Productive bamboo landscapes of Western Zhejiang
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International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR)
DATE OF SUBMISSION :
The sustainable harvesting of bamboo from natural and managed forests is an important livelihood activity for communities from much of China, Asia and the global South in general. The ability of bamboo to meet the economic needs of people without exceeding the carrying capacity of the environment has been best exemplified by its use in the mountainous areas of Zhejiang, China, notably in Anji and Lin’an counties which are two of the major areas in China for the production of bamboo timber (Phyllostachys pubescens) and bamboo shoots (Phyllostachys praecox and Phyllostachys pubescens). Whilst extraction of bamboo from forests for household and agricultural purposes is commonly practiced by people around the world, the development of specific silvicultural and processing technologies by Zhejiangese farmers and artisans over at least the last 800 years represents a unique understanding of both bamboo’s properties for human utilization and its environmental benefits within an agricultural system.
Bamboo, production forests, sustainable forest management, non-timber-forestry products
Dr.Lou Yiping is the Director of the China Partnership Programme at the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, an international intergovernmental organisation dedicated to improving the social, economic, and environmental benefits of bamboo and rattan. Giles Henley is a Project Officer in the Programme. INBAR has recently completed a three year project on further integrating biodiversity into production bamboo forests in order to maximize ecological benefits. More information can be found at www.inbar.int
Bamboo’s distribution and characteristics in Anji and Lin’an
Anji and Lin’an are situated in the northwestern corner of Zhejiang province in the Tianmushan mountain range. Both counties have large farming populations, with 87% of inhabitants classified as rural, and approximately 230 inhabitants/km2. Both counties are hilly with little land suitable for agriculture, which previously made access difficult and poverty prevalent; at the end of the 1970’s Anji County was below the national poverty line with annual per capita income at less than USD 50/year (Zhu 2008). Due to the hilly topography of the two counties and limited area for the cultivation of food crops, there is a high forest coverage (60%) of which approximately half is bamboo (Mertens 2008). Land use studies have shown a pattern of higher elevation areas retaining natural forest, whilst mid-elevation slopes are planted with bamboo, and the plain and valley floors are used for agriculture, consisting of rice, vegetables, sweet potato, corn and green bean and other crops which are consumed by households or sold. This land usage pattern is optimal for productivity from available land resources, whilst retaining perennial cover on mountain slopes, which helps by both minimizing soil erosion from hillsides as well as regulating water flow into the crop growing areas. Recent research (Lou et al. 2010) has highlighted the potential benefits of bamboo forestry management for carbon sequestration; continual extraction and storage of bamboo carbon in products is likely to be more effective than fast growing tree species.
Figure 1: Bamboo planted on slopes is important for controlling water regulation and soil erosion
The planting and management of bamboo on the mid elevation slopes is a key component of the production system. Like elsewhere in China, there is high pressure on land resources and the cultivation of bamboo, which can provide both a source of direct nutrition (through bamboo shoots) and income through the sale of shoots and timber, has allowed farmers to become richer without resorting to deforestation or slash-and-burn farming of hillsides. Equitable distribution of forestland ensures that each household owns at least small area of bamboo forest (typically 1 hectare) which provides both income and security. Most farmers derive between 20-40% of their incomes from sales of bamboo products to timber mills and agribusinesses (for shoots). (Ruiz Perez et al. 2004) The relative high value of bamboo farming means that it is often more profitable to other crop production (including rice), and its resilience as a crop means that it is often a more dependable and favored source of income amongst farmers. (Zhu 2008)
Historical development of bamboo farming techniques
Bamboo harvesting in Zhejiang has a long history, and techniques of bamboo farming have been improved over time to raise productivity, whilst retaining sustainable use of resources. The reference to farming techniques for bamboo in Zhejiang and its valued use in products dates back to at least the Han period (206 BCE-220 CE) appearing in ancient texts such as the ErYa (Jiang 2007). Specific techniques for cultivating bamboos have been developed in order to improve and smooth productivity over years, and tailored based upon whether bamboo production is aimed at timber, shoot or dual purpose production. Techniques include: Selective harvesting based upon age markings, planting areas on ‘on and off’ years to coincide with productive cycle of bamboo, density control, soil tillage and fertilizing, pest and disease control, removing top branches to preventing snow damage etc.
In recent years, the importance of biodiversity and sustainable forestry management practices to the long term health of bamboo forests has become better recognized. The application of SFM to bamboo forests in Anji and Lin’an is being tried in different ways, such as the development of mixed chestnut-bamboo forests in Lin’an, and group certification under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for Anji’s bamboo forests. (Anji Bamboo Industry Association, pers. comm.)
The development of multiple uses of bamboo to enrich growers
As well as traditional uses such as a source of food and material for construction and weaving, a use has been found for every part of the bamboo plant for creating both utilitarian and artistic products. The potential of productive uses of bamboo is illustrated in Figure 2 below, which highlights the multiple uses from each part of the plant. Much of the growth of the bamboo industry has occurred in the local areas around Anji and Lin’an, forming close linkages between farmers and processors. As well as traditional uses of bamboo, which complement other agricultural activities (such as winnowing baskets, rakes, fishing traps and nets; stakes and panels for building structures), ongoing innovation has led to numerous new products to meet large markets traditionally dominated by wood, as well as new markets specifically for bamboo goods. Through advances in processing technology and by moving up the product value chain, prices and bamboo farmer revenues have kept pace with the rest of China’s economy driving the sustainability of the local economy. Together the bamboo processing industry in Anji provides around 30,000 jobs to local inhabitants, providing an important source of off-farm income (Zhu, 2008).
Figure 2: The multiple uses which have been found from the different parts of the bamboo plant (Zhu 2008)
Lessons of the sites for other areas
Anji and Lin’an represent models of highly successful and sustainable exploitation of local bamboo forest resources in mountainous areas. At the local level, the land use patterns of bamboo farming on hillsides has allowed farmers to meet their development needs by providing incomes, a food source from bamboo farming, protecting their environment and preserving their traditional culture around bamboo. This has occurred without the significant degradation of soils or water resources, which are features of other hilly areas around the world. Additionally, the development of successful silvicultural practices and uses for bamboo in traditional and modern uses has had the triple benefit of raising farmer incomes, sequestering carbon and avoiding deforestation. The experiences of these counties highlight the potential of bamboo, an often under-recognized Non-Timber-Forestry Product which has great potential for meeting economic and environmental challenges of the 21st Century.
Jiang Zehui., ed. 2007. Bamboo and Rattan in the World. Beijing: China Forestry Publishing House
Lou Yiping, Li Yanxia, Buckingham K., Henley G. and Zhou Guomo, 2010. Bamboo and Climate Change Mitigation. INBAR Technical Report 32, China: International Network for Bamboo and Rattan.
Mertens, B. et al. 2008. Spatial patterns and the process of bamboo expansion in Southern China. Applied Geography 28 pp. 16-31
Ruiz Perez, M. Belcher, B. Fu Maoyi, and Yang Xiaosheng, 2004. Looking through the bamboo curtain: an analysis of the changing role of forest and farm income in rural livelihoods in China. International Forest Review. Vol 6 (3-4), pp. 306-316.
Zhu, Zhaohua, 2008. Evaluation of the Bamboo Industry’s Impact on Rural Sustainable Development in Anji, China. In Proceedings of the Ministerial Workshop on Bamboo and Rattan Sector Development for INBAR Member Countries, 20-29 May 2010, China, pp. 118-138