The government is spearheading a "bamboo revolution" to harness the potential of the world’s tallest grass other than as a material for handicraft and enable the country to get a bigger slice of the $8-billion global market for the material.
Executive Order 879, which was issued in May 2010, created the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council (PBIDC) that aims to promote the bamboo industry.
The order directed the use of bamboo for at least 25 percent of the desk and other furniture requirements of public elementary and secondary schools and prioritizing the use of bamboo in furniture and other construction requirements of government agencies.
In 2009, it was estimated that the Department of Education DepEd bought about P1 billion worth of desks every year.
Trade Undersecretary Merly Cruz, in a presentation highlighting the accomplishments of the bamboo industry project, cited the other benefits from planting bamboo: it can significantly help mitigate climate change and reduce impacts of natural disasters.
The Bamboo Network of the Philippines (BambooPhil), an organization composed of Filipino bamboo scientists, advocates and entrepreneurs, also said bamboo is great for erosion control and carbon dioxide control.
It can be tapped as a cash crop because it is fast-growing and easy to propagate.
Celso Lantican of BambooPhil said cost-wise, bamboo is cheaper than wood and, therefore, a good substitute for the wood the country imports from Malaysia and Indonesia.
According to Cruz, the Philippines’ contribution to Asean’s efforts toward large-scale production of bamboo is the reforestation of at least 500,000 hectares with bamboo from 2010 to 2020.
During the first PBIDC meeting in January, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, council chair, said bamboo should be competitive in cost against wood to make substitution viable; otherwise, bamboo should be marketed as a premium product through research and development.
While technology is available, the council sees the need for technical assistance and capacity building and training.
Lantican said that raw materials are either insufficient or not suited for the production of certain products. He said massive planting of bamboo should be encouraged.
The council also eyes benchmarking with China, which has developed a breakthrough technology in tissue culture, leading to mass propagation.
Lantican said bamboo farming or plantation costs P30,000 per hectare. The average harvest per hectare is 1,200 culms or poles calculated at 6 culms per clump and 200 clumps per hectare.
Cruz said large-scale bamboo plantations will enable local government units to participate more actively in processing various products, creating jobs and livelihood.
So far, the program has established 11 new nurseries while about 900 new hectares have planted on the propagation side.
On business development, some 25 nodes and eight hubs and one Bamboo Negosyo Village have been set up.
One of the strategies adopted was a "big bro-small bro" subcontracting partnership.
Bambu International Corp. in Iloilo has been subcontracting from eight medium- and small-scale producers and sells bamboo products to the local and export markets.
Before the EO, the DTI had identified engineered bamboo projects under its one-town, one-project (OTOP) program.
OTOP has identified bamboo production and processing as a strategic industry for its potential not only in the domestic but also in the export market.
The industry’s major products come in the form of engineered construction materials.
DTI has forged a strong collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources, with the latter handling the establishment of bamboo nurseries and the growing of cuttings.
The clustering approach has been adopted for bamboo production and processing such that each island will have its own clusters.
In Luzon, Pampanga has been identified as a pilot area and hub for Central Luzon; Abra for Northern Luzon, Laguna for Southern Luzon, and Tarlac, Palawan, and Camarines Sur, among other provinces, as nodes.
In the Visayas, Iloilo and Negros Oriental are hubs and the whole island of Panay is a site of nodes. In Mindanao, General Santos City is the hub with Sarangani, South Cotabato, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay as nodes.
According to the DTI’s OTOP on bamboo, the tinik and or bayog varieties, which are economically important and the most widely cultivated, are the choice for the project.
The botong and tinik bamboo varieties mature between three to six months and have a gestation period of 4 to 5 years.
As of 2009, the bamboo project has generated P 2.443 million investments, P1.991 million domestic sales, 257 jobs, and created/assisted 57 MSMEs.
Cruz said from meeting the school desk requirements of the DepEd, the project aims to go into higher-end wood products such as wood panels both for the local and export markets.
Laguna served as the first pilot site due to its abundance of water, especially around the Laguna lake.
The Laguna bamboo model was replicated in Iloilo for Visayas and General Santos for Mindanao.
Early in the implementation of the project, DTI was exploring the possibility of exporting bamboo products to Japan, which heavily promotes the use of biodegradable and organic products.
Bamboo belongs to the grass family and has about 1,000 species. It is described as the fastest-growing plant on Earth and has been measured to grow as fast as 121 centimeters or 47.6 inches in one day.
Previous attempts to put up bamboo nurseries in the country had been unsuccessful because of the absence of a market to sell the bamboo harvested and the lack of processing facilities for higher-end applications.