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Published: 4 February 2013

Unlocking bamboo’s potential to alleviate poverty

Andrea Booth

Easy to grow, even on steep, marginal land unsuitable for other crops, bamboo has the potential to lift people in rural communities out of poverty – but only with improvements in farmer education and thus crop management, according to a recent project in southwestern China led by an Australian scientist.

Crude bamboo rafts being transported upstream for local use: researchers found that poor rural villagers in China have yet to learn how to cultivate bamboo at a plantation-scale to meet growing demand for this versatile grass.
Credit: craftvision/istock

An estimated 2 billion people across the globe use bamboo every day to produce everything from household utensils and handicrafts, to scaffolding for construction sites, according to the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan.

Increasingly, though, bamboo also is being recognised for its beauty, durability and flexibility, turning it into a hot, internationally traded commodity, and making it a key resource for livelihood development.

But in some underdeveloped regions of China, that potential is not being reached, despite ideal growing conditions, local access to bamboo stock and a thriving cottage industry.

‘Our research shows that smallholder cultivation of bamboo shoots can make an important contribution to household income and rural livelihoods in impoverished, mountainous regions of China that have limited off-farm income opportunities,’ said Nicholas Hogarth, lead author of a recent Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) report.

Hogarth, who is based at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, pointed out that the 12 villages surveyed in the Guangxi autonomous region had little or no knowledge about proven scientific techniques to optimise productivity.

CIFOR researchers collecting quantitative data from 240 households in Guangxi found that forest-based enterprises such as bamboo production often represent the main, or even the only, industry and cash-earning opportunity.

From a sub-family of grasses, bamboo is in many ways an ideal crop for the rural poor. Its clonal growth capacity, rapid growth rates and short rotation cycles enables annual income generation, unlike the long harvest cycle for timber trees.

‘This is a very important attribute given the limited size of most household’s allocated forest land area,’ said Hogarth.

According to the CIFOR report, bamboo also has fewer policy constraints and regulations compared to timber. And, unlike timber, bamboo is relatively light and can be easily harvested and transported without specialised equipment or vehicles.

‘Bamboo production does not require special tools, and there are many skills in bamboo production that are common to agricultural crop management – such as soil cultivation and fertilisation – that are easily adapted,’ Hogarth said.

‘Basic processing and value adding also does not require highly skilled labour or specialised equipment, and can be undertaken by low-income rural communities with minimal capital investment.’

China established large-scale bamboo plantations in the 1950s, and rapidly expanded them in the 1980s following a series of conducive policy reforms around markets, commercialisation, land tenure and forest-use rights. This paved the way for increased smallholder investment in, and management of, plantation forests.

Farmers enthusiastically embraced bamboo as a new cash crop, and planted it and other non-timber forest crops on their allocated household forest land in preference to less-profitable timber species.

According to FAO data, one-fifth of the world’s bamboo now comes from China, which also accounts for more than 600 species (see UN Environmental Programme report Bamboo biodiversity: Information for planning conservation and management in the Asia-Pacific region).

Bamboo has featured in many of China’s poverty alleviation and reforestation initiatives, such as its ‘conservation of cropland forest programme’, in which direct payments are made to households that convert their sloping cropland into forests.

In fact, more than 90 per cent of China’s bamboo appears to be in upland areas, which is where poverty is concentrated, the CIFOR researchers noted, citing World Bank data.

‘A large proportion of households at the study site were living below the poverty line, and in many ways are representative of the persistent low-income people that the central government’s targeted poverty alleviation programs are trying to reach,’ said Hogarth.

In these areas, most farmers’ knowledge about management is limited to small-scale plantings of ‘village bamboo’, and wild bamboo is used for domestic purposes rather than commercial production.

‘Although important, these kinds of traditional folk knowledge-based management systems are inadequate and outdated when applied to plantation production systems,’ explained Hogarth.

According to the CIFOR report, half the villages studied had suitable conditions for bamboo cultivation but no commercial industry.

For example, the researchers looked at Nabi Township, where households have low-cash income levels and seemingly few options to make on-farm cash. And in half the sample villages in Tianlin, farmers had little or no bamboo, despite ideal growing conditions and local access to bamboo stock.

The researchers identified these villages as ideal locations for introducing development-oriented interventions and bamboo-based poverty alleviation programs.

However, Hogarth noted a lack of awareness among the villagers on the effects bamboo policies can have on alleviating poverty, and if and how such policies could be improved.

‘In such areas, where off-farm income opportunities are limited, more attention should be given to improving the income of existing forestry enterprises such as bamboo shoot production’ he said.

‘Hopefully our research can be used to illustrate the need for more attention to be focused on the sector, in terms of its role in rural development and poverty alleviation.’

The report was published as part of the CGIAR Research Program ‘Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’, and was supported by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and Charles Darwin University.

This article first appeared on the Center for International Forest Research blog and is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence

Published: 17 December 2012

Make your next holiday a sustainable one

Rosemary Black

It’s holiday time and many of us are heading off overseas, or thinking about where to spend our next vacation. Our choice of destination, accommodation and activities can make a difference to local economies, cultures and environments. Dr Rosemary Black offers some advice on how we can make our holidays more sustainable.

