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  • The forgotten solution: bamboo at the 2019 International Horticultural Exhibition

The forgotten solution: bamboo at the 2019 International Horticultural Exhibition

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Photo by INBAR.

FTA partner the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation will be taking part in the world’s largest horticultural exhibition, scheduled to open in Beijing this month.

April 2019, Beijing – On April 29, the International Horticultural Exhibition (Expo 2019) will open just outside Beijing, China. The theme of the Exhibition is ‘Live Green, Live Better’, and it is set to be one of the largest expositions ever held: it covers 500 hectares of land, runs for six months, and will be visited by a number of heads of state—including China’s President Xi Jinping — as well as an estimated 16 million guests.

The International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR), a partner in the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), will be hosting a large Garden at the Expo 2019. The INBAR Garden aims to promote the use of nature-based solutions for sustainable development and environmental protection.

Bamboo, the fast-growing grass plant, and rattan, the spiky climbing palm, can provide a natural solution for a number of pressing development challenges. Fast-growing, flexible and strong, bamboo and rattan have a range of uses: creating sustainable sources of income in rural areas; restoring degraded lands; storing carbon; protecting biodiversity; and providing a more sustainable, low-carbon solution for products and infrastructure.

There are a number of ways in which bamboo and rattan can contribute to sustainable forest management and agroforestry practices. As a source of energy, bamboo can provide a renewable, legally harvestable replacement for timber, and reduces pressure on scarce forest resources near communities who rely on fuelwood for energy. Bamboo also plays an important component in some farming systems: intercropping with bamboo can reduce water run-off, improve soil health and provide a nutritious source of fodder for livestock. Bamboo and rattan’s role in the protection of some of the world’s most iconic and endangered animals is well known; however, bamboo’s importance for land restoration is only just becoming more recognized, and INBAR Member States have pledged to restore over five million hectares of land using bamboo by 2020.

Read also: Guiding principles for sustainable bamboo forest management planning: Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (BGRS)

As well as providing ecosystem services, bamboo and rattan have an important role to play in sustainable socio-economic development. These plants offer a lifeline to millions of people around the world, in some of the poorest rural communities, as a key material used in household products and handicrafts for sale. Strengthening bamboo and rattan value chains has helped to lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty around the world.

Photo by INBAR.

On top of this, bamboo is enjoying growing importance as a low-carbon replacement for plastic, cement and steel. A recent business article by the Economist summarized the many new low-carbon uses of bamboo, which “is finding its way into a range of new plywoods and plastics”, and creates composites which are “strong enough to build storm-drainage pipes and shock-resistant exteriors for bullet-train carriages.”

The same is true with bamboo housing, which has been used for millennia. In November 2018, bamboo housing shot to international fame with the announcement of a bamboo house design as the winner of the Cities for our Future Challenge, a competition coordinated by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Since its establishment in 1997, INBAR has been promoting the use of bamboo and rattan for sustainable development and environmental protection. In an Ecobusiness editorial published earlier this year, INBAR said that, “As available, scaleable solutions go, bamboo and rattan are a forgotten solution” for environmental protection.

Read also: Standing tall: Bamboo from restoration to economic development

Bamboo and rattan’s benefits for forests and farms will be a key focus of the INBAR Garden at the Expo 2019. The Garden will include:

  • A ‘Bamboo Eye’ Pavilion covering 1600 meters squared and made entirely from round-pole bamboo: the largest structure of its kind ever built in the north of China, built by a renowned bamboo architect;
  • Exhibitions and events showcasing bamboo and rattan’s role in poverty alleviation, land restoration, climate change mitigation and disaster-resilient construction across INBAR’s 45 Member States;
  • A Garden of over 2000 meters squared, containing a range of bamboos and the winning designs of the International Bamboo Construction Competition 2019.

The INBAR Bamboo Eye Pavilion and Garden will be open to any visitors to the Expo 2019 over the next six months, and will be an important way for new audiences to find out more about the potential of bamboo and rattan for forestry and environmental protection.

The INBAR Garden is part of the Expo 2019, and will open on April 29, running for six months until October. For more information, please visit https://www.inbar.int/event/beijing-horticultural-expo-2019/

For more information about how bamboo and rattan can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, read https://www.inbar.int/global-programmes/

By Charlotte King, the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR)


The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, ICRAF, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Guiding principles for sustainable bamboo forest management planning: Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (BGRS)

Guiding principles for sustainable bamboo forest management planning: Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (BGRS)

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Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (BGRS) is the region of Ethiopia with the greatest bamboo forest cover. The resource has, however, encountered heavy degradation in recent years due to fires for farming and for hunting, mass flowering, unsustainable harvest, and land conversion. Bamboo, if harvested correctly, can become a valuable resource and a source of income for the rural population of BGRS. In order to do so, a management plan is needed at the regional level to provide guidance for future planning at the district level. This document, based on a desk study, field survey, direct observation, and a participatory mapping workshop, intends to provide this guidance for a sustainable bamboo forest management plan. It also gives recommendations on how to sustainably harvest bamboo, how to develop nurseries for future bamboo plantations, how to link bamboo forests with the private sector and the market, and the role bamboo could play in degraded land restoration.

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  • Promoting nature-based solutions for gender equality

Promoting nature-based solutions for gender equality

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Bamboo charcoal can be a lucrative source of income. Photo by INBAR

As a clean-burning source of energy in the home, and a lucrative means of income, bamboo is helping to bring income and social standing to women across the world.

For Gloria Adu, bamboo has brought big changes to her family. “Bamboo has done so much in my life. It has changed me completely. I’m so happy we now have women in the industry in my country.”

