Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Resurgence of the pliant but hardy kawayan

Note: This photo-essay appeared in the 18-25 September 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, "the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America", a weekly published in San Francisco, CA. The author is the paper's Special News/Photo Correspondent based in Manila.

Asexual propagation of bamboo using cuttings. 
Typhoon Luis was expected to hit Metro Manila last Sunday (14 September) but we had to meet with our volunteer group of fisherfolks in the coastal barangay of our town in Zambales. We are preparing for the nesting season of marine turtles (pawikan), which starts by the end of this month, and they are getting ready to patrol when darkness falls the eight-kilometer stretch of seashore for nesting marine turtles.

When the rain stopped briefly, we inspected the bamboo nursery at the Hiyas ng Kalikasan tree farm of our colleague.  She informed us that there are now ten species there, and before we left for Manila later in the afternoon, mature culms of yellow bamboo had been secured for cutting and planting. 

Initially, we are using asexual or vegetative propagation method with two-node and one-node culm cuttings directly potted for rooting in polybags under the shade of the big trees.  We may use other propagation methods later.

Environmental protection is the core mission of our non-government organization (NGO), KaTIMPUYOG Zambales.  Pawikan conservation is what we address from October to March through the hatchery we put up at the coastal barangay. Reforestation is the other major thrust of our program plans. We have been in touch with the Ayta community leaders in the northern town of Botolan who have been collecting seeds and wildlings of indigenous trees from the mountain forests, nurturing them in their nursery for reforestation purposes.

Our NGO submitted two proposals for inclusion in the Annual Investment Program (AIP) of the provincial government for 2015: one for eco-tourism development, which revolves around the pawikan conservation program with the operating hatchery as model, and one for environmental management with the setting up native tree and bamboo nurseries as start-up of reforestation programs in the province.  Livelihood opportunities for the local communities may be generated alongside these two programs. 

Our group is looking at a mix of native hardwoods, fruit and ornamental/flowering trees for ecologogical balance. Experts have highly recommended bamboo as ideal for the stabilization of the Sto. Tomas riverbank.  This river traverses the three towns of San Marcelino, San Felipe and San Narciso as it wends to the West Philippine Sea.

For the bamboo program, we take guidance from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through their latest publications, primarily ‘The Philippines Recommends for Bamboo’ (2012) and ‘Bamboo for Riverbanks Stabilization. Information Bulletin No. 341/2011’.
Starting top left, clockwise: bayog, wamin, pole and yellow bamboos
PCAARRD recommends eight species for riverbank stabilization whose local names could be very familiar in communities where they abound:  kawayan tinik (Bambusa blumeana), kawayan kiling (Bambusa vulgaris), bolo (Gigantochloa levis), anos (Schizostachium lima), buho (Schizostachium  lumampao), giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper), bayog (Bambusa sp.1) and laak (Bambusa sp.2).  Other species available in the locality can also be used. Abra province, for example, has puser (Cyrtochloa puser) and bikal (Dinochloa sp.), while Davao del Norte has kayali (Gigantochloa atter).

This giant grass, bamboo, has a wide spreading root system. This “net-like root system of bamboo holds the soil together ... and keeps twice as much water in the watersheds ...”  The litter that accumulates underneath also reduces rain run-off and helps prevent soil erosion.  Thus, planting the Sto. Tomas riverbank with bamboo species found in abundance in our province would effectively control erosion, and reduce the threat of flooding in our town when the river swells during the rainy season.  

The bamboo clumps can be effective in risk mitigation since the “sturdy poles serve as windbreakers blocking strong winds in the surrounding environment during typhoons.”

In addition, a healthier environment would be enhanced since “bamboo can sequester 12 tons of carbon from the air per hectare and generates 35% more oxygen compared with other trees.” Urbanites should take note of this as a derived benefit from setting up aesthetic bamboo gardens (bambuseta) in their yards.

Aside from environmental benefits, the current resurgence of interest in bamboo derives from its being a good alternative to the dwindling supply of wood and its great potential for other commercial applications.

Clump of kawayan tinik.
Bamboo is highly renewable producing new shoots annually, and as we have mentioned, species can be propagated using culm cuttings.  Bamboo is a fast grower.  Culms reach full height in about 60-90 days, 30 meters in some species, are matured and ready for harvest in 3-5 years.

Nurseries can grow various bamboo species and sell them as planting material to commercial farmers. There is also a growing market for ornamental types; hence, these can be grown in pots for the wholesale market or retailed to bamboo enthusiasts.

According to PCAARD, there are now more than 62 bamboo species in the country while there were only 47 identified in 1991. The increase came about through importation or introduction by garden enthusiasts. Ornamental bamboo species of foreign origin include kawayan dilaw (green stripe), buhong dilaw (golden), wamin/Buddha’s belly, pole/monastery, and Chinese dwarf bamboos, among others.
Bamboo shoot (labong): gourmet food in Western countries,
Young and tender bamboo shoots (labong) can be an income earner from the local and international food markets. In Western countries, this is a gourmet food available usually as canned imports. There is a rule for harvesting shoots: “only four should be left to grow every year ... [those] that will emerge should be removed or those that are of good size should be harvested for food.” There was a time when harvesting shoots was banned in our town because of an apparent depletion of bamboo poles supply. Labong was sold on the sly in the public market.

Bamboo poles are lightweight but they are both hard and durable, thus making them a viable source of strong building and construction materials such as concrete reinforcements, and panel boards, among others.   Using new processes and equipment, bamboo can also be used in manufacturing high-value engineered products like bamboo veneer and bamboo tiles for structural and non-structural building components. 

Treated bamboo poles are still used in building traditional Filipino houses.  For example, our FilAm cousins from California recently built a bamboo house in their farm in our town.  They incorporated wood, ceramic tiles and glass in the predominantly bamboo structure. There are no engineered bamboo tiles. For flooring, they used the traditional long treated bamboo slats.

A bamboo house owned by FilAms from California.
Production of bamboo musical instruments and creating a niche market for these are in the commercial eye of PCAARRD.  The old Pangkat Kawayan, the active Las Piñas National High School Bamboo Orchestra, the PUP Banda Kawayan, and the Musikong Bumbong of Obando City immediately come to mind.  The durability of bamboo as a component of musical instruments is evident in the 902 pipes of the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ that had never been replaced yet since 1816.
PUP Banda Kawayan members and their bamboo musical instruments.
There is now an increasing demand for bamboo furniture because of the dearth of wood, hence, the rising cost of wood furniture.  The handicrafts industry is also meeting demands for traditional, ethnic and decorative bamboo products.

Bamboo craft was part of our elementary schooling. In Industrial Arts classes, public schoolboys in the 1950’s to the 60’s built bamboo chairs, wove bamboo winnowing baskets, and made bamboo sieves. Industrial Arts is no longer in the curriculum, but the market for handicrafts for households and farms still exists.

A furniture set made of bamboo.
Other bamboo products that PCAARRD have looked at for market potential are charcoal briquettes from bamboo processing wastes, bamboo charcoal, and light distillate.

It is acknowledged that the bamboo industry is an emerging one. “To hasten its progress,” an advocate wrote, “there is a need to accelerate plantation of premium bamboo species, both for the production of culms and edible shoots.”

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