From small things....big things shall grow. A Bamboo nursery (left) and
a bamboo farmer at Ailieu.
Bamboo: untapped ‘’green gold’’ of Timor-Leste
By: Roy Trivedy and Shyam K Paudel
When most people talk about agricultural production in Timor-Leste, they rarely mention the growth of bamboo.
Bamboo grows from tropical to sub-temperate regions. However, the great diversity is found in sub-tropical regions of the planet. Globally, bamboo covers 22 million hectares of land with 1200 species. It is estimated that bamboo contributes to livelihoods of more than 1 billion people globally. China, for instance, makes nearly US $30 billion annually and employs more than 7.75 million people in bamboo cultivation. In 2012, China exported bamboo products worth US $1862 million providing 60% of the global export market for this ‘green gold’.
Timor-Leste is endowed with rich natural resources such as bamboo. Bamboo, the fastest growing grass species, is the backbone of the rural economy in most of the developing world. With more than 1000 applications including but not limited to construction, furniture, handicrafts, textiles, baskets, food, fodder, paper and energy – bamboo has been used by local communities in many parts of the world for many decades.
First Lady Ms. Isabel Ferreira talking to women workers at the Bamboo Centre.
Over the past 12-18 months bamboo production has started to expand rapidly in Timor-Leste. Community based bamboo cultivation and value chain development has kicked off and is yielding impressive results. Bamboo cultivation is not only contributing to national and local economic development but also enabling people to earn significantly more income. Bamboo offers other indirect benefits as well. It prevents soil erosion and landslides. It also contributes to water conservation and disaster risk reduction. It has a potential to increase the incomes of rural communities by engaging them in plantations, management, processing, construction, production of handicrafts and scaffolding.
Timor-Leste has more than 10 bamboo species including D. asper – one of the strongest multi-purpose species with potential to produce over 20 tons of bamboo wood per hectare. With the UNDP’s support, the Gleno Community Bamboo Pre-processing Centre in Ermera District started operations in March 2019. Local communities are excited, as the centre generated more than US $5000 in 3 months of production – a fantastic yield alongside sales of coffee, for local farmers.
The community centre buys bamboo culms from local farmers (women and men) , pre-processes these to make bamboo strips and then supplies them to the Bamboo Institute. The Institute then uses these to produce various bamboo products including office and household furniture, picture frames etc. The centre at Gleno is currently run by five community members and directly benefits hundreds of local farmers engaged in bamboo farming.
Talking to farmers at Liquisa about the potential of bamboo and (Right) School girls by a bamboo plantation at Dare
There are now nine such community-based bamboo pre-processing centres in different parts of the country all directly supplying the Bamboo Institute for final processing. The Bamboo Institute has signed an agreement with each community pre-processing centre to guarantee the purchase price of bamboo strips.
It is great to see that the bamboo value chain system making a difference in the lives of thousands of farmers and incentivising local entrepreneurs in the country.
The Bamboo Institute, a semi-autonomous government entity, is the only enterprise of its kind in the country. It produces bamboo furniture, handicraft and charcoal in large quantities. The Institute was established in 2008 with the support from Government of Timor-Leste.
In 2018, with support from UNDP, additional processing machines for rural centres were purchased and five new community-based pre-processing centres were established. One result of this was that the production capacity of the Institute has increased by three-fold.
UNDP provided funds for the bamboo machinery at the processing centre and (right) Bamboo in farmland at Ailieu
This has also meant more people employed at the Institute with 63 people now in full time employment. The quality and range of products has also significantly expanded, including new products like bamboo charcoal.
The Institute can earn up to 0.7 million USD annually if it operates in its full capacity and has potential to generate more than 1 million USD per annum through product diversification and marketing.
The Institute is currently working on an order to produce 10,000 bamboo chairs for the University of Timor-Leste and in future hopes that every school in the country will start to invest in bamboo furniture for classrooms! That would keep the Institute and community centres busy. ?
The Government of Timor-Leste has started a few initiatives to support the growth of the bamboo industry.
Bamboo is listed as one of the priority sectors in the country’s Strategic Development Plan (2011 – 2030) with an objective to increase bamboo resources both in forests and on agricultural land.
Bamboo is also referred to as one of valuable “non-wood forest products” in the revised National Forest Policy (2017). Importantly, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) has approved National Bamboo Strategy in March 2019.
But despite the positive momentum created by these policy statements the potential impact of bamboo has yet to be fully realised in the country. A recent assessment found several challenges including: (i) most natural bamboo resources are not well-managed for quality and quantity, (ii) local farmers and bamboo growers have limited knowledge of bamboo farming; (iii) that to make the most of this amazing natural resource, the country needs to protect, nurture and sustainably use bamboo. There are no policies at present that have been enacted to address ‘pending issues’ such as the private sector engagement in the bamboo industry.
Timor Leste is now focusing on plantation, sustainable management and diversifying bamboo’s domestic and industrial applications. The government is planning to allocate additional resources to effectively implement the National Bamboo Strategy and fully tap the great potential of this ‘green gold’ for the country’s economic development and environmental conservation.