Gloria is from Ghana, a country where demand for fuelwood and charcoal accounts for around 70% of annual forest loss. During a training course facilitated by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) in 2001, which she described as an “eye opener”, Gloria learned about several diverse types and uses of bamboo, and was taken on tours to see bamboo plantations, arts and crafts in different parts of China. The training course inspired Gloria to set up her own company. Global Bamboo Products Ltd. makes custom items on demand, and is now beginning to focus on the production of bamboo briquettes and charcoal.

In recent years, the company has gone from strength to strength. It now boasts a 300-hectare bamboo plantation and has won several local and international awards. Gloria has used Global Bamboo Products to teach other people: she estimates the company has trained some 400 people in alternative livelihood activities, and over 10,000 farmers in the cultivation, management, and primary processing of bamboo and bamboo charcoal. Gloria’s company is an example of what women can do with bamboo.

According to Gloria, “Bamboo charcoal is crucial for women.” The grass plant grows locally to many rural communities across the tropics and subtropics, and is often excluded from local forest protection laws. This means it can be harvested legally, within close proximity to a community. Converting bamboo to charcoal requires few set-up costs – some technologies even use converted oil barrels as kilns – and the resulting charcoal burns with little smoke, and has a similar calorific density to other commonly used forms of biomass.

These are not bamboo’s only benefits. Fast-growing, light and easy to process, cultures around the world have used bamboo for millennia as a source of housing, fodder, furniture and tools. Integrating bamboo into farming systems has been shown to improve yields and restore soil health. And products made from bamboo can fetch quite a price: rural households in parts of Africa can earn over US$1,000 a year from cultivating and converting bamboo into charcoal and other products.

Mira and her employees are now the primary breadwinners in their households, thanks to working in the lucrative bamboo incense stick sector. Photo by INBAR

Gloria is one of the many women who know that bamboo changes lives. Mira Das, a bamboo incense stick maker from West Tripura, India, describes a complete transformation in her family’s lifestyle: “Before training in the bamboo sticks business, our family income was meagre, and I had no rest or leave from my domestic support job.”

Following a training course in bamboo incense stick production by INBAR and the Centre for Indian Bamboo Resource and Technology (CIBART), Mira’s family has experienced “a huge increase in household income”, which has given them a sense of financial security. “Now, I have some savings in my account, and we use the additional amount to buy household assets: good clothes, a mobile phone, a gas stove.”

Earning an income from bamboo – often, for the first time – has other, less tangible benefits. According to Mira, running a small enterprise has developed her qualities as a leader – “it’s definitely helped me gain both a sustainable livelihood and more self-confidence.” In 2017, she gave a speech at a Kolkata summit on ‘Transforming Women’s Lives’.

And for Giraben, a bamboo furniture maker in Gujarat, India, the success of her bamboo company has given her “not just income, and but also respect. Now, members from our community and other communities have approached me for my advice on social matters, and my husband and I get invitations to social functions, festivals, cultural events and marriages.”

Encouraging women to use bamboo can go a long way to realising the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal: achieving gender equality. Using bamboo gives women access to a potentially lucrative economic resource, and can help secure women a place in decision-making in political, economic and public life. Involving women in decisions about land use, forests and tree resources can also help create more sustainable development solutions, which makes it a key part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), in which INBAR is a partner.

At its most successful, the bamboo industry has produced some inspiring international women leaders. Cynthia Villar, another beneficiary of INBAR training, is now a senator in the Philippines and vocal supporter of bamboo’s potential; meanwhile Bernice Dapaah, executive director of Ghana Bamboo Bikes, has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader; and in China, the founder and CEO of bamboo tissue manufacturer Vanov, Shen Genlian, has shown how successful a women-led bamboo enterprise can become.

There are considerable obstacles to upscaling INBAR’s work to empower women to use bamboo. Aside from technology transfer and training, there are often systemic problems and socially entrenched marginalization which make it harder to sustain women-run enterprises. But this has not stopped many of the thousands of women who INBAR has trained.

A woman in a bamboo grove in Madagascar. Photo by Lou Yiping/INBAR

Approaches seeded by INBAR and a range of development partners include a collective of women’s self-help groups in India, which produce higher value-added incense stick products and have created 150,000 jobs, and an initiative in Tanzania that has created 100 bamboo nurseries, the creation of micro-enterprises, and training opportunities for some 1000 people in a specially-created Bamboo Training Center.

INBAR’s training programs also prioritize approaches that play to women’s strengths and skills in the production process – emphasizing design, for instance, which in many traditional societies is the responsibility of female producers, and focusing on technologies and techniques which can be used in the home. And INBAR has conducted research which focuses on structural barriers and drivers of gender change in tree-based and forested landscapes, as part of its partnership with FTA.

With more training, greater awareness, and the development of a vibrant bamboo and rattan economy, INBAR believes these plants can continue to create jobs, and independence, for women across our 44 Member states.


Originally published by INBAR. This article is based on a seminar on ‘Women, bamboo and rattan’ held at the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress in June 2018, as well as interviews conducted by The Centre for Indian Bamboo Resource and Technology (CIBART) in India.

INBAR is a strategic partner of FTA, the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. FTA’s gender research contributes to the development of tools, approaches, and measures that can support young men and women’s capacities, interests, and opportunities in natural resource management. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Is bamboo a sustainable alternative for bioenergy production in Indonesia?

Is bamboo a sustainable alternative for bioenergy production in Indonesia?

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For thousands of years, people in Indonesia have used bamboo for a huge range of purposes. It is a ready source of food, fibre, firewood and construction material, and its abundance and availability has earned it the moniker of “timber of the poor.”

