Bamboo is good for environment now and the future
Bamboo has enormous potential for alleviating many problems - both environmental and social - facing the world today. The increasing rate of tropical deforestation makes the search for alternative natural resources important. The characteristics of bamboo make it a perfect solution for the environmental and social consequences of tropical deforestation. Its biological characteristics make it a perfect tool for preventing soil erosion (Austin et al. 1970) and reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Additionally, its qualities of strength, light weight and flexibility make it a viable alternative to tropical timbers that typically supply the furniture and building materials industries. Lastly, bamboo has rapid growth capabilities enabling it to reach maturity within three to five years. Therefore, bamboo is an ideal economic investment that can be utilized in many different manners.
ENVIRONMENTAL SOLUTIONS - SOIL EROSION
Because of the extensive rhizome system that lies primarily in the top foot of soil, bamboo works well to prevent soil erosion occurring in flood plains, along riverbanks and on steep hillsides. It can control landslides, keep flooded rivers along their natural course and slow the speed of the water flow (Austin et al. 1970).
CARBON DIOXIDE BUILDUP
According to the Environmental Bamboo Foundation (EBF), bamboo’s growth habits allow it to produce more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees. This aspect holds significant implications for the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide - the greenhouse gas and a major environmental issue today - as planting and replanting of bamboo in groves and plantations could help mitigate- this problem.
TROPICAL TIMBER DEPLETION
Harvesting of bamboo is frequent since it reaches maturity within 3-4 years, and new shoots appear regularly and in great numbers. Replenishment and regrowth are quite fast and efficient in comparison to tropical timber trees, which have life cycles that are two to ten times longer. Bamboo increases its biomass by l0-30% per year which far exceeds that of trees, which is 2-5% annually, according to EBF. Also, bamboo produces more cellulosic material per acre than southern pine wood (Austin et al. 1970). Evidently, bamboo is a more sustainable resource than tropical timber trees and hence, it could realistically replace or supplement tropical trees in many industries that are facing raw material shortages.
Studies in Puerto Rico have shown that the species Bambusa tulda can withstand up to 52,000 pounds per square inch (psi) before breaking (Farrelly 1984). In comparison, walnut wood takes 20,000 psi and steel for reinforced concrete withstands 60,000 psi. This makes bamboo wood a potential alternative, at least in some applications, to steel which requires more energy for processing. Its strength and flexibility also make it a viable material for building shelters that offer protection against hurricanes and earthquakes.
Because harvesting of bamboo can be quite frequent, return on investment comes much quicker than investment in tropical timber plantations. Therefore, bamboo community forestry projects are economically more attractive, especially for small farmers with little capital. There is a considerable potential for bamboo’s use in rural development projects aimed at providing sustainable economic opportunities for the poor. Its high yield capability makes it a good cash crop for income generation, and thereby for improvement in the living standards, in rural areas. Incorporating value-added manufacturing into bamboo community forestry projects makes them even more advantageous to rural people, who usually earn the least profit as mere suppliers of raw materials. As Farrelly (1984) states: ".... .socially just forms of bamboo development will be an important aspect for future designs for exploiting the plant."
In summation, bamboo’s excellent growth, mechanical and engineering properties make it a fine alternative to tropical timber. Unfortunately, bamboo is still dubbed the "poor man’s timber", representing a social stigma (Willcox 1992). Perhaps this attitude towards bamboo will change with the increased urgency of environmental issues and with more dedicated attention to the poverty problem. More widespread education and communication are needed, mobilizing people to support greater research on solutions and alternatives to deforestation, proper implementation and utilization of research results for the betterment of resource-poor people: all with bamboo in a pivotal role.
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