run ‘homestead’ plantations the thumbs-up.

India, China and Burma, with almost 20 million hectares of bamboo forests and plantations between them are already zeroing in on its cash potential, and last month the crop made its debut on the world’s financial stage, with the launch of asset-backed ‘bamboo bonds’. EcoPlanet Bamboo, the company behind them, expects the global market to be worth $20 billion by 2015.

‘Our objective to provide an alternative to timber currently sourced from natural forests is unilaterally positive,’ says Camille Rebelo, vice-president and co-founder of EcoPlanet Bamboo, which operates two of Nicaragua’s biggest plantations, totalling just under 3,000 acres. She insists the company is ‘only converting degraded pastureland into healthy, fully functioning ecosystems, and developing all plantations under the strictest certification standards’ (it intends to obtain Forest Stewardship Council and Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance accreditation, but hasn’t yet). Profits from the bamboo bonds will be used to develop another 4,450 acres of plantation in Panama and the Dominican Republic within the next 12 months. Investors are promised returns of up to 503 per cent over 15 years.

Bamboo too has power potential: US company
Clenergen operates a bamboo-chip biomass power plant
in the Philippines
and has ambitions to become a major fuel supplier in southeast Asia. ‘Bioenergy
– not only biofuels, but biomass-based energy in general – [is]
boosting demand for all kinds of biomass,’ says Christoph Thies. ‘This
will be an issue for bamboo and many other tree and plant species.