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Bamboo and the Future it Can Unfold

Dendrocalamus asper, Giant bamboo

Photo Credit: Aidalyn Arabe

A huge clump of Giant Bamboo or Dendrocalamus asper. A strong and durable bamboo that is highly recommended for construction use.

Advocating for the protection of the environment has never been easy especially if you are dealing with local communities whose livelihoods and daily sustenance that primarily depends on the forests, rivers, or the sea. You cannot just say stop at what they are doing without providing any alternative options or solutions to keep them from doing or causing harm to the environment. They have to eat, provide food on the table for their families through clearing the forests to plant crops to later earn during harvests, or catch fish using unsustainable methods and among others is their main concern. Climate change is the least or not a concern for them at all. A reality we all know working from the grassroots level especially in a Third World country like the Philippines where poverty is rife and environmental abuse is rampant.

I have been an environmental advocate and activist for fourteen years but it was only in 2017 that I have met I believe is the best tool to help communities generate income opportunities and livelihood, and contribute to local economy's progress while all the while greatly helping the planet.

Meet bamboo - the most sustainable plant on earth that has been around since the ancient times and has been deeply ingrained in the culture and traditions of communities here in the Philippines and in other parts of the world where bamboo exists for millennias. Bamboo is a renewable plant material because it regenerates fast and can grow almost everywhere in tropical and sub-tropical regions. The carbon sequestration properties of bamboo is higher than that of trees, helps prevent soil erosion, revitalizes the soil, promotes biodiversity conservation, and can be used to rehabilitate degraded lands.

Food, beverage, medicine, construction, engineering, home wares, arts and crafts, musical instruments, and many others are just examples of of the uses and how versatile and aesthetically beautiful this material is. Although this plant, recognized as part of the grass family have thousands of different uses, it still has this two opposing reputation of being a poor man's timber and on the other hand, a material which the rich can only afford. Be it as it may, bamboo has always been a go to material for temporary use and not recognized as something that would last for decades.

While bamboo products are widely used, its capability as a building material is still not widely recognized or accepted in the construction industry. This is due to recognized reasons like; susceptibility to insect or pest infestation, not strong enough, lack of knowledge in bamboo building or carpentry, availability of plant material, availability of quality construction grade bamboo, and not included in the building code.

All around the Earth, the construction industry can be one of the drivers of an economy. More often than not, more construction activity is equated to progress and development of a city or a nation. While it means good to the economy, it is not always for the environment. More construction may mean more extraction of natural resources like sand, soil, copper, iron ore and others to create concrete, cement, steel, metals and many others for building and other technology advancements. If we do not lessen the extraction of these natural materials, we will deplete the Earth and it will cause negative impacts to the environment and could ultimately aggravate the effects and impacts of climate change.

It is in this light that there's a growing and strong movement to promote bamboo as a durable, sustainable, and versatile beautiful and natural material for construction use. It is the new gold of the future. A sustainable future I must say. By promoting and elevating bamboo we do not only help and support the people, communities and local economies but we are also helping the planet by using a material that regrows and regrows for decades. Bamboo is a three-tiered tool that can be effectively used by advocates - it addresses people, progress, and planet.

In 2017, I have started a project on bamboo-planting on landslide prone areas in the mountains as I was deep in to trailrunning and mountain climbing during these times. After two years, I joined and worked for a bamboo treatment and processing facility and worked with communities in promoting the use of bamboo primarily as a material for construction. I have seen how bamboo generates additional income to households or families and how it created livelihood opportunities for communities from establishing nurseries to propagation, planting to harvesting, and processing to use of the product. I have also come to understand the intricacies of building with bamboo and how it can last a lifetime. Thus, the use of treated bamboo and how it is being done with tested and proven methods while employing the proper way of constructing with it using artisanal skills in carpentry and jointing systems including building technologies that has been around for centuries.

Just recently, I decided to quit my job in order for me to spread my wings and do more as a bamboo advocate. All throughout these years, the knowledge and experiences I have working with bamboo is continuously growing and learning doesn't stop. There are so many things to learn about this material and there are still a lot to create research and studies. I am now an independent bamboo consultant - providing services mainly on nursery development, propagation, planting, harvesting, treatment and processing with the aim of elevating this material knowing all its advantages and benefits. My ridge to reef advocacy and being part of various organizations involved in different environmental work that includes working in the grassroots level, bamboo is the most effective in terms of reaching all age groups and get them to listen to you because you can provide alternative options and solutions.

As an active environment advocate and activist here in the Philippines, bamboo is my tool and weapon to collaborate and work together with environmental workers, private stakeholders and the government, and those who are also abusers of the environment, whether consciously or unconsciously. We must bring discussions to the table and do not create enemies. We have the responsibility not only to care for this planet but to educate those that lack the understanding and empathy to protect and preserve what we have in our environment as gifts from nature. It may be tiring and personally affect our own careers and undertaking, but if we don't do this who else will?

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