Why not switch to bamboo and rattan?

Today, on World Environment Day 2015, INBAR asks:

Would you consider making a switch to bamboo and rattan the next time you have the chance?


The theme of this year’s Day is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care”. The United Nations Environment Programme notes that the world is now consuming at a rate of 1.5 planet’s worth of resources per year. If this continues, by 2030 we’ll need two planets to supply our needs – this is an inevitable consequence of increasing prosperity and urbanisation.

But bamboo and rattan can help. Both of these strategic forest resources are renewable, and can help us live more sustainably, reducing the pressures on our diminishing forests. They are excellent substitutes for some uses of wood, and using them instead of trees means more forests and more sustainable consumption. Look at laminated bamboo flooring, which architects are specifying in attractive designs for homes and offices, or kitchen chopping boards, furniture, and a growing range of engineered and industrial products. Bamboo in particular grows rapidly and regrows once cut. As only a portion of its poles are harvested each year, the forest stays intact, as does its ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. Rattans have long been used to produce furniture and new designs are emerging to catch the eye of consumers in affluent countries.

For energy, bamboo biomass is taking its place alongside other renewable plant-based fuel sources. Bamboo charcoal is an alternative to wood charcoal in Ethiopia and Ghana, and is being produced and sold by many small producers there. Bamboo has huge potential as a feedstock for electricity generation – a new area currently under technical evaluation.

Producing bamboo incense sticks in Tripura, India

Bamboo and rattan already contribute significantly to food security in the areas where they grow. They have been widely used in agriculture and fisheries for millennia, as implements, and storage and carrying baskets, and even as boats and fish cages. Now interest is growing in the use of bamboo leaves as animal fodder. This perennial and low-cost source of fodder is used by some communities but has potential to serve many more. For people, the shoots of many bamboos and rattans are edible, and they are the source of a number of ingredients in medicine.

Degraded lands are being revitalised with bamboo in many locations. These plants establish rapidly and help restore degraded lands quickly, providing a source of softwood for decades after, protecting the soil from erosion and absorbing carbon. Rattans are climbing plants and need trees to climb up – at a recent INBAR consultation on rattan with experts from eight countries, we heard that their presence in the tropical rainforests of Asia and Africa is an indicator of healthy biodiversity in the forests – that “healthy rattans need healthy forests”. And rattans bring income directly to forest dwelling communities, especially as they maintain the forest to reap the benefits of healthy rattan – a win-win for people and the local habitat.

Round bamboo splits dry in the sun prior to being made into window blinds, Huangshan, China

If you were wondering how you might switch to bamboo and rattan and how they can strengthen biodiversity and help protect the planet, we hope we have given you some new clues! Starting on World Environment Day 2015, why not consider buying bamboo and rattan products the next time you go shopping. Many countries are recognising the value of these plants and including them in sustainable development and green economy plans. As consumers, we can support this movement by giving the many modern and useful bamboo and rattan products a try.