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Growing Bamboo: A Private Sector Approach to REDD+

By Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo

April 21, 2015 from http://www.landscapes.org/growing-bamboo-a-private-sector-approach-to-redd/

The last 10 years of REDD and REDD+ development have shown that the price attributed to and the willingness to pay for forest based ecosystem services, whether through compliance or a voluntary schemes, is unlikely to ever compete with the market price for wood and fiber that comes from the deforestation and degradation of the world’s remaining natural forests.

Although project level benefits may be significant, so long as demand continues and a thriving market provides attractive returns on the harvesting of natural forests, leakage is inevitable, and truly quantifiable REDD+ in many nations will be hard to achieve. The math is simple: plantation forests still supply only a fraction of our fuel and fiber needs, and without an alternative, at the global scale the degradation will continue, although the actual location may shift. Therefore addressing the drivers of deforestation, a premise on which REDD was built, through the provision of sustainable and long term alternatives is critical.

US based EcoPlanet Bamboo is industrializing bamboo, produced under stringent protocols and procedures and developed around a framework of positive social and environmental impact as a private sector mechanism that has the potential to contribute towards addressing a major driver of deforestation, regenerate fragmented forest ecosystems and restore ecosystem functions. Through such a mechanism, and through the provision of certified bamboo fiber to industries that currently drive deforestation, commercially produced bamboo can be one piece of the puzzle in moving the REDD+ agenda forward, all while sequestering and storing significant volumes of atmospheric CO2.

Our ultimate goal is to address the simple supply and demand for wood and fiber within a tangible timeframe and under a framework that this “alternative” fiber is produced only in a way that meets market demand, without an associated environmental cost, a private sector and economically viable solution to the world’s need for fiber. Such fiber is used in everything, from every day consumer items such as toilet paper, tissue and kitchen paper, to clothing and textiles, to engineered timber for construction, housing and furniture, to charcoal and other fuel products.

Bamboo has traditionally been an enigma for policy makers, foresters and environmentalists. Ecologically speaking, the 1,200 plus species of bamboo are part of the grass family but the biomass the plant produces is a wood like fiber, with properties that mirror image those of many traditional wood species, from hardwoods to softwoods. Once mature, it grows extraordinarily fast with new stems or culms emerging annually and removed biomass being replaced annually. Statements and online media that sell bamboo as maturing within 3 years, not requiring pesticide or fertilizer, or other claims of the plant as a “miracle plant” are completely unfounded. Like any other crop being produced commercially, bamboo requires a stringent management regime, and many inputs.

In the context of REDD+, bamboo’s greatest advantage in addition to being an alternative fiber for timber dependent industries, is its ability to be grown on degraded and marginal land, thus not competing with food security, and produce a vast volume of fiber on an annual basis, without the need for replanting. Therefore not only does its production provide a fiber that reduces pressure on natural forests, whether that represents fiber to replace kraft pulp currently used in toilet paper and sourced from old growth boreal forests in Canada and Russia, to fiber that can replace dissolving pulp for textiles and clothing which is currently sourced from the clearing of primary tropical forests in Indonesia and elsewhere, but it can be a valuable tool for successful restoration, particularly if native species are grown. Within a 6-8 year period, depending on the levels of degradation, and the ability to understand and execute a set of unique protocols, bamboo creates a continuous and permanent canopy cover, its strong root system breaks up compacted soil and provides water filtration benefits, restoring water tables and managing water cycles, increase organic soil carbon and nutrient levels, and as EcoPlanet Bamboo’s VCS validated and verified projects in Nicaragua have shown, can sequester and store up to 800 tons of CO2e per hectare.

However, stringent controls are required to ensure that bamboo remains a tree free, deforestation free solution. To achieve this, we believe in certification and independent auditing as a means to determine a global benchmark for bamboo’s commercial production as well as robust REDD+ safeguards with clearly defined policies, laws and regulations. Quantifiable carbon (whether as a REDD+ initiative or as a straightforward Afforestation/Reforestation project), social and biodiversity impacts are a criteria for the company’s projects, as is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for the sustainable management of the bamboo resource itself. If done correctly, and this framework adhered to as projects increase in scale and scope, bamboo could prove to be a truly economically viable mechanism to achieved the core components of REDD+.