The International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation Garden at the 2019 Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition (XINHUA)
During his professional career in Tanzania, which includes working as minister for trade, Ali Mchumo learnt the importance of using natural resources, including bamboo and rattan, for sustainable development, trade and socio-economic growth.
Therefore, when the position of director general for the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) became vacant, he decided to join the organization without hesitation. At the end of March, Mchumo came to Beijing, where the organization is headquartered, to take up his post. He felt proud to be the first African director general of INBAR. Also, he was excited that an international event - the International Horticultural Exhibition (Expo 2019) to be held in the capital to showcase "a new model of ecological conservation" - was waiting for him.
At the expo, INBAR was invited to build a garden called the Eye of Bamboo because of its unique shape. Covering 1,600 square meters and using 5,000 moso bamboos for construction, the pavilion in the garden became the largest structure of its kind ever built in north China. The INBAR pavilion is expected to promote the use of nature-based solutions for sustainable development and environmental protection.
"I believe we can use the Expo 2019 to put bamboo and rattan on the global stage," Mchumo told ChinAfrica.
"Bamboo is sometimes called 'green gold,' or even 'steel grass,'" said Ali.
Fast-growing, flexible but strong grass plant, bamboo and rattan have a range of uses: creating sustainable sources of income in rural areas, restoring degraded lands, storing carbon, protecting biodiversity and providing a more sustainable, low-carbon solution for products and infrastructure.
With 5.38 million hectares of bamboo plantations and an annual increase of 100,000 hectares, China leads the world's bamboo industry in terms of the number of varieties, bamboo reserves, as well as production output, according to Jiang Zehui, Co-Chair of INBAR's Board of Trustees. The flourishing bamboo industry is becoming one of the pillar sectors of China's forestry industry and also a key part of the country's efforts to establish a low-carbon economy.
Previously, the plant was used to restore degraded land in China. However, at present, new processing techniques have led to a variety of new bamboo products, such as daily-use goods, artifacts, plates and bamboo charcoal, which are widely used in different sectors ranging from construction, packaging, transportation and medicine to tourism.
China's bamboo industry is worth $30 billion and employs more than 35 million jobs, forming part of a new drive for the economic development of the world's largest agricultural country, according to INBAR.
In China, the bamboo industry development has great significance for environmental protection and development of a green economy. However, in Africa, to date, the potential of this versatile material and strategic resource has remained largely untapped despite its relative abundance. Hence the plant has huge potential to pave the way for sustainable development in Africa.
Africa, as a whole, is estimated to have nearly 6 million hectares of natural bamboo forest and there is further scope for plantation in many parts of the continent.
"What is lacking is the technology for local bamboo development and the skills to drive the creation of an economically sound African bamboo industry," according to Ali. "China has vast experience to share and there are plenty of opportunities for cooperation between China and Africa."
In recent years, the Chinese Government has made a lot of efforts to help African countries develop their bamboo industry, and INBAR has also played a leading role in building a bridge to promote bilateral cooperation in the green sector.
In 2018, President Xi Jinping announced in his speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on
China-Africa Cooperation that the Chinese Government will support the construction of a China-Africa Bamboo Center.
According to Xi, the Chinese Government "will implement 50 green development and eco-environmental assistance projects for Africa, including the construction of the China-Africa Bamboo Center, to help Africa develop the bamboo and rattan industry."
"This is the result of several years of hard work between INBAR, China and African countries. The bamboo center is an excellent monument of international cooperation, and we believe it will kick-start the development of a profitable bamboo and rattan sector across many African countries," Mchumo said.
The China-Africa Bamboo Center is only part of the story. In reality, China and African countries have been cooperating for a long time on nature-based development. And INBAR has played a big role in this cooperation.
Since 1997, INBAR, the only intergovernmental organization which promotes the use of bamboo and rattan for sustainable development and environmental protection, started to tap into this lucrative green economy and help African countries to commercialize bamboo. Among its 43 members, 18 are in Africa, including Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia and Kenya.
Over the last two decades, under the cooperation between the Chinese Government and INBAR, thousands of African researchers, entrepreneurs, artisans and local farmers have visited China to learn how to use new techniques for growing bamboo and rattan, and new technologies for making products and utilizing the na-
tural capital provided by the bamboo plantation throughout Africa. The organization also promotes Chinese investment in African bamboo firms.
"Bamboo can become a strong pillar of Africa's future green economy, and can help reduce poverty and protect the environment. It can provide a practical and speedy solution for poverty challenges facing many African countries today," said Ali.
"The theme of the Expo 2019 is 'Live Green, Live Better,' which fully reflects the role bamboo and rattan can play in a greener world," said Ali.
The structure of INBAR pavilion in the expo is expected to create a greater recognition of the potential of bamboo construction. The organization is currently working with a number of African countries' embassies in Beijing to organize events and activities that promote cultural exchanges between China and Africa and encourage the use of bamboo and rattan under the Belt and Road Initiative.
The INBAR pavilion in the expo is expected to demonstrate bamboo and rattan's uses in everyday life, as a source of income, as a material for construction, as a means of protecting forests and biodiversity, and as an innovative material with important applications for sustainable industry.
"I believe the Expo 2019 will really impress upon people the importance of bamboo and rattan for a green world, and by using bamboo and rattan, we can effectively fulfill the theme of the Expo 2019," Mchumo told ChinAfrica.
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