The Many Uses of Beautiful Bamboo: A New Jamaican Training Program


When I was living in Japan, many moons ago, I discovered bamboo. On walks in the mountains outside Tokyo, bamboo groves arched across the path, graceful and tall. Then I began to notice how much the Japanese incorporate this tree into many aspects of everyday life. You could buy almost any household item made from bamboo: baskets, of course; furniture of all kinds; kitchen implements; and of course, entire houses and parts of houses. We sat on bamboo benches outside, had bamboo mats and bamboo window blinds inside (none of these things were expensive – there was plenty of material). I was also amazed to see bamboo scaffolding on buildings under construction! This wood is incredibly strong. Nowadays, you can even buy rather beautiful bamboo computer mouses (mice?) and keyboards!

Music speakers made of bamboo.
Music speakers made of bamboo.

In Jamaica, the non-native bamboo (bamboo vulgaris) is seen as an invasive species. It spreads quickly on hillsides where other native trees may have been removed. Why not make good use of it, as we are trying to do with the invasive lion fish (in that case, eat it!) Early last year, Senator Norman Grant, who also heads the Jamaica Agricultural Society, moved a motion in the Upper House (it was passed) for the strengthening of the Bamboo and Indigenous Materials Advisory Council established by the Bureau of Standards to drive efforts to establish Jamaica as a hub for the production of high-value finished bamboo products.

Meanwhile, the Digicel Foundation has partnered with the New Horizon Christian Outreach Ministry and the USAID-funded COMET II program in a training program for bamboo processing. It makes perfect sense. Here is the Foundation’s press release:

April 7, 2015

The New Horizon Christian Outreach Ministry is planning to revolutionise the multi-billion dollar bamboo industry through an entrepreneurship training programme in bamboo utilization, energy and agro-processing.

By expanding its training facility through a partnership with the Digicel Foundation, New Horizon will be designing and manufacturing equipment for the bamboo industry which is currently worth an estimated US$20 billion dollars globally.

“Bamboo is definitely a winner,” said Michael Barnett, Executive Director of New Horizon. “We see the need in the bamboo industry for mechanized equipment. Plus, we’re always trying to differentiate ourselves and look out for the potential opportunities to create social enterprises.”

New Horizon will be designing and manufacturing bamboo splitters, bamboo strippers, a bamboo press to develop bamboo ply board, hydraulic clamps and modified chop saws for use in the industry. This J$5.2 million investment made by the Digicel Foundation will directly impact 500 students and residents of the Wynter’s Pen community in St. Catherine where the facility is located.

“With 1800 hectares of bamboo not being used in Jamaica, the potential is tremendous,” said Barnett. “This is a project that not only will impact this community, but thousands of persons from the bamboo farmers to vendors and producers of the by-products. Digicel Foundation has helped us in a high tech way so that we can help to transform the bamboo sector,” Barnett added.

The programme will also help to change the lives of young persons in the community as additional employment and training opportunities will emerge, enabling them to earn qualifications for the growing local industry and pursue similar opportunities outside of Jamaica.

New Horizon has been an active force for change within its community through the COMET II programme executed in partnership with USAID which offers HEART-certified skills training in welding, electrical installation, literacy and climate change. Level II of the programme, completed in March of 2015, saw 31 males graduating in electrical installation and welding, with 18 females graduating in literacy.

Chairman of the Digicel Foundation, Jean Lowrie-Chin said, ” The New Horizon Christian Ministries, Wynter’s Pen community, USAID and the Digicel Foundation are showing how much is possible when we work together with a common vision for sustainable community development.”

A number of these students have also benefitted from equipment valued at J$4.5 million previously invested by Digicel Foundation in 2011. Speaking at the graduation ceremony for the COMET II programme and handover for the bamboo project held on March 31 at New Horizon keynote speaker Dr. K’adamawe K’nIfe applauded the training being done for the youth within the community.

“Sometimes the work we do has so much more value than we think. A programme like this has saved the country $50 million because for every $1 spent, at least $10 has been returned on investment,” Dr. K’nIfe said.

According to Mr. Barnett the return on investment is expected to increase through the expansion to bamboo processing and their other social enterprises such as glass processing and nutraceuticals. New Horizon hopes to offer employment to more persons being trained.

