Business & Economy

Re-engineering the bamboo to new heights

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LOS BANOS – Say bamboo and people think poor man’s timber, as in nipa hut.



“It’s a perception engineered bamboo will change,” says Dr. Rico J. Cabangon who heads the Engineered Products Development Section of the Forest Products Research and Development Institute.


Noting that concrete is the preferred material in local construction, he said round bamboo poles are still cheaper than wood and will always remain affordable to those who plant and harvest them.


The price difference is not that much and may even be a bit higher with engineered bamboo, said Cabangon.


And while engineered bamboo is about to take off  from rural nipa huts to high-end markets, there are still many kinks to iron out, starting with erratic supply, high pole prices and lack of training and machines.


For a start, grading standards need to be in place; even perhaps price regulation.


Profitable operations depend on location and the production cost is higher in places where a pole is more expensive. A pole of round kawayan tinik costs P25 in places where  bamboos are abundant to P150 where there is high demand, as in most parts of Luzon.


“Price regulation of poles may be required to level the playing field,” Cabangon told Malaya Business Insight.

In order to assure that appropriate poles are used for engineered bamboo, proper clump management should be practiced. Once cut, grading standards for bamboos should be set to ensure that only quality poles are used by manufacturers.


Gradings for poles may lead to the standardization of prices, said Cabangon. 


Engineered bamboo is made by binding veneers, strands, particles, fibers, strips or slats, woven mats or flattened bamboo with adhesive. 


There are two basic raw materials: glue and bamboo culms that are relatively thick-walled and straight. The result is a composite material designed to meet specific uses.


The most important species for engineered bamboo are kawayan tinik (Bambusa blumeana), giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper), botong/machiku (D. latiflorus) and bolo (Gigantochloa levis). 


“The projected demand for engineered bamboo products clearly indicates the lack of bamboo resources to meet the anticipated requirement of the industry,” said Cabangon who has put forward strategies to attain “a vibrant” engineered bamboo industry.


Some 10,378 hectares of bamboo plantations need to be established to meet industry needs. 


This requires an investment of P957,412,012 – or P 92,254 per hectare, according to a 2007 estimate made by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development.


While plantations are being established, the available 5,575 hectares of kawayan tinik, giant bamboo and bolo can be tapped. Assuming that 60 percent or 3,345 hectares of these are  available for harvesting, that’s around 3,345,000 poles, enough to make  371,667 school desks. 


Why school desks? Executive Order 879 which President Arroyo issused in 2010 created the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council and requires the use of bamboo for at least 25 percent of desks and other furniture in public elementary and secondary schools. 


That is, engineered bamboo, which has been done for all Dep Ed desks since 2011 to kickstart the  industry. EO 879 further requires the use of bamboo in the furniture and fixtures of government facilities.


Each year, this assured market for engineered bamboo means 312,500 desks worth  P250 million.


According to estimates made last year by the Cottage Industry Technology Center , nine poles are needed to produce one desk. This means a demand of around 2,812,500 million bamboo poles each year, according to Cabangon. 


In properly managed kawayan tinik clumps, an average of eight culms per year can be harvested in at least 800 hectares and up to 1,200 hectares of bamboo plantation. Assuming that 1,000 poles can be harvested each year per hectare, 2,812 hectares of bamboo plantations are required to meet the demand for school desks.


In 2011, plywood production amounted to around 298,000 cubic meters. Due to the moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in national and residual forests, bamboo makes for a good substitute in plywood production. 


The use of bamboo to substitute wood in making panel products – particularly for decorative purposes (including flooring) – has high potential. 


About 14,900 cubic meters of engineered bamboo is required even if it substitutes just 5 percent of the wood in plywood panels. This volume would require around 119,200,000 slats or the equivalent of 6.622 million poles harvested from 6,622 hectares of bamboo plantations.


For the projected demand for school desks and panel products alone, it is expected that 9,434.5 hectares of bamboo plantations are required. 


Add to that other products that may be derived from engineered bamboo, and the plantations needed to grow the poles increase to 10,378 hectares to meet the projected demand.


At the last count, during the National Bamboo Development Forum in 2008, there were around 48,403 hectares of bamboo plantations. Erect bamboos are grown in about 37,681 of this hectarage. 


The species currently used for engineered bamboo such as kawayan tinik is planted in 4,268 hectares, giant bamboo in 1,161 hectares and bolo in  146 hectares. Or a total of around 5,575 hectares – or about half of the total area required to meet the projected demand for engineered bamboo. 


“It should be noted that the first commercial manufacturer of engineered bamboo stopped operations primarily due to the lack of supply,” Cabangon pointed out. “This should serve as a lesson.” (Malaya Business)

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