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Bamboo Biomass Could Ease Africa's Deforestation Crisis

February 27, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 159

Latest data by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that world deforestation, largely due to conversion of tropical forests to agricultural land, has decreased over the last decade, but continues at an alarmingly high rate in many countries. Between 2000 and 2010, the global annual rate of forestry loss is estimated to be about 13 million hectares. But according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Africa is suffering deforestation at twice the world rate.

The stats couldn't be more alarming -- almost 90 percent of original rainforests in West Africa have been wiped out, and the landscapes left behind are heavily fragmented and in extremely poor condition. About 80 percent of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa is heavily dependent on timber for fuel, so not surprisingly illegal logging, along with conversion of timberland for agricultural purposes, has proven to be a major culprit in this wholesale deforestation. Although there are initiatives aimed at preserving the rainforest areas in the region, investments are not nearly as adequate as they need to be to outweigh forestry losses.

It takes seven to 10 tons of raw wood to produce one ton of wood charcoal. If African households continue to meet their needs by burning fuel wood, the outlook is grim -- by 2050, rural households will have sent 6.7 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In addition, the International Energy Agency (IEA) claims that under a business-as-usual scenario, three-quarters of total residential energy in sub-Saharan Africa would come from biomass. This leaves the region in an urgent need for investments in an alternative biomass source that will replace wood.

"Bamboo charcoal could provide an excellent alternative to hardwood charcoal production as bamboo biomass production is much greater and considerably more sustainable," claims Terry Sunderland, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). And she couldn't be more on target. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet. It produces large amounts of biomass, which makes it an excellent alternative and sustainable source of energy. Bamboo charcoal is an environmentally friendly material that has excellent absorption properties. It is made of bamboo pieces taken from plants that are at least five years old. This sustainable biomass comes in two forms -- as raw bamboo charcoal and as bamboo briquette charcoal. Raw bamboo charcoal is typically made of bamboo culms, branches and roots. Bamboo briquette charcoal is made of bamboo residue, such as dust and saw powder. The residue is compressed into sticks and then carbonised.

Bamboo charcoal is mainly used as fuel for cooking and drying tea in China and Japan. In China, which is a global leader in the production and use of bamboo charcoal, the industry is estimated at $1 billion a year and employs over 60,000 people in more than 1,000 businesses.

Sub-Saharan Africa has over 2.75 million hectares of bamboo forest, equivalent to roughly 4 per cent of the continent's total forest cover. Unlike trees, which can take decades to grow and mature enough to be suitable for biomass production, bamboo regenerates rapidly and adapts well even to areas with degraded soil.

To help African countries take advantage of their natural bamboo abundance, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) has teamed up with China to exchange bamboo charcoal-making technology and knowhow. Chinese experts are helping to adapt African equipment like grinders, brick kilns and briquette machines, as well as hand tools, to make them suitable for bamboo charcoal production and use. In addition, an INBAR initiative named Bamboo as Sustainable Biomass Energy is now working to transfer some more advanced bamboo charcoal technologies from China to sub-Saharan Africa. Through increased investments in technological adaptation and supportive policy reforms, African officials hope to upscale community kiln technologies and make them more accessible to rural communities.

As bamboo charcoal-making technologies advance, so will opportunities for private investors. Bamboo plantations have already proven to be a good vehicle for income generation. Beyond charcoal, the sturdy grass material is widely used in place of timber in the construction industry, for furniture manufacturing and even in the production of textiles. The plant has also entered the global food industry, as edible bamboo shoots have become a staple in the Asian-fusion cuisine popular all over the world.

Given the wide variety of business opportunities that bamboo investments offer, we can only expect that the market will continue to grow. Experts predict that it will surpass the $20 billion mark by 2015.

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Source: EzineArticles
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