Travis Wilson (2nd left), Level 2 trainee, explains the bamboo manufacturing process to Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chairman, Digicel Foundation on Tuesday, March 31 at the unveiling of the Bamboo Processing Unit, built in partnership with the Digicel Foundation, at the New Horizons Christian Outreach Ministries in Spanish Town. Looking on, from left are Dr. Kadamawe K'Nife, Director, Office of Social Entrepreneurship, UWI and Michael Barnett, Executive Director, New Horizon Christian Outreach Ministries. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)
Travis Wilson (2nd left), Level 2 trainee, explains the bamboo manufacturing process to Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chairman, Digicel Foundation on Tuesday, March 31 at the unveiling of the Bamboo Processing Unit, built in partnership with the Digicel Foundation, at the New Horizons Christian Outreach Ministries in Spanish Town. Looking on, from left are Dr. Kadamawe K’Nife, Director, Office of Social Entrepreneurship, UWI and Michael Barnett, Executive Director, New Horizon Christian Outreach Ministries. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

The Digicel Jamaica Foundation is the largest local private sector foundation in Jamaica which since its inception in 2004 has been proactive in the areas of Education, Special Needs, and Community Empowerment. For more information on Digicel Jamaica Foundation please visit our website at http://www.digiceljamaicafoundation.org
@digiceljafdn facebook.com/digicelfoundation

 


31 thoughts on “The Many Uses of Beautiful Bamboo: A New Jamaican Training Program

  1. The New Horizons Centre is not the first to be making moves in this area. A number of cooperatives, community groups and businesses have been trying to make bamboo coal and other bamboo products since 2013/ 2014, with the support of the Bureau of Standards. The Bureau is championing bamboo as a source of income and growth, given the large global market.

    The perspective raised by Susan is extremely interesting. I hope she, and other persons with her knowledge, are contributing to the planning process surrounding the development of the bamboo industry, so that decisions can be made from a rounded, informed, perspective. It may be that certain areas will have to be designated for bamboo farming (if we run out of the wild stuff) to prevent damage to eco-diversity.

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  2. In the FAO/INBAR Publication “World bamboo resources – A thematic study prepared in the framework of the
    Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005” (book attached to this email)
    you will see the following on Page 1 as follows:-

    1. Introduction

    BAMBOO AS A PLANT
    Bamboo belongs to the Gramineae family and has about 90 genera with over 1 200 species. Bamboo
    flowers rarely and in irregular cycles, which are not yet clearly understood. Thus taxonomists do not
    always agree on the identification of bamboo species and genera, but modern genetic analysis may shed
    new light on bamboo taxonomy.

    Bamboo is naturally distributed in the tropical and subtropical belt between approximately 46° north
    and 47° south latitude, and is commonly found in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Some
    species may also grow successfully in mild temperate zones in Europe and North America. Bamboo is
    an extremely diverse plant, which easily adapts to different climatic and soil conditions. Dwarf bamboo
    species grow to only a few centimeters (cm), while medium-sized bamboo species may reach a few
    metres (m) and giant bamboo species grow to about 30 m, with a diameter of up to 30 cm. Bamboo
    stems are generally hard and vigorous, and the plant can survive and recover after severe calamities,
    catastrophes and damage. Young bamboo shoots were the first sign of new plant life after the nuclear
    bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Bamboo shoots and culms grow from the dense root rhizome system. There are two main categories of
    rhizomes: monopodial and sympodial. Monopodial rhizomes grow horizontally, often at a surprising
    rate, and thus their nickname of ‘runners’. The rhizome buds develop either upward, generating a culm,
    or horizontally, with a new tract of the rhizomal net. Monopodial bamboos generate an open clump with
    culms distant from each other and can be invasive. They are usually found in temperate regions and
    include the genera Phyllostachys and Pleioblastus. Sympodial rhizomes are short and thick, and the culms
    above ground are close together in a compact clump, which expands evenly around its circumference.
    Their natural habitat is tropical regions and they are not invasive. The main genus is Bambusa.

    In the Book of Bamboo you will see the following:-

    The type form of the species has green culms. Culms give rise through mutation to yellow culms with or without green stripes.
    This form seems more common in Central America on the mainland, while green culms predominate in frost-free parts of the United States
    and in the Caribbean – at least on the island of Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico, where its introduction dates from the early
    nineteenth century. The preferred banana prop of United Fruit for many years in Central America, B. vulgaris owes its distribution in
    Jamaica to spontaneous rooting of culm segments used as yam props there.

    CONCLUSION
    The common bamboo that grows wild in Jamaica (Bambusa vulgaris) is a clumper (sympodial bamboo) which is not invasive and can be easily managed but has never been managed.

    Bambusa vulgaris was brought to Jamaica during colonial times and used for “river training” all over the country. Bambusa vulgaris has been further spread throughout Jamaica mainly by farmers who for decades have used it as “yam sticks” (yam props).

    Unfortunately, Agencies like NEPA and the Forestry Department mistakenly classifies Bambusa vulagaris as an invasive species. If grown in managed plantations, Bambusa vulgaris has the potential to create great wealth for Jamaicans. When grown in plantations Bambusa vulgaris susceptibility to the Powder Post Beetle is reduced by 90 percent.

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    1. Well, NEPA and environmentalists don’t seem to agree with you on this point, Roger. Please see Susan Otuokon’s comments on this article. I did my research and found this species clearly described as non-native and invasive in several documents also.

