China to promote Peruvian bamboo cultivation in “deforested areas”

Lack of government data on cleared land causes fears new cash crops will drive deforestation

Until recently, growing and using bamboo had been something associated with Peru’s ancient history. The pre-Incan Moche used the shoot in 2000BC to construct tombs for their royalty. The Incas continued to take advantage of it in construction, and in Amazonia, indigenous communities still use it to for homes and shelters. But it is China – which produces a fifth of the world’s bamboo – which is now eyeing the 42 species of bamboo that exist across Peru. In September, officials from China’s state forest administration (SFA) and the Asia Pacific Network came to Lima to sign two memoranda of understanding which aim to “contribute to the sustainable management of the forest, scientific research, the development of a forest industry and the restoration of degraded forests through the promotion of [bamboo] cultivation.” Sara Yalle of Peru’s national forestry and wild fauna service (Serfor) says that the memoranda will guarantee technical support through technology transfer and strengthening mechanisms for management, capacity-building and the industrialisation of bamboo as the first steps. Experts are examining bamboo’s biological and chemical qualities to determine its suitability for a wide range of potential uses. Bamboo is used in China to make furniture, charcoal and industrial textiles. It is not clear how much domestic demand there will be as its uses are not fully understood, Yalle explains. But Lucila Pautrat, a forestry engineer and director of the Peruvian Society for Ecodevelopment has concerns. The initiative dates back to 2008 when Peru introduced a plan to run to 2020 which did not move forward because there were no rules in place to guarantee sustainability, Pautrat explains. “Back then, we opposed the bamboo production because there was nothing to regulate its exploitation, and even today there isn’t anything,” Puatrat says, also pointing out the lack of a current and geo-referenced land registry covering forests, which she says is essential to establish before pushing for commercial bamboo cultivation. Some species of bamboo such as Guadua have been introduced to Peru, but there are natural bamboo forests in the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios, Ucayali and San Martín y Loreto. The agriculture ministry estimates that there are more than 1.5million hectares of bamboo across the country. The main planted species are found in the northern regions (Piura, Lambayeque, Cajamarca and Amazonas). In spite its smaller surface area, there is apparently more potential for the commercialisation of bamboo in central forested areas due to better infrastructure connections. Risk of deforestation Yalle claims Serfor is “currently evaluating the conditions for the sound development of bamboo”, including the availability and interest of potential producers in introducing or managing the crop on their land or in their communities. But the most controversial point in the agreement with China relates to the promotion of bamboo cultivation in deforested areas. The Peruvian government indicates that there are seven million hectares of deforested land in the country around 10 percent (700,000 hectares) of which would be suitable for bamboo cultivation, according to Yalle. “This is quite ambitious given if we recognise that there are currently only a reported three or four thousand hectares of bamboo plantations nationally,” Yalle says. Yalle explains that the bamboo plantations are covered by new forest regulations, which do not require authorisation from Serfor nor the presentation of a governance plan. Land owners are only required to register a plantation and update their land use for cultivation. Pautrat, who has worked on the impacts on forests of the palm oil trade, is wary of the Peruvian government’s lack of geo-referenced data on deforested land, much of which in private hands. The experience of palm oil, in which businesspeople and local people cleared forest in order to qualify deforested or unproductive land as suitable for planting cash crops, should serve as a warning. For now, the northern region has been chosen for a pilot project run by International Center for Bamboo and Rattan along with Peruvian NGO CICAP which aims to build the capacity to use bamboo sustainably. Officials deny that there will be any negative environmental impacts and are optimistic that because bamboo can grow in degraded soils, it can “generate multiple benefits”.