Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said the Philippines should embrace bamboo as a substitute for wood timber if it wants to increase the nation’s forest cover and fight climate change.

Cimatu said that using bamboo as an alternative to traditional hardwood building materials would eliminate the need to cut trees in the forest, which helps lessen climate change impacts by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“We are envisioning to produce engineered bamboo as a substitute for actual lumber instead of cutting trees that are there in the forest so that we will increase our forest cover in the next several years or decades to catch up with our ASEAN neighbors,” Cimatu said in his speech during the first-ever ASEAN Bamboo Congress held in Iloilo City on August 13.

The environment chief noted that only 23 percent of the country’s total land area is covered by forest, which makes the Philippines having one of the lowest forest covers in Southeast Asia. The average forest cover in other countries in the region is between 30 and 35 percent.

“We are not competing that we should be the highest—that we should be there at the top of the forest cover, but it is a necessity for us because we used to have the biggest forest cover in the ASEAN, in Southeast Asia. But not now because of our overuse of our timber,” Cimatu pointed out.

Cimatu said that bamboo—technically a grass, not a tree—is not only a sustainable alternative to wood, but also has the potential to significantly offset carbon emissions.

“Bamboo reduces the need for timber resources, and helps greatly in carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and low-cost rehabilitation of degraded lands,” he added.

Cimatu further said that bamboo not only provides food and raw materials for construction, but it also generates local jobs, creating new income streams; lessens flooding, erosion and rising sea level; and is a great source of clean fuel.

He reiterated that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is eyeing Panay Island in Western Visayas to be the center of bamboo production in the country.

Cimatu said he already directed the DENR regional office in Western Visayas to conduct an inventory of bamboo plants on the island, particularly in Maasin town in Iloilo province that produces the most number of bamboo plants.

He also ordered the prioritization of bamboo over other tree species to be planted on denuded and degraded forest areas covered by the Enhanced National Greening Program, the government’s flagship reforestation initiative.

The 1st ASEAN Bamboo Congress was organized by the DENR’s Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) to promote partnership among the participating ASEAN countries in improving the conditions of bamboo forests and dependent industries in the region.

ERDB Director Sofio Quintana said the congress allowed the participants to share knowledge on bamboo that they can use in their own countries.

“There may be a lot of efforts on bamboo research, but knowledge sharing and collaboration are the genuine keys to making research information and technologies useful and of high quality,” Quintana said.

The bamboo congress also sought to promote a strong collaborative undertaking on bamboo research and development in the ASEAN region and share the best practices to increase appreciation and acceptance of bamboo as a green product. #