Q+A — Expert urges strong national policies to protect bamboo, rattan trade


By Julie Mollins

BOGOR, Indonesia (CIFOR) — Two fast-growing non-timber forest products (NTFP) can aid in poverty alleviation, particularly throughout Asia, if their full economic potential is harnessed, according to a top bamboo and rattan expert.

Bamboo and rattan — due to strength and versatility used for constructing furniture, flooring, paneling, building materials and other products — are easier to harvest and transport than timber. Their financial worth — with total export revenues estimated at more than $2.5 million a year — contributes to forest conservation as bamboo and rattan proliferate when they are surrounded by trees and other foliage, said Hans Friederich, director general of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR)

Bamboo, classified as a grass, and rattan, a creeping palm, can grow on degraded land for use in afforestation or reforestation projects. They also play a key role in carbon storage, easing the impact of climate change.

“Bamboo and rattan face over-exploitation, and proper coordination between government ministries of forestry and ministries of agriculture is needed to ensure their sustainable management,” said Friederich, who will host a panel discussion at the upcoming Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.

INBAR is set to announce the launch of a new sustainable “pro-poor” rattan-based development in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the summit, which is expected to draw more than 1,500 delegates, including top government officials from the Asia and beyond.

Friederich discussed some of the key issues surrounding the sustainable management of bamboo and rattan.

Q: Why is INBAR going to the Forests Asia Summit?

A: It’s an opportunity to raise the profile of non-timber forest products in the context of sustainable forest management. We think they’re often forgotten and we want to basically raise awareness that they have an important role to play. Many participants will be foresters who tend to look at bamboo and rattan as not really that important because compared to timber the financial value may not be at a similar level. Bamboo is a product that actually has a major value and the value is increasing, trade is increasing. I also hope bilateral discussions with the Indonesian authorities on the sidelines of the conference will help develop a program for sustainable management of rattan.

Q: What are the biggest challenges?

A: One of the issues is to do with the production-management side — some NTFPs are under threat, particularly rattan, due to unsustainable harvesting practices in the past. An increased interest from international markets has transformed rattan into quite a prized commodity and the challenge is to sustainably manage these NTFPs and promote marketing without depleting resources. On the other side, consumers don’t often understand where products come from, they might not realize that these items can actually be taken out of the forest sustainably without destroying the ecosystem.

Q: Do you plan to focus your efforts on lobbying government agencies?

A: In some countries, bamboo is actually covered under forestry legislation, but there are conflicts that arise because when you cut — under forestry law in some countries — the concept of having to replant doesn’t apply to bamboo because it’s a grass. Therefore, we need to work with the authorities in those countries to actually change national policy. In a protected area, laws dictate that timber products can’t actually be taken out, but bamboo is a renewable crop, not timber. It’s effectively a grass that will regrow when cut, and it should therefore not be treated in the same way as timber. These are policy issues that really need to be addressed at a national level. It’s not a global issue. It varies from country to country. In some places it even varies from province to province. So there is definitely a need to work with the authorities to try to find solutions.

Q: Do you want to create a certification system to ensure that sustainable bamboo and rattan production from forest to consumer is guaranteed?

A: INBAR’s position is that we can’t really support any individual certification scheme because our 39 members all have different opinions, but we do want to promote a mechanism that will support sustainable management of the resource. Whether that will end up as a labeling scheme or a certification scheme it’s too early to say.

Q: Can bamboo and rattan be managed in such a way that smallholders or small entrepreneurs can make their living without damaging their environment?

A: People who are hungry, people under pressure will do whatever they can to make some money — it’s very, very difficult to overcome that. I guess the answer is that we need to do a lot of training, awareness raising and working with local communities. NTFP use and NTFP management is not just a question of government policies and directives. A lot of it is to do with community involvement and community participation. Very often the community knows what resources it has and often also know the limits.

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