Now, scientists are exploring its potential in another critical realm: energy production and restoration of degraded land.

Energy demand in Indonesia has increased significantly in recent years, as a result of population growth, urbanization and economic development. The government is also working to up its energy provision from renewable sources, in line with its commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the international Paris Agreement on climate change. As a country with a rich biomass base, bioenergy seems an obvious port of call.

Watch: Integrating bioenergy and landscape restoration in the tropics: the key to a sustainable future

However, growing crops for bioenergy is not without its risks and tradeoffs. At present, Indonesia’s biofuel comes chiefly from oil palm, which has spurred widespread deforestation, peatland drainage and many other grave social and environmental impacts. So, say researchers from Australia’s RMIT University and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), it is crucial to start looking for other species that can provide sustainable supplies of biomass for energy production, without compromising food security or unduly affecting the wider landscape.

And that is where bamboo comes in, said RMIT and CIFOR researcher Roshan Sharma in a just-published opinion piece for the journal Sustainability. The fast-growing, perennial plant grows well on degraded land with minimal water or fertilizer input, and also thrives when planted in combination with other crops in forestry and agroforestry systems. What is more, there’s no need to chop the whole stand down and start again when it’s time to harvest: once mature (after around three to four years), the crop can be systematically thinned every year, and this may actually increase its productivity over time.

Bamboo cultivation can also be a “powerful ally” in restoration processes, say the co-authors. Its extensive root systems help to control erosion and retain water, while its copious leaf litter contributes significantly to soil fertility. Because it grows fast, it quickly creates habitats for enhanced biodiversity, and sequesters carbon in the process. What’s more, points out CIFOR scientist and contributing author Himlal Baral, the financial benefits of cultivating bamboo for bioenergy make restoration a much more economically viable prospect, which will be crucial for scaling it up.

Read more: Integrating bioenergy and landscape restoration in the tropics: the key to a sustainable future

Villagers transport bamboo with a small boat in Selimbau, Lake Sentarum, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. CIFOR/Ramadian Bachtiar

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Another advantage of generating bioenergy from bamboo is that it allows for decentralized energy production, say the scientists. Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands, many of which are not connected to the national power grid: according to Jaya Wahono, co-author  and chief executive of Clean Power Indonesia (CPI), there are around 12,500 villages across the country that don’t have reliable power. Diesel is imported in drums to many of these places and used to power generators, but it’s expensive and unreliable, which limits options for economic development, says Wahono.

As such, CPI has set up pilot bamboo power plants on the remote Mentawai islands, with considerable success: they’ve brought reliable electricity to 1,200 households in three villages, each of which has their own power plant. Bamboo harvesting provides jobs, and also allows farmers to diversify their income streams, reducing their vulnerability to crop failure and helping them adapt to climate change.

Wahono says CPI is now keen to replicate the model across Indonesia. Since bamboo cultivation and use is already a familiar aspect of everyday life, they hope that locals will be willing and able to participate in bamboo-based bioenergy production right across the archipelago.

Bamboo plantations will need to be carefully managed, notes Baral, as they can pose a threat as an invasive species which can displace surrounding vegetation. It will also be important to ensure bamboo is cultivated on degraded and under-utilized land, so it doesn’t displace food crops or cause clear-felling of native vegetation while reducing the risk of invasiveness.

According to Sharma, the research team’s next step will be “to explore how much local bamboo is available in Indonesia, identify sites for possible bamboo plantations, and study the economic feasibility of producing bamboo by farmers and the economics of land restoration using bamboo.”

Read more: FTA at GLF Bonn

By Monica Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


This research is part of the CIFOR Bioenergy project funded by NIFoS (National Institute of Forest Science, South Korea) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) with financial support from the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Bamboo for restoration and economic development

Bamboo for restoration and economic development

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  • Standing tall: Bamboo from restoration to economic development

Standing tall: Bamboo from restoration to economic development

A woman stands beside an allanblackia tree, which can provide an edible oil and increase the incomes of farmers. Photo by C. Pye-Smith/ICRAF
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Can grass be used to make tissues, furniture, pipes and even housing? Can it help to improve livelihoods and to mitigate climate change? Think beyond garden lawns and savannah landscapes, to bamboo.

“Bamboos, although they look like trees,” said the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation’s (INBAR) Director General Hans Friederich in opening a recent side event at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, “are actually all grass species.”

Bamboo provides a durable building material and strong fiber for paper and textiles without the need to fell trees. Additionally, Friederich explained that as a grass, bamboo grows back quickly after being harvested – making it a highly sustainable product to work with.

Titled Bamboo for restoration and economic development, the discussion addressed how bamboo fits into conversations about land management, land restoration, erosion control and nature-based solutions for development challenges.

“[We need to] make that connection between bamboo as a plant, as a means to hold soil together, to think about climate change mitigation […] and then link that to the market,” he said. “What actually can we do with this bamboo once we plant it?”

“To have a value chain that actually identifies the market opportunities is important,” he added.

Eduardo Mansur, director of land and water at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN) underlined the importance of nature-based solutions, and combining green and grey infrastructure – that is, natural ecosystems with human-engineered solutions.

He described the huge amount of degraded land on the planet, saying: “If we restore this degraded land that exists on the planet […] we will be able to produce the products, the food and the ecosystem services that we need for sustainable livelihoods and sustainable life on the planet.”

“We have seen examples of species-specific conservation,” he said, “when it links with sustainable livelihoods.” Giving the example of the Brazilian Amazon, Mansur described a species of palm that produces an inedible coconut known as “vegetable ivory” for its color and texture. Used to make buttons and handicrafts, it has helped to improve the ecosystems where the palm occurs, he said, because there is a market link.

