Charley Younge, founder of the Bamboo Information Centre, blogs about bamboo. Read his reflections and thoughts about this amazing plant!
Bamboo and FSC
22 January 2012
When the powers that bestowed Anji County with the title of CITY OF BAMBOO in 1990, the FSC was not yet in existence. Since then, China’s bamboo stands had grown into the world’s largest, most diverse and also the most successful. More and more this fast growing, fast maturing giant grass was talked about with surprise and amazement, and the realisation that it could be a good alternative for wood from trees. The Anji Bamboo Association, located in Zhejiang province and supported by the State Forestry Administration of China, responded to this growing realisation with foresight.
The growing demand for certification led to the FSC certifying of all the Mao Zhu bamboo stands that surround the region. As certification is currently a hot item, more and more producers of bamboo panelling materials and other industrial bamboo products have either received FSC certification or are working towards it.
The aim is that China’s entire Mao bamboo forests will be Pure FSC certified by the end of 2012 and that the other important industrial bamboo species will follow soon. Anyone that believes that the Chinese forest stands only exist by the grace of the bamboo industry and rest solely on bamboo are making a big mistake. The machines used to process the bamboo are mostly used to process flooring of all types of wood, from indigenous and imported oak and beech to the most exotic hardwoods from Asia, Africa and Central and South America. It may sound paradoxical, but it is really is the case that the interest in bamboo is an enormous advantage for the wood processing factories.
At present, it is bamboo that is benefiting China’s timber trade, traditionally a high capital business, the most. While the manufacturer that works exclusively with bamboo may still struggle to get his product certified, the processor working with 10% bamboo and 90% tree wood shows off his 100% FSC and other forestry management certificates. He is also ISO 100000 certified and a member of the WWF/GFTN. Even in the United States of America and Europe this is no different: the bamboo trade is also an extension of the timber trade.
Mao Zhu is the Chinese name for by far the world’s most widely used bamboo in the production of industrial bamboo products. Its Latin name is Phyllostachys pubescens. Phyllostachys is the generic, or genus, name, and pubescens is the name of the plant’s most distinctive characteristic. In Chinese, Mao means finely haired and Zhu means bamboo.
An example of the Latin nomenclature is Betula pubescens, designated to trees and plants of the white birch, while Betula verrucosa is designated to those of the silver birch genus.
To denote the edible quality of the young shoots, the Latin name also uses the synonym Phyllostachys edulis.
The Mao bamboo is called Moso in Japan, after Muso Kokushi (1275-1351), an honoured writer and landscape architect.
The origins of Mao bamboo are found in the undulating hilly landscapes of the foothills of the low central highlands of east and south east China; the area delineated by the 20 and 30 degree lines of latitude spanning both sides of the Tropic of Cancer. This area enjoys a primarily sub-tropical, Mediterranean type climate. At the centre of this region is the province of Anji, with its similarly named village and new city that is the world’s showcase of a highly successful pilot of industriousness and the development of industrial scale bamboo processing.
The successful Anji model has been adopted by countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in an effort to reduce poverty. The same Anji model is also used, with Chinese aid, in the bamboo growing regions of Africa. This ticket-out-of-China approach reflects the turnaround that has taken place in the strategic thinking in successive Chinese governments in terms of dealing with developing countries. It points, in any case, to the permanent departure from the previous strategy of exploitation and profit-making at whose core was the cynical deal between priest and capitalist: if you keep them poor, I’ll keep them stupid.
Anji is Mao bamboo, and Mao bamboo is Anji. Anji County, once the hinterland of the emperor’s residence Hangzhou on the beautiful West Lake, was designated as the CITY OF BAMBOO by the central government about a quarter of a century ago. Over the last 25 years, what was once a bamboo village now reflects China’s unparalleled growth. Where once workshops stood which produced items such as bamboo mats and brooms by hand, are now factories equipped with the most modern state-of-the art machines, mostly of German or Italian manufacture. These now produce unimaginable quantities of bamboo flooring, panels and veneer for customers that are as far flung as the deepest bowels of Western Europe to the periphery of the United States of America where it meets the Pacific Ocean. Almost 95% of all the exported bamboo flooring and other industrially produced bamboo materials across the world originate in Anji and its surroundings. If bamboo factories are established anywhere else in the Chinese provinces, they are usually in the hands of those who have learned their craft in Anji.
Anji, 65 kilometres from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province’s capital city, and 318 kilometres from the centre of Shanghai, less than 3 hours away on National Highway A, was still a barely developed village nestling in the middle of 60,000 hectares of primarily Mao bamboo plantations just 20 years ago.
From these plantations, 12,000,000 poles are harvested every year, of which 15% is destined for the industrial production of flooring, panels and bamboo composite. The rest is used for the production of second and third category bamboo items that range from mats and brooms to textiles, paper and toothpicks. The Anji Bamboo Garden also houses China’s largest bamboo nursery.
Since 1982, the centre of knowledge about industrial bamboo production has been, and continues to be, China’s bamboo university, Nanjing University. Here, a dozen or so Chinese scientists head solid technical bamboo research activities.
The production or and innovation in flooring, plating materials, veneer and everything else that falls under the name of industrial bamboo production, occurs in close cooperation between entrepreneurs and developers from Anji, with bamboo engineers from Nanjing. It is a type of internal development aid that is unknown elsewhere both in terms of approach and results. Its success has crossed borders and it is a wonderful example of how the production of green alternatives with potential should be stimulated and taken on board in developing countries.
It is no wonder that adventurers and the more serious folk stream in. It is always rush hour in the factories and it is more than likely that you will once bump into someone around meal time – meal times last the whole day long in China – who claims to be an inventor and manufacturer, but who is then revealed to be a buyer of house, kitchen and garden bamboo flooring that can probably be found on every street corner. Then there is nothing else for that person to do but gather fake patents wholesale. Upon his return home, the buyer relates his adventures in faraway China. He talks about his visit to a very basic workshop deep in the mountains, and about the hardships he had to endure to bring the very difficult negotiations with the prototype of a Chinese bad guy to a successful conclusion. The reality though is that our modern dubious knight of the wrong table enjoyed a breakfast every day that he would never get at home, held a tree free cup of warm Frappuccino in his hand from one of the many Starbucks that can be found in Hangzhou, and saw the free of charge car with a free of charge chauffeur pull into the car park of his multi-star hotel perfectly on time.
For many people, China remains the country where everything is different. In the first place the language with its characters defines the boundary to a different culture with its different conceptual forms for everything. Above all is the challenge of trying to keep up with the continuous doing of business at high speed everywhere: at table, while en route somewhere, everywhere and anywhere.
At another level, I feel quite at home in China. The China of the early morning; the China of the factories where the newly arrived green poles of bamboo exude the faint scent of molasses when processed into strips cannot be described. It reminds me of the sugarcane harvesting seasons. It is the scent of the best years of my life on Java, so long ago.