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Bamboo and you

LAST Tuesday, four bamboo scientists and the head of the Philippine Bamboo Foundation were updating journalists on bamboo – it’s not a tree, it’s a grass – and its potential as a plant with multifarious uses as a construction material, ingredient for beer, and component for everything from toilet paper to watch bracelets.

The next day, a report from Agusan del Sur appeared in the Mindanao section of this newspaper quoting DENR Secretary Gina Lopez as telling the Manobos: “You have your own land here, you can grow your own livelihood, including bamboo, while helping the economy.” In the same breath, Raul Villanueva, president of Philsaga Mining Corp., said his company has planted 6,000 young bamboo on the mining site, in addition to fruit and rubber trees.

Not to be outdone, I had my own little synchronicity moment, for hours after coming from the meeting with the Foundation, I opened a weeks-old pack of oil blotting paper before powdering my nose, and there it was, 60 charcoal and-bamboo sheets, made in Taiwan.

If bamboo is gaining in commercial appeal, growers and promoters like Ed Manda of the Foundation are not about to cheer yet. Sure, under Secretary Lopez the word is to plant bamboo to green mining sites, including those abandoned, but because it is not a high-value crop – not yet, anyway – the campaign is all but stunted where it should beflourishing. For example, when they built a model house for Yolanda victims and priced it at R70,000, there were no takers. Mr. Manda said, “Contractors and constructors found it too cheap for them to make money,” in spite of its being nearly 100 percent bamboo, typhoon-resistant, and eco-friendly.

Although the advocacy is not growing as fast as a bamboo shooting out of the soil and there are no bamboo forests as such, there’s a bamboo park in Lubao, Pampanga (Rep. GMA is a believer); there’s a nursery in Baguio (Benguet’s ornamental bamboo being a popular species); a Japanese businessman is keen on acquiring 10,000 ha to plant bamboo (but he wants 100 percent of the harvest!); a deal is being worked out to ship 1,000 metric tons of bamboo chips daily to Singapore; a local factory is about to produce bamboo floor tiles, etc. Yoo hoo, bamboo, we await a boom!
(Jullie Y. Daza)