Such a species can be used to promote sustainable livelihoods and sustainable use, he added, drawing a comparison with the over 1,600 species of bamboo. If a bamboo species is well chosen and well managed, it can have ongoing positive effects, especially for soil restoration.

Read also: Bamboo and rattan: Surprising tools for forest protection

Ye Ling, president and chief engineer at Zhejiang Xinzhou Bamboo-based Composites Technology Co., Ltd, discussed how his company develops products from bamboo on a large scale – such as pressure pipes and modular housing from a bamboo composite – which offer better performance and lower costs and can replace a huge quantity of traditional materials such as cement and steel, thus helping to tackle climate change and contributing to the SDGs.

A woman whittles a piece of bamboo in India. Photo by International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR)

He emphasized innovation as the most important factor in product development, saying that without it, other factors such as policy or investment would have nowhere to go.

Trinh Thang Long, coordinator of the Global Assessment of Bamboo and Rattan for green development (GABAR) at INBAR said the organization’s 44 member states had begun to learn specifically from China’s use of bamboo for economic development.

GABAR aims to maximize bamboo and rattan’s contribution to national economic development and environmental protection, to help inform policies, development strategies and opportunities for investment.

Many countries are not yet fully aware of the advantages of bamboo compared to trees, Long explained. He emphasized that the grasses are fast growing, easy to manage, and can be harvested annually after the first four to five years.

INBAR’s member states are contributing to the Bonn Challenge by restoring 5 million hectares of degraded land using bamboo. On a small scale, the work has been successful, but upscaling remains a challenge.

This challenge affects many countries, but a case study in China illustrates the success of scaled-up bamboo. Jiang Jingyan, President of Yong’an Institute of Bamboo Industry, discussed Yong’an, China, and its reputation as a “bamboo city”. Concurring with previous speakers, he also addressed the importance of design and innovation.

Read also: Realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential: An interview with INBAR Director General Hans Friederich

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) Director Vincent Gitz then spoke about land restoration and the key constraints to upscaling, including policies and governance. He gave special attention to the economic aspects of land restoration – costs and benefits, investments and value chains.

“There won’t be any sustainable land restoration if we don’t give the means to increase, over time, the livelihoods of people that live on those lands,” he said.

There is often a time lag between a smallholder making an investment and seeing a return. However, as bamboo grows quickly and is extremely versatile, it is a strong option for restoration in different contexts. “Lots of innovation can come out of this plant,” he added.

Speakers participate in Side Event 4 at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Pilar Valbuena/GLF

An additional step is using bamboo to restore degraded lands while simultaneously creating clean energy, Gitz said, referring to an initiative from Clean Power Indonesia, which FTA is part of, and which is building small-scale bamboo-based energy generation plants in West Sumatra.

Touching further on industrial development, Cai Liang, the chief branding officer of Vanov Bamboo Tissue Enterprise in Sichuan, China, discussed the use of bamboo pulp for paper manufacturing, specifically for tissues. From concept to commitment, the company moved to develop a tissue paper using bamboo, without cutting down a single tree.

After years of experimentation, the company came up with soft, unbleached, antibacterial tissues made from bamboo fiber. Once again highlighting bamboo’s short growth period, constant regeneration and sustainability, Liang described how bamboo could provide the fibers typically taken from multiple types of trees to make paper.

Read also: Study examines bamboo value chains to support industry growth

As well as using the fiber to make the tissues themselves, the company uses waste from the process for energy generation and for fertilizer. The low-emission, closed-loop model uses over 1 million tons of bamboo annually, and offers over 1 million job opportunities for local farmers.

In closing, Friederich underscored this link between restoration and socioeconomics, harking back to Gitz’s presentation.

“If we want to succeed in restoration, we cannot only look at the landscapes – of course we need to look at the landscapes – but we need to look at the people in the landscapes and to connect them with the value chains that can come out of the productive aspects of restoration,” Gitz said.

“We can’t just stay where we are, and I think there are still some great opportunities for making new products from bamboo and looking at new ways of using bamboo within the landscape,” Friederich added.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator. 


Read more about INBAR’s participation in GLF Bonn 2018, or check out the summary of discussions from the forum.

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  • Bamboo and rattan: Surprising tools for forest protection

Bamboo and rattan: Surprising tools for forest protection

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A display of giant pandas greets attendees at BARC 2018. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

A new declaration is paving the way for non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in forest conservation. 

Bamboo and rattan are important – but critically overlooked – non-timber forest products. These plants have huge potential to restore degraded land, build earthquake-resilient housing, reduce deforestation, and provide jobs for millions of people in rural communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Despite this, bamboo and rattan are often regarded as ‘poor man’s timber’, and households, governments and businesses have yet to realize their full potential.

This image problem may be about to change. On 25-27 June, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner institution the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) cohosted the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress (BARC) in Beijing, China. At the Congress, 1,200 participants from almost 70 countries took part in discussions about the uses of bamboo and rattan in agroforestry, their ecosystem services, and their contribution to a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Inspiring innovation

Speakers included Vincent Gitz, Director of FTA, and Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Both highlighted problems of forest governance, and the role that innovative bamboo and rattan uses can play in this regard. Indeed, innovation was a key theme of the event. Throughout the three-day Congress, entrepreneurs exhibited innovative products: from wind turbines and bicycles to heavy-duty drainage pipes and flat-pack housing made with bamboo. Fast-growing and quick to mature, with the properties of hardwood, bamboo can provide an important low-carbon replacement for cement, plastics, steel and timber.

