Get Into Bamboo Plantations!

“Go into bamboo plantation farming and get a bigger share of the multi-billion dollar global market for bamboo products.”

This was the advice given by Philippine Exporters Confederation (PHILEXPORT) trustee for Mindanao, Benjamin Kalalo, Jr., to exporters in Iligan City at the opening of the 2nd Iligan City Trade Fair Friday.

Speaking on the global prospects of bamboo exports, Kalalo said that “the global market for bamboo-based handicrafts and furniture was estimated at $8 billion and is growing.”

It is growing especially in the developed world because the giant grass is now being known as a green product for being cultivated in several countries in Asia and therefore, renewable.

Philippine exports of bamboo-based handicrafts has averaged $368 million a year while bamboo furniture fetched about $2 million a year. This had, however, reached a plateau since the mid-nineteen-nineties, Kalalo told the Northern Mindanao exporters.

The stagnation of bamboo exports was mainly due to the absence of concerted efforts to put up bamboo plantations. A recent inventory of bamboo groves across the country estimated bamboo stands found bamboos on land between 39,211 and 52,711 hectares only. These yielded a maximum of 52 million poles. Sixty nine percent of those bamboo were natural stands in public forests while the rest were planted on private lands.

He said researchers found only two furniture makers in Luzon with their own bamboo plantations. Jose Pastor has a 50-hactare-bamboo plantation in Isla Verde, Batangas that has sustained his family’s bamboo furniture business through the years.

A 20-hectare plantation of another furniture-maker, Domingo Alfonso, was found in Pililla, Rizal, Alfonso’s high quality bamboo furniture are exported and regularly sold locally at Rustan’s and the SM chain of supermarkets.

Due to the vast potential of bamboo as a source of steady income in rural Philippines, Kalalo said that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) had teamed up with the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to put up pilot plantations in different parts of the country from Northern Luzon to Surigao.

But the UNDP-funded projects were small at a range of eight to 10 hectares and were only demonstration plantations for eight commercial varieties of bamboo.

He told the trade fair exhibitors that going into plantation farming to raise the raw materials needed by the domestic handicrafts industry is no longer a pipe dream.

He revealed that the DENR has practically opened all denuded public lands for private sector investments in reforestation.

Under Secretary Lito Atienza, Kalalo, said, the Socialized Integrated Forest Management Agreement (SIFMA) program first introduced by President Ramos, was revived. Long-term leases of up to 50 years are granted to individuals, non-government organizations, cooperatives and corporations.

The export leader said that researches on preservation and product development of a wide variety of products using bamboo as raw materials are relatively advanced in the Philippines.

UP Los Baños scientists have also found a way of killing the eggs of the most serious insect pest of bamboo poles to keep these in top quality. --Abe P. Belena, PHILEXPORT

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