Bamboo is beneficial for countless things, like preventing erosion, sequestering carbon, or cultivating as an alternative to wood in order to alleviate deforestation. In fact, bamboo is touted as the timber of the 21st century. You might have heard talk of bamboo flooring, bamboo beer, or even bamboo viscose towels or clothing. You might have even come across (yes, it’s true) our very own NON GMO Verified Bum Boosa Bamboo Bathroom Tissue. Despite what it may seem, bamboo is more than a fad. There are people devoting their entire lives to promoting bamboo as a practical and sensible crop that has the potential to support and revive local economies, and perhaps even positively influence global economy. Moreover, these bamboo enthusiasts consider bamboo, the fastest growing plant on the planet, a potential champion that may be able to help counteract some environmental challenges that we are now meeting head-on or that are lurking just around the corner.
KEEPING BAMBOO STRONG
When Susanne Lucas was a young girl growing up outside of Washington, DC, there was a lovely hedge of bamboo between her house and her neighbors, which served as a privacy screen. She was only about 8 years old then, but the running bamboo, Phyllostachys, somehow made an impression upon her. Twenty years later she re-discovered her much-loved bamboo as a horticulturalist in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and subsequently her affair with the plant solidified in 1992 while attending an international bamboo conference in Japan. Susanne says, “The horticulture of bamboo in Japan is an art. Bamboo is far more than just a plant in Japan, it symbolizes grace, beauty, versatility, and strength. It sways in the breeze, it covers slopes, it defines space, it is a softer kind of evergreen, it is lush and it thrives. It lives long after it is cut, as food, as utility, as art, as music, as inspiration. It endures.”
By the time Susanne had attended that Japanese conference in 1992, the need for a non-governmental international body for bamboo collaboration among bamboo enthusiasts had been budding. There at the conference in Japan, a bamboo forest was planted to cover and reclaim the dirty soil of Minamata, arguably the first well-publicized ecological and human disaster. Then those who participated decided to build a metaphorical bamboo bridge across the world, with the goal to unite efforts to promote bamboo as a sustainable resource, a multi-faceted solution to so many problems.
A group of like-minded souls, some whom had met at previous events, began round-table discussions and formed the International Bamboo Association. Susanne emerged as the North American Coordinator. Without major funding support and before the days of the world-wide internet capabilities, the International Bamboo Association survived as a group of committed volunteers devoted to holding a World Bamboo Congress every 4 years, and bringing and sharing information on how to not only grow bamboo, but how to promote the use of this rapidly renewable grass with its foreseeable potential to ease the burden of a planet fraught with environmental issues.
Susanne subsequently became the International Coordinator, and as her office in Plymouth, Massachusetts became the headquarters, surrounded by bamboo, her commitment evolved into a life-long endeavor. Those days spent in Japan with new friends from around world gave her inspiration as strong and expansive as the roots of bamboo itself. Susanne feels the time is right for bamboo as a sustainable alternative to timber. “It has always been right,” she says, “but particularly now, bamboo deserves a fresh perspective as a natural resource with tremendous potential as source for bio-energy, bio-plastics, paper pulp, environmental remediation, carbon credits, non-timber contemporary products and more.”
The International Bamboo Association has since evolved into what is now the World Bamboo Organization, of which Susanne is the CEO. WBO exists to find ways to improve and promote the use of bamboo and the conditions of surrounding bamboo agriculture and industry. It is dedicated to promoting the use of bamboo and bamboo products for the sake of the environment and economy. Members make up a diverse group consisting of individual people, commercial businesses, non-profit associations, institutions, and allied trade corporations that all share a common interest = bamboo.
WBO launched a website, established an administrative board, and applied for U.S. tax-exemption status. In 2005, corporate by-laws were adopted, and the WBO obtained U.S. 501-c-6 status as a United States trade association. This was all great progress, but there were no funds and no corporate sponsors. Once again, committed volunteers kept WBO alive, and Kamesh Salam, of Assam, was appointed President to bring new energy to the World Bamboo Organization. In November 2008, Susanne and Kamesh set their sights on Bangkok for the 8th World Bamboo Congress to be hosted by World Bamboo Organization. Through collaborations within Thailand, they began coordinating this amazing global event that would bring people from around the world together, sharing ideas and learning about how best to utilize this amazing grass. Since then, the WBO has hosted the 9th World Bamboo Congress in Belgium in 2012, as well as coordinating World Bamboo Day events around the world.
REVIVING A LOCAL BAMBOO ECONOMY
Planning is currently underway for the 10th World Bamboo Congress to be held in Damyang, South Korea: 26 June – 1 July 2015. Damyang County is located in the southwest corner of South Korea, in Jeollanum-do. It enjoys a southern continental climate and temperate climate forest zone with high temperatures and precipitation in summer, providing ideal conditions for bamboo growth. The county has 1,797 hectares of bamboo forest equal to 25.5% of Korea’s total bamboo habitat. It is rural and scenic, far from the hectic city of Seoul, and very much worth the travel to get there, especially if you want to see bamboo forests.
Surrounded by mountains and hills covered with bamboo, Damyang historically has been a traditional bamboo region, with an immense market for local craftsman making everything from furniture, baskets and other utility products. Twenty years ago, the bamboo markets closed in Damyang because of declining demand for bamboo products. Today, thanks to Governor Choi, the local bamboo resources are carefully maintained and managed to sustainably supply bamboo culms and shoots for emerging new markets. The Governor is enthusiastically collaborating with WBO to educate and promote awareness of the potential of bamboo during the World Bamboo Congress in 2015, and hopes the result is a true bamboo revival. In anticipation of the Congress, the bamboo market there is already regaining its vigor and preparing for an even wider reach.
Sonja Sheasley is an Honorary Council Member of World Bamboo Organization and Founder of Bum Boosa® Bamboo Products, the first company to bring bamboo wet wipes and bathroom tissue to the US market.