An equally important point, raised in many discussions, was NTFPs’ potential to create incomes for the rural poor. Throughout BARC, participants heard from speakers who had created businesses with bamboo: from Bernice Dapaah, who has founded an internationally recognized bamboo bicycle company in Ghana, to entrepreneurs from countries in Southeast Asia, where many communities rely on rattan for up to 50% of their cash income. According to INBAR Director General Hans Friederich, the bamboo and rattan sector employs almost 10 million people in China alone, proving that there are many possibilities for these plants to contribute to FTA’s core research themes.

Read also: Realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential: An interview with INBAR Director General Hans Friederich

A bamboo bicycle is pictured on the first day of the Congress. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

Storing carbon 

The potential for bamboo to complement forests’ role as carbon sinks was much discussed. A new report, launched at BARC, shows how certain species of bamboos’ fast rate of carbon storage makes them a very competitive tool for carbon sequestration. In an important announcement in plenary, Wang Chunfeng, Deputy Director-General of NFGA, suggested that bamboo could become part of offset projects in China’s new emissions trading scheme – a statement with huge potential for bamboo management.

And in a striking statement of support for bamboo’s use as a carbon sink, Dr. Li Nuyun, Executive Vice-President of the China Green Carbon Fund, stated that her organization would help establish a bamboo plantation in Yunnan province, China. Over time, the plantation will aim to sequester the estimated 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted over the course of the Congress – making BARC a ‘zero-carbon’ event.

Protecting biodiversity

Biodiversity management was the theme of a number of sessions. In a session on the Giant Panda, speakers from Conservation International, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Nature Conservancy, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the Wildlife Conservation Society in China, and the World Wildlife Fund committed their support toward a potential planning workshop in early 2019. The workshop would discuss how to take a holistic approach to biodiversity protection, which integrates bamboo management, panda protection and natural heritage conservation.

Read also: Study examines bamboo value chains to support industry growth

Offering ‘win-wins’

As many of the discussions showed, bamboo and rattan are often used because they offer more than one solution. Bamboo charcoal is such a case. As a clean-burning, locally growing source of energy, bamboo charcoal can significantly reduce stress on slower-growing forest resources. However, it can also form an important revenue source for individuals, particularly women.

Dancille Mukakamari, the Rwanda National Coordinator for the Africa Women’s Network for Sustainable Development, described how “charcoal is crucial for women in Africa”. And Gloria Adu, a successful Ghana-based entrepreneur who has been making bamboo charcoal for several decades, emphasized its huge potential for deforestation prevention, mentioning that almost three-quarters of Ghanaian forest loss came through charcoal production.

The road from BARC

Flags represent the countries in attendance at BARC 2018. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

If bamboo and rattan are so important, then why are they not more widely used? A lack of awareness is one factor. According to many of the private sector representatives at BARC, the absence of clear customs codes for bamboo and rattan, or specific standards to ensure the safety and quality of products, has prevented their uptake.

Ignorance is only part of the problem, however. Although people are increasingly aware about bamboo and rattan’s properties, more needs to be done to share technologies and innovative uses. Speaking in plenary, entrepreneur and author of The Blue Economy, Gunter Pauli, said it best: “The science is already there. We don’t have to convince people about bamboo, we have to inspire them – and bamboo is an inspiring product.”

The Congress made an important step forward in this need to ‘inspire’ change. On the first day, INBAR and the International Fund for Agriculture announced the launch of a new project, which plans to share Chinese bamboo industry expertise and technologies with four countries in Africa. The initiative aims to benefit 30,000 rural smallholder farmers and community members across Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar, who will be taught about how to plant, manage and create value-added products using bamboo.

BARC also saw an outpouring of political support for bamboo and rattan. A number of heads of state and development organization leaders provided video messages in support of bamboo and rattan. And in a plenary session, John Hardy, the TED talk speaker and founder of the Bamboo Green School in Bali, Indonesia, offered to offset his lifetime carbon emissions using bamboo, in a demonstration of the plant’s carbon storage potential.

Read also: Mapping bamboo forest resources in East Africa

The Beijing Declaration

With three plenary events, 75 side sessions and a lot of inspiration, BARC showed that there is clearly growing interest in bamboo and rattan for forest management. Announced on the third and final day of the Congress, the Beijing Declaration aimed to put all these commitments into action. Written on behalf of “ministers, senior officials, and participants”, the Declaration lays out bamboo and rattan’s contributions as “a critical part of forests and ecosystems”, and calls upon governments to support the plants’ development in forestry and related initiatives.

According to INBAR’s Friederich, “The Beijing Declaration stands to make a real difference in the way bamboo and rattan are included in forest practices. Far from being poor man’s timber, this Congress has shown that bamboo and rattan are truly green gold. Now we need to focus on the road from BARC – how to make these plants a vital part of the way we manage forests, and the environment.”

Given their relevance for climate change mitigation and adaptation, their role in supporting sustainable forest conservation and their importance to smallholder livelihoods, bamboo and rattan are key NFTPs for the realization of FTA’s core aims. As the Congress showed, the key challenge now is to integrate these plants into forest management, and promote their central role in sustainable development.

By Charlotte King, INBAR international communications specialist. 

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  • Bamboo and rattan: Surprising tools for forest protection

Bamboo and rattan: Surprising tools for forest protection

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A display of giant pandas greets attendees at BARC 2018. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

A new declaration is paving the way for non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in forest conservation. 

Bamboo and rattan are important – but critically overlooked – non-timber forest products. These plants have huge potential to restore degraded land, build earthquake-resilient housing, reduce deforestation, and provide jobs for millions of people in rural communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Despite this, bamboo and rattan are often regarded as ‘poor man’s timber’, and households, governments and businesses have yet to realize their full potential.

