Bamboo’s role in conserving biodiversity
Today, deforestation, climate change and the increasing degradation of land pose a serious threat to the biodiversity in our planets’ forests. With 2020 marking the end of the United Nations’ ‘Decade on Biodiversity’, the next few years and the start of more ambitious plans will prove crucial for the world’s ecosystems. So where does bamboo – also known as the plant of a thousand uses - fit into this? As an important forest resource worldwide and an excellent substitute for timber, bamboo’s potential in conserving the diversity of life in forests could be crucial.
Bamboo as a source of food
With over 1,600 known species and more than 30 million hectares spread across the world, bamboo is an important source of food and shelter to a huge range of animals - including some of the most endangered species in the world. We might have all heard about the giant panda in Asia’s famous bamboo diet – eating up to 40kg of it a day no less! - but it's not the only one to rely on this miracle plant as a source of food. All sorts of animals from the mountain gorilla, Indian elephant, South American spectacled bear, the red panda and more, also consume bamboo. As a nutritious source of feed, it also forms an important source of fodder year round for livestock, such as cows and chickens.
Bamboo’s importance for landscapes
Bamboo’s many contributions to forest protection and ecosystems also stem from its positive impact on landscapes. Fast growing and extremely resilient, bamboo helps to stabilise slopes, prevent soil erosion, and regulate groundwater recharge and water purification. Bamboo’s extensive root systems also enables it to survive damage from even the most adverse of conditions – even fire. These characteristics make it a particularly valuable tool for restoring degraded lands. In India, for instance, an INBAR-supported project showed bamboo to raise the water table by over 15 metres in a decade, returning a degraded brick mining area back to life. Similar effects of bamboo restoring land have been seen in projects in Ghana, Thailand, China and more.
Bamboo as a stable source of income
Thanks to its fast growth – up to 1 metre in a single day! – bamboo can be harvested every few years (significantly quicker than softwood and hardwood) providing a sustainable source of income to many local and rural communities. The plant is also highly versatile and is increasingly being viewed as a green alternative to timber, helping to reduce the effects of deforestation and biodiversity loss associated with the processing of wood. With an estimated global economy worth 60 billion USD a year, bamboo can be used for anything from scaffolding, fabrics, furniture, pulp and more, creating jobs and livelihoods for millions worldwide whilst simultaneously protecting the plants and forests. A win-win situation all-round!
With all its benefits on global ecosystems, let’s hope this miracle plant receives an increasingly starring role in the next chapter of biodiversity protection projects!