Creativity and Culture

Ali Mchumo : Bamboo and sustainable development challenge


The International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) is an intergovernmental development organisation that promotes sustainable development using bamboo and rattan. It has 48 Member States. In addition to its headquarters in China, INBAR has Regional Offices in Cameroon, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, and India.

Since it was founded in 1997, it has been making a real difference to the lives of millions of people around the world and the environment, with achievements in areas such as: raising standards; promoting safe; resilient bamboo construction; restoring degraded land; capacity-building; informing green policy and Sustainable Development Goal objectives.


An exclusive interview with

Ali Mchumo

General Director of INBAR


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Could you please briefly introduce bamboo resources globally and its contribution to ecosystem?


The first surprising thing to know about bamboo is that it is grass, not a tree. Despite its height and ‘woody’ nature, bamboo grows very quickly, maturing within three to five years, and can be harvested regularly without the need to replant.

Its rapid regrowth makes it an ideal renewable source of material , from furniture to outdoor flooring , and a substitute for timber and plastics.

The superior mechanical properties of bamboo also allow it to play a pivotal role in the construction industry, where it can be a substitute for aluminium, concrete, plastic, and steel as bamboo cladding, decking and structural components, lowering greenhouse gas emissions from the infrastructure sector.

Bamboo’s extensive root system is also impressive. The roots and rhizomes of a bamboo plant act like a net, binding soil and preventing water run-off. Many countries around the world are already using bamboo to restore degraded land or prevent landslides.

Finally, bamboo provides a source of food and shelter for some of the world’s most iconic and endangered animals, amongst them the giant panda, red panda, and mountain gorilla.

What makes bamboo so important for global environmental work is its global spread.

Bamboo is truly a « global grass ». There are more than 1600 species of bamboo in the world, distributed across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific region.

INBAR estimates the total area of bamboo forests globally to be around 50 million hectares. This means that bamboo can provide sustainable development solutions for many developing countries.


Could you please introduce the utilisation of bamboo resources, esp. its applications for textiles? Are there any advantages for bamboo in this regard?


The bamboo sector is large and varied, producing thousands of different products, from handicrafts to housing and from furniture to fodder and household fuel. The global bamboo industry has an output value of more than USD 70 billion, and the international trade volume exceeds USD 3 billion every year.

Bamboo is already widely used as a source of fibre in textiles and clothing, as a replacement for water-hungry cotton. Its main advantages are its sustainability as a material: bamboo grows fast, is abundant, and does not compete with other crops for land.

It also requires very little in the way of pesticides or water, and is completely naturally degradable. Clothes made with it are quite soft and breathable, with antibacterial properties that are in high demand for items like undergarments, socks and towels.

There are still some issues to be considered when making bamboo textiles, but technologies are being developed which will ensure that bamboo fabric is produced in a non-wasteful and eco-friendly way.


Could you please share your expectations for the utilisation and development of bamboo resources? And any recommendations for the sector development?


Bamboo is closely linked to several of the world’s most important sustainable development challenges. It can be an important nature-based tool for poverty eradication, a source of affordable and clean energy, a sustainable construction material, a low-carbon and sustainable product, a mean to mitigate climate change, and a part of healthy ecosystems.

Bamboo is a promising nature-based development solution, and the development and utilisation of bamboo has a bright future. INBAR has identified that at least 7 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations require bamboo.

Despite its immense potential, bamboo remains something of an unsung hero. In particular, few people are aware of bamboo’s applications in textiles and other areas. More work is needed to raise awareness about this humble yet remarkable grass plant, and to increase research and development into sustainable and low-carbon bamboo processing technologies.


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