This image problem may be about to change. On 25-27 June, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner institution the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) cohosted the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress (BARC) in Beijing, China. At the Congress, 1,200 participants from almost 70 countries took part in discussions about the uses of bamboo and rattan in agroforestry, their ecosystem services, and their contribution to a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Inspiring innovation

Speakers included Vincent Gitz, Director of FTA, and Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Both highlighted problems of forest governance, and the role that innovative bamboo and rattan uses can play in this regard. Indeed, innovation was a key theme of the event. Throughout the three-day Congress, entrepreneurs exhibited innovative products: from wind turbines and bicycles to heavy-duty drainage pipes and flat-pack housing made with bamboo. Fast-growing and quick to mature, with the properties of hardwood, bamboo can provide an important low-carbon replacement for cement, plastics, steel and timber.

An equally important point, raised in many discussions, was NTFPs’ potential to create incomes for the rural poor. Throughout BARC, participants heard from speakers who had created businesses with bamboo: from Bernice Dapaah, who has founded an internationally recognized bamboo bicycle company in Ghana, to entrepreneurs from countries in Southeast Asia, where many communities rely on rattan for up to 50% of their cash income. According to INBAR Director General Hans Friederich, the bamboo and rattan sector employs almost 10 million people in China alone, proving that there are many possibilities for these plants to contribute to FTA’s core research themes.

Read also: Realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential: An interview with INBAR Director General Hans Friederich

A bamboo bicycle is pictured on the first day of the Congress. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

Storing carbon 

The potential for bamboo to complement forests’ role as carbon sinks was much discussed. A new report, launched at BARC, shows how certain species of bamboos’ fast rate of carbon storage makes them a very competitive tool for carbon sequestration. In an important announcement in plenary, Wang Chunfeng, Deputy Director-General of NFGA, suggested that bamboo could become part of offset projects in China’s new emissions trading scheme – a statement with huge potential for bamboo management.

And in a striking statement of support for bamboo’s use as a carbon sink, Dr. Li Nuyun, Executive Vice-President of the China Green Carbon Fund, stated that her organization would help establish a bamboo plantation in Yunnan province, China. Over time, the plantation will aim to sequester the estimated 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted over the course of the Congress – making BARC a ‘zero-carbon’ event.

Protecting biodiversity

Biodiversity management was the theme of a number of sessions. In a session on the Giant Panda, speakers from Conservation International, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Nature Conservancy, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the Wildlife Conservation Society in China, and the World Wildlife Fund committed their support toward a potential planning workshop in early 2019. The workshop would discuss how to take a holistic approach to biodiversity protection, which integrates bamboo management, panda protection and natural heritage conservation.

Read also: Study examines bamboo value chains to support industry growth

Offering ‘win-wins’

As many of the discussions showed, bamboo and rattan are often used because they offer more than one solution. Bamboo charcoal is such a case. As a clean-burning, locally growing source of energy, bamboo charcoal can significantly reduce stress on slower-growing forest resources. However, it can also form an important revenue source for individuals, particularly women.

Dancille Mukakamari, the Rwanda National Coordinator for the Africa Women’s Network for Sustainable Development, described how “charcoal is crucial for women in Africa”. And Gloria Adu, a successful Ghana-based entrepreneur who has been making bamboo charcoal for several decades, emphasized its huge potential for deforestation prevention, mentioning that almost three-quarters of Ghanaian forest loss came through charcoal production.

The road from BARC

Flags represent the countries in attendance at BARC 2018. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

If bamboo and rattan are so important, then why are they not more widely used? A lack of awareness is one factor. According to many of the private sector representatives at BARC, the absence of clear customs codes for bamboo and rattan, or specific standards to ensure the safety and quality of products, has prevented their uptake.

Ignorance is only part of the problem, however. Although people are increasingly aware about bamboo and rattan’s properties, more needs to be done to share technologies and innovative uses. Speaking in plenary, entrepreneur and author of The Blue Economy, Gunter Pauli, said it best: “The science is already there. We don’t have to convince people about bamboo, we have to inspire them – and bamboo is an inspiring product.”

The Congress made an important step forward in this need to ‘inspire’ change. On the first day, INBAR and the International Fund for Agriculture announced the launch of a new project, which plans to share Chinese bamboo industry expertise and technologies with four countries in Africa. The initiative aims to benefit 30,000 rural smallholder farmers and community members across Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar, who will be taught about how to plant, manage and create value-added products using bamboo.

BARC also saw an outpouring of political support for bamboo and rattan. A number of heads of state and development organization leaders provided video messages in support of bamboo and rattan. And in a plenary session, John Hardy, the TED talk speaker and founder of the Bamboo Green School in Bali, Indonesia, offered to offset his lifetime carbon emissions using bamboo, in a demonstration of the plant’s carbon storage potential.

Read also: Mapping bamboo forest resources in East Africa

The Beijing Declaration

With three plenary events, 75 side sessions and a lot of inspiration, BARC showed that there is clearly growing interest in bamboo and rattan for forest management. Announced on the third and final day of the Congress, the Beijing Declaration aimed to put all these commitments into action. Written on behalf of “ministers, senior officials, and participants”, the Declaration lays out bamboo and rattan’s contributions as “a critical part of forests and ecosystems”, and calls upon governments to support the plants’ development in forestry and related initiatives.

According to INBAR’s Friederich, “The Beijing Declaration stands to make a real difference in the way bamboo and rattan are included in forest practices. Far from being poor man’s timber, this Congress has shown that bamboo and rattan are truly green gold. Now we need to focus on the road from BARC – how to make these plants a vital part of the way we manage forests, and the environment.”

