Bamboo and rattan have been singled out for praise as the materials which offer the most hope in the fight against climate change, according to one senior expert.

At a recent conference, the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra K. Pachauri, hailed the 'enormous opportunity' both materials present to the human race. 

The threats

Much has been written on the subject of climate change and as a result, a significant number of consumers seriously consider subjects such as carbon footprint when they are making their purchases.

Pachauri described a number of key threats which could jeopardise the future of the human race, including rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and extreme climatic events. 

But despite the number of risks threatening to engulf the planet, Pachauri identified there remains some great opportunities to mitigate the potential dangers, such as those found within forests, which hold healthy levels of carbon dioxide. The Chair said this was particularly the case for forests which are rich in rattan and bamboo. 

Possible solution?

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have both suggested that bamboo can be used as a low-carbon choice for food as well as for a construction material. The left over material from the processes can even be utilised in another way: charcoal.

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Rattan growing wild in Borneo

Image Source: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7049/6928224887_39b097965b.jpg 

But the advantage in using rattan and bamboo isn't just its versatility; it's the rate of growth that bamboo offers, allowing the delicate balance of eco systems to be maintained. Growing rapidly in areas which other woody plants find too difficult – such as on steep slopes – bamboo can be a crop that's financially rewarding to all and the harvesting of it can significantly contribute to the income in rural areas. 

Non-timber forest products

Rattan and bamboo are officially classified as non-timber forest products (NTFPs), a grey area which often causes consternation amongst policy makers. 

As neither timber nor agriculture, rattan and bamboo are often difficult to classify and as such, can lack clarity over permitted practices and problems can arise over the co-ordination of sustainable management. 

The Ministry of Forestry in Indonesia has recently recognised that NTFPs require far greater attention, particularly important when you consider that around 90% of the forest area is made up of non-timber products. Just 10% of the forest which is cut down is made from timber.

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Nut harvesting is a popular non-timber use of NTFP areas

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The Director General from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, Tachrir Fathoni says that some of the measures they have introduced include providing forest communities with the opportunity to have access to NTFP as well as vital forest management education. 

Increasing use

The Intergovernmental Panel recognised the efforts being made by the Indonesian government to deliver NTFP to less affluent areas and suggested that these efforts need to expand further.

The Panel was particularly interested in how rattan and bamboo could be used in the future, and was very keen to explore industrial uses as well as the production methods. The Panel also suggested that current knowledge of rattan and bamboo is being hampered by a lack of research and communication.

The Panel also identified that many consumers had the wrong idea about rattan and bamboo, describing it as the 'poor man's timber'.  The Director General of INBAR suggested that in reality, the opposite were true but questioned how it might be possible to encourage the public to abandon their old habits and invest in a product which is not only attractive, but also durable and sustainable. 

Pachauri echoed this view and called upon 'designers, advertisers, marketing people' to get out there and help consumers understand the true nature of rattan and bamboo. The Chair of the Panel suggested that a small change in perception is all that is required in order to fully understand and embrace the far superior qualities of NTFP and in doing so, help the environment too. 

Image Credits: Clivid and ggallice