Bamboo – helping countries achieve Land Degradation Neutrality

As the World observes 2015’s World Day to Combat Desertification on 17th June, INBAR asks countries and other development partners to consider including bamboo in their sustainable land management strategies to reduce malnutrition and poverty.

According to FAO, about one ninth of the World’s population are undernourished, including a quarter of those in sub-Saharan Africa, whilst Asia has the highest numbers of undernourished. With the World’s population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, agricultural production must increase by about 70%, globally and 100% in developing countries in the next 35 years.


Better use of the world’s crop-able land will be essential. 52% of the land currently used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by land degradation whilst competition for water resources could cause a global 18% reduction in the availability of water for agriculture by 2050. Countries need to take steps immediately to start to address these and many other related land degradation problems, and the staggering magnitude of the investment in change needed means that options must be evaluated and implemented soon, in order for longer-term benefits to develop and accrue over the next 35 years.


Bamboo is one resource that can help restore degraded lands rapidly. It has been shown to be an excellent pioneer crop on heavily degraded soils in India where it has been used to restore 85, 000 ha of land in a project based around the city of Allahabad. It grows well under very poor conditions and establishes rapidly, forming a permanent, green canopy over the soil in just a few years, and can then be intercropped in appropriate agroforestry systems. In the project bamboo was integrated into a multitude of cropping systems that include leguminous trees such as Moringa, and a range of fruit trees, vegetables, fodder crops and medicinal plants. Each year, bamboo added 6-8 inches of humus to the soil and has helped raise the water table from below 40 m in 1997 to 15 – 18m today; the region is self sufficient in water, now. Bamboo has increased the carbon content of the soil from zero to 0.7 – 0.9 t/ha due to leaf fall, and the pH of the soil has fallen from 10 – 11 to 6-7 and continues to acidify (read more here).


Image above – 2-3m of top soil was harvested to make bricks on thousands of hectares in Allahabad, India.


Bamboo is a strategic forest resource that can be grown on peripheral and non-cropping land, so bring real, added, benefits to a farm or homestead. Bamboo has had an essential direct role in food production for millennia in many parts of the world, from livestock containers and baskets to silkworm trays, and from fishing boats to floating vegetable gardens, as well as agricultural infrastructure such as buildings and bridges, treadle pumps and latterly biogas generators. Bamboos not only supply poles that can be used to make products for sale, but their leaves can be used as livestock and fish fodder, as well as continually providing a thick soil mulch to further enhance soil nutrient content and structure.


The shoots of many bamboos are edible and are a nutritious vegetable. Recently, the inclusion of bamboo fibres in processed foods has been shown to increase their roughage and nutrient content.


Planting bamboos on riverbanks is a widely-used means of stabilizing watercourses in many countries, where bamboos are often integrated components of bio-diverse landscapes. There is growing interest in how bamboos can be used to remove impurities and pollutants from water courses, and their use as a feedstock in electricity generation is being explored.


Bamboo is also an alternative to agriculture and forestry crops for a range of uses – it is a source of biofuel that doesn’t need to be grown on agricultural land, so its use won’t affect agricultural productivity. It is a substitute for timber that is sustainably harvested and maintains its green cover over the soil at all times and so preserves the environmental balance.


Nations and the international development community will soon look towards implementing and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-2015 development agenda. Bamboo can help countries achieve the aims of their Sustainable Land Management strategies and reach Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). As the UNCCD notes: “Halting and reversing the current trends in land degradation and desertification through sustainable land management (SLM) is not only achievable but is the logical, cost-effective next step for national and international development agendas”.


The potential for bamboo to contribute to reaching LDN is considerable. INBAR calls upon countries, international agencies and other development partners to help realize this potential by incorporating bamboo appropriately into their Sustainable Land Management strategies, programmes and schemes.



Note to editors: INBAR was provisionally accredited to the UNCCD as an intergovernmental observer organization in February 2015, pending formal approval at UNCCD COP 12 in October.

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