Given their relevance for climate change mitigation and adaptation, their role in supporting sustainable forest conservation and their importance to smallholder livelihoods, bamboo and rattan are key NFTPs for the realization of FTA’s core aims. As the Congress showed, the key challenge now is to integrate these plants into forest management, and promote their central role in sustainable development.

By Charlotte King, INBAR international communications specialist. 

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Realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential: An interview with INBAR Director General Hans Friederich

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INBAR Director General Hans Friederich is pictured among bamboo plants. Credit: International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Ahead of the Global Bamboo and Rattan Conference (BARC) on June 25-27, 2018, the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation’s (INBAR) Director General Hans Friederich spoke with the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) about the versatility and potential of bamboo and rattan, and what can be expected from the upcoming conference. 

Set to take place in Beijing, China, BARC will be the world’s first international, policy-focused conference on how the “green tools” of bamboo and rattan can benefit sustainable development. It is being coorganized by INBAR, an intergovernmental organization comprising 43 member states, which is one of FTA’s strategic partner institutions.

This year marks the first ever BARC. What has prompted INBAR and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration to organize this policy-focused conference?

INBAR has worked to promote bamboo and rattan for sustainable development since 1997, and we have never before seen so much international interest. Last year, for our 20th anniversary, INBAR received messages from two heads of state: His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of China, and His Excellency Mulatu Teshome, President of Ethiopia. INBAR also became an Observer to the UN General Assembly and welcomed its 43rd member state.

To quote a senior official from our flag-raising ceremony [for INBAR’s new member state, Brazil] last year: “The time is right for bamboo and rattan!” Overall, 2018 feels like the perfect year to bring people together and push for realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential.

It is worth mentioning that we are holding our conference in China, INBAR’s host country and home of the world’s largest bamboo sector. The Chinese government has always been supportive of INBAR’s efforts, and uses bamboo for everything from land restoration and poverty alleviation to climate change mitigation. What better place to hold the first Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress?

What makes bamboo and rattan so versatile and suitable as an alternative to materials such as PVC, steel and concrete – and what makes them such strategic plants for contributing to the achievement of the SDGs? 

Bamboo and rattan are amazing plants. We have counted some 10,000 ways in which they can be used. Bamboo is taxonomically a grass, and it grows incredibly fast — you can literally hear and see some species grow — but it also has all the properties of hardwood.

This makes it an important low-carbon alternative for everything from paper and packaging to fuel and flooring. The industrial applications are also huge. Companies in China are starting to build wind turbine blades and drainage pipes from bamboo. Rattan, meanwhile, is a very important source of income for rural communities, who use it to make handicrafts and furniture.

What makes bamboo and rattan so powerful for sustainable development is their local availability to the rural poor. These plants grow in the tropics and subtropics — all but one of INBAR’s 43 member states are based in this belt — and can be grown and harvested close to homes. Communities can use them to create an income, restore their land or feed their animals — all the while preventing deforestation and climate change mitigation.

Children look out from a bamboo construction in Ecuador. Credit: International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Could you explain the concept of “green tools”? 

There is more and more talk about finding nature-based solutions to development problems. How can we improve the wellbeing of people in a way that also benefits the environment? So often, nature has the solutions — we just need to apply them in the most suitable way.

Bamboo is a great example of a green tool. At INBAR we’ve used bamboo around the world to restore degraded land, and as part of climate-smart farming systems. As well as improving soil quality and preventing water runoff, bamboo improves farmers’ incomes and can provide a clean-burning, renewable source of fuel. And, of course, when well managed, bamboo can benefit biodiversity, providing a source of food and habitat for a wide range of animals.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation is one of FTA’s key research areas. In what ways can bamboo and rattan contribute to combating climate change? 

Bamboo has huge potential as a means for climate change mitigation. Some species store carbon at a rate of almost 13 tons per hectare per year: faster than several species of tree.  Durable bamboo products also lock in carbon for the extent of the products’ lifespan.

As well as this, bamboo and rattan can help communities adapt to the effects of a changing climate. Bamboo housing is flexible, durable and earthquake-resilient. More generally, bamboo and rattan can provide an important income stream to households whose livelihoods are negatively affected by climate change. Many INBAR member states are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, so we take this part of our mandate very seriously.

Finally, we are working with a number of countries to realise the potential of bamboo energy. Bamboo can be burned directly, or converted into charcoal and gas, providing a cleaner-burning and renewable source of biomass for rural communities.

How can bamboo and rattan support local communities and livelihoods, at the same time as providing environmental benefits? 

There are many INBAR examples I could use, but perhaps the best one is Chishui, China. Chishui is one of China’s most famous hometowns of bamboo, with almost 100,000 ha of bamboo forest. A lot of Chishui residents are also very poor, and a large number have to emigrate to find work.

INBAR has worked with the local government in Chishui on a number of projects, to help restore degraded land and reforest areas using bamboo. The socioeconomic impacts were extraordinary. Within six months of one project, farmers were earning money from selling bamboo shoots, and using bamboo to feed their livestock. Within a few years, 40 per cent of migrant workers in nearby Guangdong were returning home to Chishui; three-quarters of them are now involved in the bamboo sector.

What’s particularly interesting about the Chishui example is how homegrown bamboo enterprises can help women. We see this in our member states across the world — women use bamboo because it is easy to collect and process, can be grown in home gardens, and can be used to make a lot of products with no special machinery or setup costs. One woman in Chishui, Mrs. Lu Huaying, started off making small carved bamboo handicrafts, and now runs an enterprise worth some RMB 2 million a year!

Clouds drift over a bamboo forest in China. Credit: International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

In your opinion, how can governments, international organisations and the private sector work together on bamboo and rattan?

