The Grow Bamboo Initiative was founded by Bamboa’s owner Julia Washbourne and Dr. Shyam Paudel in September 2020 to
1. To prevent and tackle soil erosion and land degradation - planting bamboo is an ideal solution to restore forest cover and degraded lands
2. To cool down the planet
3. To create income for poorer rural communities
To further continue it’s bamboo planting mission, the Grow Bamboo Initiative (GBI) and Swarnamali Abeysuriya (Project Manager of Grow Bamboo Initiative) jointly collaborated to conduct the third bamboo plantation initiative in Sri Lanka, Pallekele & Digana (Kandy District) in time for World Earth Day, 22nd April 2022.
How it came about
Swarnamali Abeysuriya is an international development consultant from Sri Lanka who pursued her Master’s degree in Forestry. Following her degree, Swarnamali started her career as a researcher in the forest department in 1989 for its bamboo and rattan sector development project. Her research involved the propagation trails of valuable bamboo and rattan species, socio-economic aspects including of demand and supply surveys and utilization research.
Swarnamali has published research articles in journals of INBAR, which is an intergovernmental development organization that promotes environmentally sustainable development using bamboo and rattan. With extensive and multidisciplinary experience gained over years in different sectors, she founded Research for Development Innovations (ReDI) Alliance Lanka in Sri Lanka.
In 2020, the Ministry of Rattan, Brass, Pottery, Furniture and Rural Industrial Promotion in Sri Lanka contacted Swarnamali to be in the panel of experts for growing bamboo and rattan as a raw material for use of industries in order to develop the sector. Her opinion was that growing bamboo is an urgent requirement not only for supplying materials but also community resilience against climate change. She decided to start a project with community involvement, to grow bamboo for restoration of degraded lands, reduce soil erosion and for water conservation.
Swarnamali started to rebuild her former network of bamboo experts. She started searching for her colleagues who had worked in bamboo and rattan sector development project, through the LinkedIn Network. Swarnamali found Julia Washbourne through one of her former colleagues and invited her to join her network on 5 February 2021.
Swarnamali shared her mission in the development of bamboo sector in Sri Lanka and it was a match with Julia’s Grow Bamboo Initiative. Julia decided to work in partnership with Research for Development Innovations (ReDI) Alliance Lanka to plant bamboo in Sri Lanka.
A grant was received from Bamboa on 14 March 2022 by ReDI Alliance Lanka, in time to plant bamboos for World Earth Day.
Swarnamali took over the lead of this initiative in Sri Lanka.
Here are excerpts of our conversation with Swarnamali ~
Q. Why is the Grow Bamboo initiative important for the environmental and social benefit of Sri Lanka?
A. Land degradation in Sri Lanka is a severe issue. Degraded land has serious adverse impact on the environment, including soil erosion and quality depletion, local water loss and threats to biodiversity. The fast declining of forest cover is also an issue in Sri Lanka. The growth qualities of bamboo make it a good choice for restoring degraded lands. The extensive fibrous roots system of bamboo makes it capable of stabilising loose soil to prevent soil erosion.
The most remarkable feature of bamboo is that it’s ability to mitigate high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Bamboo forests have potential to sequester atmospheric carbon. In order to achieve high levels of carbon sequestration, sustainable bamboo management practices and regular harvesting is important. And also it is important to process bamboo culms into durable products with a long life to store carbon for an extended period.
Apart from environmental benefits, it’s important to restore productivity of bare lands over a short period. Bamboo matures quickly within 3-5 years after initial planting and harvestable without replanting. Bamboo poles are widely used in construction in Sri Lanka and can therefore just the raw poles can be easily sold and provides an easy additional source of income to the households. Bamboo leaves can be used as a fodder for dairy cattle in the dry season at a low cost which is a fantastic benefit. Bamboo shoots are also a great nutritional food source. And the bamboo ‘wood’ can be transformed into hundreds of different useful items (floor mats, baskets, fences, furniture etc) thus providing an additional source of income to the households.
Q. Will the initiative create more job opportunities associated with the bamboo sector. What were the bamboo species selected and the location for planting the saplings?
Dendrocalamus Hookeri is grown in northeast India, Myanmar, and Nepal and was introduced to Sri Lanka in late 2006. After purchase of its seedlings for the pilot planting program a request was made to Mahaweli Authority to produce Dendrocalamus Asper in its lab for future planting program. Both Dendrocalamus Hookeri and Dendrocalamus Asper are tropical species. The location of the planting site is Pallekele and Digana in the Kandy District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka.
The initiative will create more job opportunities when the raw materials are available. Also people can earn as bamboo sellers. We will promote more job opportunities in the bamboo sectors such as construction and charcoal production through training.
Q. What were the initial hurdles you faced when you started the plantation drive?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for nearly about a year, Julia and I myself were waiting to start this initiative in Sri Lanka. Travel restrictions and strict curfew were imposed by the government of Sri Lanka to stop spreading the virus. Finally in March 2022 I informed Julia about the favourable situation in Sri Lanka. Though travelling from Colombo to Kandy became an issue due to the limited availability of petrol in Sri Lanka under its economic crisis. The price of petrol went up by more than 220%.
Q. How many bamboos were planted?
On World Earth Day we started planting bamboo in Pallekele in Kandy District, Sri Lanka. We were able to plant 100 bamboo seedlings on land belonging to the Sri Lanka army (government authority) and subsequently in two months distributed 550 bamboos to rural families to plant on their land. Bamboo was planted on driveways/walkways between the buildings within the camp.
The second planting program was done in Digana in Kandy district. We had selected two lands in Digana – one belonging to an orphanage and the other owned by a private owner. We planted 100 plants in these two lands.
We also worked with a youth group and educated them in the importance of planting bamboo, the species and propagation methods and planting techniques. We distributed 350 plants among 22 youths gathered for the training. These 350 plants were planted by these youths in different areas in Kandy district.
Q. How has the political situation your country is facing affected the plantation work you are doing?
Just as planting of 1000 bamboos was being organised, the political turmoil brought about immediate food shortage and an energy crisis that resulted in increased poverty. The added petroleum shortage made transportation to different locations impossible, as we were struggling to get by our daily lives. Now that the situation is comparatively stable GBI and REDI will continue its planting efforts in time for World Bamboo Day, 17th September 2022.
Bamboo being one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, plays a key role in combatting climate change. It helps combat several global hurdles such as rural poverty, land degradation, deforestation and unsustainable resource use.
Bamboa is /GBI together with local partners will press on with its mission to plant further hectares of bamboo in Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Written by Simrin Malik and Swarnamali Abeysuriya
16th September 2022