A local villager foraging for shellfish on Atauro Island. The island, 35 km south of Dili and separated from the Timor-Leste mainland, has a population of 8000 living among five villages. Eco-tourism is a major source of income, supplementing subsistence fishing and farming. Adventure Ecotourism students from Charles Sturt University <a href="">visited the Tua Koin ecotourism village</a> to study first hand how local people are <a href="">managing the enterprise sustainably</a>.
A local villager foraging for shellfish on Atauro Island. The island, 35 km south of Dili and separated from the Timor-Leste mainland, has a population of 8000 living among five villages. Eco-tourism is a major source of income, supplementing subsistence fishing and farming. Adventure Ecotourism students from Charles Sturt University visited the Tua Koin ecotourism village to study first hand how local people are managing the enterprise sustainably.
Credit: spiderman_frank/panoramio under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 licence

For developing countries like Fiji, Thailand and Indonesia, tourism is a major source of foreign income and a potentially significant driver for economic growth. So, while we often hear about cases where tourism may have detrimental impacts on the local environment and communities, it can also provide positive benefits.

Sustainable tourism is tourism that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable – that means its aim is to minimise impact on the environment and communities, and at the same time contribute positively to local communities.

What can you do to ensure that your tourism experiences are sustainable?

The first thing is to realise you are a vital part of the global tourism industry, and you can help transform the way the world travels by being a responsible traveller.

As a tourist or potential tourist, ask yourself ‘am I contributing to the local community or environment?’ Travel can and should be much more than simply visiting places, taking pictures and buying souvenirs; it can inspire cultural awareness, tolerance, and commitment to environmental responsibility.

Try to minimise your impact on communities and the environment. One of the most important things you can do as a responsible traveller is to make informed choices before and during your trip. With a little planning, you can improve the quality of your trip, while making a real difference to the people and places you visit.

When choosing destinations, accommodation and tour operators, consider which ones work to protect the environment and benefit local cultures and communities.

Do your homework, ask questions, seek out quality products by looking for accredited operators, guides and accommodation, and look for opportunities to give something back to the local community or environment – many tourism operators are supporting community projects and offering travellers the opportunity to get involved.

By exploring alternative travel choices, you can have a unique trip and avoid leaving negative marks on cultures, economies, and the environment, while making a positive impact on the people and places you visit.

Fijian villagers prepare to perform a ceremonial dance for tourists: seeking out genuine cultural experiences is rewarding for both travellers and the local communities.
Fijian villagers prepare to perform a ceremonial dance for tourists: seeking out genuine cultural experiences is rewarding for both travellers and the local communities.
Credit: peachygreen/flickr under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence

Here are some useful dos and don’ts for your next trip away from The International Ecotourism Society. These are useful for holidays in Australia and overseas.

1. The hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Talk with staff about working conditions. Does the hotel support community projects?

2. Language: Learn a few words of the local language and use them.

3. Dress: Read up on local conventions and dress appropriately. In many countries, modest dress is important.

4. Behaviour: Be respectful of local citizens’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes, or private land.

5. Photos: Be sensitive to when and where you take photos/video of people. Always ask first.

6. Environment: Respect the natural environment. Never touch or harass animals. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites.

7. Animal products: Never buy crafts or products made from protected or endangered animals.

8. Pay the fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Don’t short-change on tips for services.

9. Buy local: Choose locally owned lodges, hotels, and B&Bs. Use local buses, car rental agencies, and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local festivals/events.

10. Hire local guides: Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides if they are licensed and live locally. Are they recommended by tour operators?

A book I recently co-edited explores the issues of how sustainable tourism can provide positive benefits to local people and the environment in developing countries. Sustainable Tourism and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals: Effecting Positive Change brings together research and examples from around the world of sustainable tourism initiatives.

The UN Millennium Development Goals focus on trying to address global issues like poverty alleviation, primary health care and education for all, environmental sustainability and gender equity. We used this as a framework for the book and explored how sustainable tourism can help support and meet the goals.

We didn’t only have academics writing chapters but sought out local people who actually run sustainable tourism operations in places like Nepal, Costa Rica, Fiji and Indonesia.

I think this book has an important message for tourists from developed countries such as Australia who travel overseas to enjoy the different culture and environment of a developing country – that they can play an important role as responsible tourists and that tourism can help support the health and well-being of local people, assist biodiversity conservation efforts, and preserve local cultural heritage, while also supporting education, equal opportunities for women and basic human rights.

Dr Rosemary Black is a senior lecturer and social researcher in the School of Environmental Sciences at Charles Sturt University specialising in sustainable tourism, heritage interpretation, outdoor recreation and tour guiding. Rosemary previously worked as a park ranger in NSW and adventure travel guide in Nepal, India, China, Tibet and Australia. This is a lightly edited version of an article first published in Open Forum, an independent, non-profit think-tank built around a community blog moderated by Global Access Partners (GAP).

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