INBAR and FTA know why bamboo and rattan are strategic tools for sustainable development — now we need to make these plants part of the conversation at a global level.

Bamboo and rattan can make a real contribution to the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Bonn Challenge for reforestation, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They can also become a key material in sustainable infrastructure and trade. One of the reasons we are holding BARC is to provide a platform for people to share ideas and start this conversation: How can bamboo and rattan benefit my work?

What outcomes are you hoping to see at BARC in terms of national and global policy? 

INBAR expects to launch or facilitate a number of new initiatives at BARC. We will sign a major new agreement with the International Fund for Agricultural Development to work across Africa, sharing experiences from working with farmers in Ethiopia and Madagascar with communities in Cameroon and Ghana. In Latin America, a number of National Bamboo Societies will establish a plan for increased regional cooperation. And in China, we will be discussing the challenges and opportunities for the newly announced Giant Panda National Park, and the relationship between biodiversity and bamboo. I hope that we can announce a dedicated conference about bamboo and the panda early next year.

Most excitingly, we are also expanding our work into new areas. At the congress, INBAR and the government of Cameroon will announce the establishment of INBAR’s new Central Africa office, with diplomatic privileges, in Yaoundé. Central Africa contains much of the continent’s bamboo, but we have previously had little access to these countries. We will also sign an agreement with the Pacific Island Development Forum regarding land restoration and rural development in the Pacific.

These are just some of the expected policies, programs and partnerships that we are excited about, and exactly the reason we are so delighted to host this congress.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator, and Charlotte King, INBAR International Communications Specialist. 

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Study examines bamboo value chains to support industry growth

Men weed a bamboo grove in Indonesia. Photo by Riyandoko/ICRAF
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Men weed a bamboo grove in Indonesia. Photo by Riyandoko/ICRAF

More assistance could help to support the Indonesian bamboo industry, which is currently seen as underdeveloped and missing out on opportunities. 

Despite a significant contribution to the economy, the bamboo industry in Indonesia remains underdeveloped. In terms of policy, bamboo is also often overlooked, with timber receiving much more attention.

Indonesia is home to around 143 bamboo species and 2.1 million hectares of bamboo forest. For centuries, bamboo has been used for construction, housing, household items and handicrafts. It is a no-fuss species that grows rapidly compared to timber, is highly adaptable to various types of soils, and is relatively easy to process. The industry provides livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of people.

Marcellinus Utomo of the Australian National University has explored how the government of Indonesia could foster the bamboo industry, focusing on bamboo value chains in Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta, as part of the Developing and Promoting Market-based Agroforestry Options and Integrated Landscape Management for Smallholder Forestry in Indonesia project, which is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Development and also forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

“The research findings are very valuable to us,” said project leader Aulia Perdana of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). “It will help us devise interventions, such as bamboo agroforestry systems, extension programs for silviculture, ways to better process raw material, and improve marketing and business skills. Additionally, we plan to test how to increase the scale of bamboo agroforestry to support the Thousand Bamboo Villages program.”

Read more: Mapping bamboo forest resources in East Africa

In December 2015, the Indonesian government initiated a 10-year program called Seribu Desa Bambu (One thousand bamboo villages) to foster the industry by establishing bamboo forests and factories. Yet, according to the research, the results have been suboptimal.

Utomo examined the value chains of three bamboo products: durable bamboo, kitchen utensils and handicrafts. Data were collected from June to August 2016 through interviews, focus groups, a literature review and direct observations.

He found that durable bamboo had the shortest chain with the least people involved, followed by kitchen utensils. The handicraft chain was the longest, involving the greatest number of people.

A diagram indicates the value chain flow for kitchen utensils. Source: Marcellinus Utomo

Although people in all the value chains were typically well-informed about markets, there was limited sharing of information by buyers to sellers about prices, which could be detrimental for some of those along the chain, such as growers and artisans.

Bamboo is still considered a cheap material. Straight bamboo with a large diameter can sell for between Rp 6,000 and Rp 7,000 (approximately 50 US cents) per pole. Because of the low prices, farmers are not inclined to go to great lengths, neither applying fertilizer nor using silvicultural techniques.

When income from bamboo was compared with national minimum income per capita, Utomo projected that for farmers the economic contribution of bamboo handicrafts was a mere 0.6–1 percent of the minimum income, while kitchen utensils contributed 6.4–8.9 percent and durable bamboo products 7.7–13.5 percent.

These low contributions were caused not only by low prices but also irregular demand. To make ends meet, farmers usually cultivated seasonal crops and rice and grew timber for savings.

Read more: Lack of knowledge may impede economic potential

Artisans who process and add value to bamboo, however, can gain significant income. Durable bamboo contributed 13.2–104 percent, to their incomes, kitchen utensils 152–472 percent, and handicrafts 169 percent up to 3,072 percent. From the numbers in the value chains, profit do not appear to be evenly distributed, with growers left as the most disadvantaged.

Some growers also lack knowledge about bamboo management, whereas artisans lack marketing knowledge and entrepreneurial skills. Weak English-language skills further constrain artisans’ opportunities because many buyers are foreigners.

Utomo also noted a lack of coordination between government bodies and limited coordination between people within value chains, which restricted overall growth of the industry. He suggested the government could establish a taskforce that would operate at both national and local levels to integrate the industry within agricultural and rural development programs, lobby ministries, collaborate with NGOs and research institutions, encourage more extension services, improve promotion of handicrafts, and support better access to microcredit. The formation of producer cooperatives, meanwhile, would help to build capacity and enhance bargaining positions within a chain.

By Enggar Paramita, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World.


This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.


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