If you are in the air with your commercial flight descending in three minutes to the waiting tarmac, you can have a good view —without clouds below—of the country’s landscape: hectares of green bamboo stands.
On the ground as now, particularly when the monsoon rains have begun to sweep the Philippine archipelago, many farmers from up north in Ilocos Norte and Cagayan down to the hinterlands of Mindanao share a smile.
As abundant as the rains tumble down from June, soon after summer, bamboo shoots start to be plentiful, traditionally used as vegetable food among them and as well in other Southeast Asian countries.
A cultural quipster says that with bamboos in abundance Filipinos can truly celebrate life.
Officials from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development say the demand at present in the world market for bamboo shoots is “increasing because of their nutritional and health benefits.”
The bamboo shoots—“rabong” in the north of the country and “labong” elsewhere and described as the King of Forest Vegetables in Japan—have been a traditional forest vegetable in most parts of this archipelago of 114 million.
In China, the bamboo shoots have been considered a forest vegetable too for the past more than 2,500 years—delicious and rich in nutrients and rank among the five most popular healthcare foods in the world.
Agriculture sources say modern research suggests the bamboo shoots have several medicinal benefits, from cancer prevention and weight loss to improving appetite and digestion.
It is also low in sugar and therefore can be used for treating hypertension, hyperlipemia and hyperglycemia, according to these sources.
Japanese scientists recently discovered that bamboo shoots contain anti-cancer agents and making them a regular part of the diet effectively eliminates the free radicals that can produce dangerous carcinogens.
Experts say with the economic development and the improvement of people’s living standards, demand for natural foods, especially organic food, has greatly increased.
Official estimates suggest there are a total area of bamboo stands in the Philippines which ranges from 39,000-53,000 ha, mainly naturally growing sporadically or in patches in backyards and riverbanks in forest lands and some private lands and rarely in pure commercial stands.
There are 60 known bamboo species in the Philippines and their number is increasing because of the newly-introduced species by plant collectors and bamboo enthusiasts.
Botanists say the bamboo grass family, Poaceae, includes about 12,000 species, with approximately 1,500 species of bamboo belonging to around 100 different genera.
It belongs to the family of grasses, Gramineae or Poaceae, and is a high-value crop given its many uses involving food and material for buildings, bridges, and furniture.
With its ability to mitigate flood and soil erosion, bamboo has various economic and ecological benefits.
Experts say bamboo has a lower carbon footprint due to its fast growth rate, meaning that it is more sustainable than traditional materials such as wood, plastic, and steel.
Additionally, bamboo is highly versatile and can be used in many different ways both indoors and outdoors.
It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed. Bamboo is earthquake-proof, has greater tensile strength than steel, and withstands compression better than concrete – which is why it is so valuable in construction.
Used as substitute for concrete, bamboos also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Many of the grasses we are most familiar with are annuals, such as rice, corn, wheat and other grains, which flower, go to seed, and die in a single year.
But all varieties of bamboo are perennial, meaning that they live on year after year, more like a tree. Many other ornamental grasses are also perennial, such as fescue and pampas grass.
Experts have identified four bamboo species—Bambusa blumeana, Dendrocalamus asper, Dendroclamus strictus, and Guadua angustifolia—are some of the most economically important bamboo species now being cultivated in the Philippines
Experts say Bambusa blumeana or Kawayang Tinik is recognized for its structural grade properties when mature and is frequently available within the country.
Kawayan tinik is one of the most important bamboo species in the Philippines, where it is well-distributed geographically, according to researchers, who saythis is the most desirable bamboo species for construction because the mature culms have high specific gravity and lower shrinkage when dried.
Kawayan tinik is an important bamboo resource for the Philippine rural population.
Aside from being a premium species for edible shoot production, it also provides materials for construction, furniture, handicraft, and other novelty items.
In the Philippines, bamboos are intertwined with the environment, economy, and culture.
From construction, furniture and handicraft manufacture, food, cooking, etc., bamboos have been popularly used by many communities.
Bamboos also play a protective role in decreasing soil degradation, including the reduction of biodiversity, soil nutrient depletion, and soil erosion
Researchers, botanists and industry experts say challenges in promoting bamboo cultivation can be multifaceted.
The main challenge, according to them, lies in that bamboo is a long-term investment and requires more care and attention than other crops.
The lack of accurate knowledge about the market potential of bamboo is another obstacle to its proliferation.
Furthermore, governments often lack the capacity or resources to provide farmers with adequate support and technical assistance throughout the entire planting process, from start to finish.
The absence of an organized supply chain for quality raw materials further hampers this process as well.
Finally, farmers require time and capital to properly nurture their plants, making it difficult for them to turn a profit in any reasonable time frame.
With all these challenges in mind, strategies need to be implemented that effectively address each issue in order to drive greater adoption of bamboo as a long-term investment.
The complexity of overcoming these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach that focuses on providing farmers with access to accurate market information, technical assistance, and quality raw materials while offering incentives such as subsidies or grants that make it easier for them to turn a profit.
The development of effective policy and regulation, as well as improved infrastructure to support the industry, are also key components in promoting bamboo cultivation, the experts have said.