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      1. Invasive species are a global threat to biodiversity. Some country’s like Hawaii have had very serious problems with plant and animal invasions and are therefore very strict in regard to the introduction of species from outside. According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)1. an Invasive alien species is a species (plant or animal) whose introduction and/or spread outside their natural past or present distribution threatens biological diversity.2. Islands are more prone to invasion by alien species because of the lack of natural competitors and predators that control populations in their native ecosystems. Bambusa vulgaris is listed as “Highly Invasive” in the Priority Listing of Terrestrial Invasive Alien Species, prepared by NEPA in January, 2014. Plants listed in the Highly Invasive Category are said to be “aggressive invaders that displace native species. Plants found in this category are also of high priority. Due to their high reproductive potential and their fast growing nature they are considered a major threat to native species”.  An species is not always highly invasive everywhere in its distribution – meaning that some places it is introduced it does not over-run the existing vegetation, whereas other places it spreads very rapidly and takes over from native vegetation. So it may be that Bambusa vulgaris is not invasive everywhere in Jamaica, however, I have seen it take over many hillsides e.g. Irish Town, Junction and some parts of Portland. It may look pretty but it dominates the vegetation and takes over the space our native plants should have occupied. It does not provide the type of habitat our wildlife prefer and is a fire hazard. Susan Otuokon

          Susan Otuokon, Ph.D. Consultant – Natural Resources Conservation, Protected Areas Planning and Management, Ecotourism

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  3. I wish the New Horizon group all the best but I strongly discourage any planting of bamboo – whether the invasive we have already – Bambusa vulgaris or some new import. Just drive through Junction or up to Irish Town and you will see how Bamboo is devastating our forests – it takes over and then it burns across huge areas. We do have a beautiful, native bamboo – Chusquea abietifolia – Climbing Bamboo – but it is very delicate and unlikely to have much use for craft. It is found in the Blue Mountains and likely other places – I wouldnt want to encourage its use either but just to point out that we do have a native bamboo. Anyway, I hope to see non-native Bamboo “culled” vehemently and if it is used to make useful items – all the better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Susan: Thanks so much for your comments. I don’t think the plan was to plant bamboo and in my article I pointed out that it is invasive. Yes, I have seen it on Junction Road and it is really taking over. Thanks for pointing out about the native bamboo. I did note the name of the invasive one and it seems a good idea to cull it! Also, I think I am correct in saying that part of the problem that it is so fast-growing, while our native trees (which also provide food and shelter for our bird species, etc) are much more slow-growing. I will share all these comments with New Horizon and Digicel Foundation. Thanks!

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      1. Glad to share – I know this group isn’t planning to plant – but rather take advantage of the over-growth of bamboo, but I have heard talk about planting bamboo as well – which is there is as much as reported in your blog then – I doubt we need to plant any – but I think special types are needed for some purposes. Indeed – our native tree species grow very slowly as they did not evolve with any large herbivores like Giant Pandas or Giraffes etc.

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    2. Here’s a report I just spotted: Jamaica exported to the United States a total 9,600 pounds of organic bamboo charcoal valued at nearly $600,000. The charcoal, destined for Houston, Texas, is the first major supply to leave the island. The supply of bamboo charcoal has been certified for export to the US under the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Programme (USDA/NOP). The supply has been provided through a partnership involving three entities, two local, and the other, American. These are the supplier, Nelson’s Super Farm in St. Mary, which operates the first organic bamboo charcoal factory to be established in Jamaica; Kingston-based packager and exporter, Janitorial Traders Limited (JTL); and US distributor, Jamaican Jeems Company Limited. The overall engagement forms part of the Ministry of Industry, Investment, and Commerce’s Bamboo Products Industry Project, being administered by the Bamboo and Indigenous Materials Advisory Committee (BIMAC) at the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ). The BIMAC is chaired by Gladstone Rose, who is also the BSJ’s Senior Director for Technical Services. Loop News Service

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    3. I would love to gain vast knowledge about bamboo, you and the blogger seem to know alot. Is there any course offered in Jamaica, or anyone either of you could reccommend picking at their brain?
      P.S i would greatly appreciate this

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      1. Hi Dena: I would definitely suggest you contact one of the entities mentioned in my blog post – Digicel Foundation, New Horizon or USAID. I don’t know whether courses are being offered at this time. All the best.

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  4. bamboo plywood? even if it costs more, why would anyone with any sense of responsibility ever buy ‘plywood’ that came from trees ever again. you got my attention with this one for sure, and it’s in good timing with earth-day moments…

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    1. Umm. In Jamaica it is a non-native invasive species as I noted in my blog – it has taken over and pushed out many native tree species. So I am not sure if it would be irresponsible to make money out of a bamboo industry, at all. I guess it depends where you live.

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  5. We looked into installing bamboo flooring when we redid all the floors in our house (which is a lot) but the price of it was far out of our price range. I would have preferred to use bamboo but cost wise it is just not a viable solution.

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