LUCAS: Consider Bamboo, West Virginia

Farming, Selling Bamboo Creates Jobs
By Susanne Lucas
Executive Director
World Bamboo Organization

Susanne Lucas

West Virginia is not alone in its need to create jobs. The Mountain State needs to discover alternative industries, restore lands degraded by coal mining, and improve the environment. Many U.S. states are also struggling economically and socially. However, West Virginia has a climate conducive to growing a “wonder crop”, an adaptable, fast-growing, low maintenance, multi-purpose plant: bamboo.

Now don’t start shouting, “It’s invasive!” because what I am suggesting is a large-scale, managed, monitored and harvested agro-forestry plantation scheme. I am aware of the negative stigma that is associated with many exotic plants, such as invasiveness and fire-hazard. However, the toxic conditions that exist in regions of WV are extremely challenging. Bamboos are not invasive in the sense of jumping spatial boundaries (for example, producing viable seeds carried by birds, or wind disseminated like reed-grasses). I feel strongly that re-vegetation with an emphasis of appropriate bamboo species can achieve a multiple range of benefits as well as the best use of public dollars.

Think about pine, but consider that bamboo does not die when cut. It renews itself. It does not require annual re-planting. It creates a vigorous, breathing resource that can bring solutions to many of our current issues of unemployment, unproductive lands, and toxic environmental scenarios.

Bamboo is one of the tools that should be considered in addressing the many issues that make up WV’s mission of restoration and revitalization of the state’s economy. People, please take note.

If we plant bamboo, we can protect, improve and rehabilitate man-made ecosystems in some of the hardest-hit counties of WV. Mature bamboo can conserve soil and water, and clean the air. The extensive underground root system makes bamboo a good option to arrest the ravages of water erosion in areas prone to landslides and gully erosion. It is very effective at binding soil, keeping the soil together on fragile riverbanks, deforested areas, and on steep slopes. Managing bamboo plantations can become an important component of bioengineering techniques involving soil conservation and stabilization. Around the world, bamboo is commonly used in watersheds for increasing rain interception, reducing impact on the ground of heavy rain, reducing soil erosion, and increasing water recharge. Some species can even tolerate intermittent flooding which helps in the function of protecting riverbanks, dam sites, lakes and ponds.

And what is most promising for West Virginia, is that bamboo can be used to convert poor soil lands or degraded lands to productive agriculture. Think of all of the thousands of acres of post-mining sites. Because of its ability to grow in poor soils, bamboo can be planted at close intervals to rebuild biomass, accumulating considerable leaf litter and an anchor its extensive rhizome system. Together these contribute to a buildup of organic carbon in the soil, and increase soil micro flora, and additionally increase the water- holding capacity, and raise the soil pH. All of this is required for degraded lands to again become productive. Productive bamboo means a high-yield renewable resource; a resource that will need management, harvesting, and manufacturing. Bamboo is a resource that will provide jobs.

Bamboo can be harvested in 3-5 years versus 10-20 years for most softwoods, so it is an ideal renewable resource for the wood and paper industry. Using bamboo as medium- density-fiberboard, chipboard, domestic animal feed, for biochemical products, or as a bio-energy resource is a growing trend in countries around the world. Looking outside of traditional agro-business models, bamboo is gaining attention, and producing replicable results.

The widespread use of cultivated bamboo has been virtually untapped around the

world. As a plant group, it provides an exceptional variety of taxa to select from,

enabling us to find the appropriate species to grow in the toughest of environments. Bamboo is a plant with considerable economic possibilities that can bring West Virginians a better future.