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2017
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Kawayan is Abra’ OTOP – One town one product,, one town one protection
by Liza Agoot

Gracefully swaying to the tune of the wind, the bamboo creates movements that give a person different emotions and feelings which sometimes sadden the heart but most of the time, uplift the spirit.

With the critical state of the earth due to pollution and environmental degradation, bamboo has become the most important natural substitute for the endangered rainforest hardwoods. It is a quick-growing, versatile, non-timber forest product whose rate of biomass generation is unsurpassed by any other plants.

Cliché as it may sound, the bamboo is known as a plant that ‘sways with nature’. It adapts to natural incidents and more importantly, it can save lives with its characteristics of being an effective erosion control plant and natural control barrier due to its massive root system and large canopy. It also reduces runoff water, prevents massive soil erosion, keeps twice the amount of water in the watershed, sustains riverbanks, protects surroundings during typhoons due to its height, regenerates fast, and remains resilient even after strong typhoons. Best of all, with the entire world experiencing the effects of Climate Change, bamboos help mitigate water pollution due to their high nitrogen consumption, minimizes carbon dioxide gases, and generate up to 35 percent more oxygen than an equivalent stand of other trees.

For almost four years now, the province of Abra has laid eyes on the benefits that the bamboo can give to the locality and its people. Three benefits are eyed from the promotion, use, and protection of the bamboo.

Gov. Eustaquio Bersamin’s entry in the province has opened a new door for the bamboo to take its course and address issues on livelihood and income, change the identity of the province with a vision to address peace and order, and contribute to the worldwide effort to mitigate the effects of Climate Change.

Seeing the abundance of different varieties of bamboo in the province, Bersamin, with the help of the province’s officialdom and employees took advantage of the opportunity and the “Kawayan Festival” was born.

Simple as it may sound, the kawayan is a representation of the changes that Abra envisions to achieve – Change in attitude, that Abrenos can make an activity successful by working as one family; Change in attitude that there is hope for the town that has been branded as the “killing fields of the north;” Change in economic status by providing income and livelihood for its people so they would engage themselves in productive activities and not gun-related habits; and Change in the mindset that the kawayan can save lives with its unique and verdant characteristics.

Slowly but surely, Abra is leading to the direction that it envisions to go to.

Bersamin said that bamboo has been known as a poor man’s lumber, yet it has been thriving in Abra and should be taken advantage of. “Andiyan lang ang bamboo. Gamitin natin para sa mas magandang kabuhayan ng mga tao at sa kagandahan ng Abra,” he said.

Go to furniture shops, he said, and you will see good products made out of bamboo. In China, bamboo is made into different products that are exported worldwide, Bersamin said.

While bamboos can be a good source of income for the people of Abra, he said that there should be sustainability and protection that must be afforded to the bamboos like preventing indiscriminate cutting and destruction. Planting should also be encouraged.

From 2007, the provincial government has allocated P400,000 and additional funds every year for the establishment of bamboo nurseries in the municipalities until they cover all 27 towns of Abra. From the initial 500 seedlings in 2007 which were distributed for tree planting activities, this was increased to 1,000 in the second year and 4,000 seedlings on the third year. For 2010, the province has allocated P2.5 million which was added with another P2.5 M in 2011 to complete the P5 M needed to operationalize the engineered bamboo processing plant that would create industrial construction materials.

Bersamin said, “We want to promote Abra’s bamboo and not the killings and we are slowly getting the support of the municipal governments which are exerting effort towards the direction we have identified as a road to change in Abra.”

Provincial environment and natural eesources officer Cris Albolete said that replanting efforts are being hyped in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and non-government organizations. In a period of three years, bamboo nurseries and tree plantings have been established. At present, trainings for the establishment of nurseries and its maintenance have also been done in the municipalities of Penarubia, San Juan, Langiden, and Licuan Baay.

The province, Albolete said, is slowly diverting to bamboo as alternative construction material due to deforestation. Bamboo grows faster and it regenerates when it is trimmed.

He said bamboo is an important commodity in the province especially with the support being extended by the local officials who are providing funds not just to make bamboo products as a source of income, but also for the production of seedlings to be used in reforestation and replanting.

Actually, the province is starting to limit the transport of unprocessed bamboo poles outside the town, which is done not only to make bamboo as a high value product but also to assure that for every pole that is cut, income is derived by the person who owns the plant or the local government that produces it, Albolete said.

Bamboo is also used for upland development projects, which includes flood control at the Abra River.

Executive Order 26 which was recently issued by President Benigno Aquino III, is another reason for the town to continue on producing more seedlings to be used in the reforestation and regreening efforts of the country where every government employee and official is required to plant 10 seedlings a year, Albolete added.

Industrial Handicraft (InHan) Abra Foundation executive director and senior program officer for international network Carmelita Bersalona said that bamboo is a valued commodity especially if the people know its worth. Raw bamboo, she said, is cheap. But process it and make it into something that uses artistry and ingenuity and its value appreciates.

Bersalona owns a house in Abra and in Marikina which interior finishing used plyboo and other engineered bamboo furnishings. She said that bamboo products are not only valuable but also a classy craft as well.

With Inhan, they teach people from the towns to make infrastructure materials out of the bamboo they produce. When this writer visited the Inhan project area, town folks were making classroom chairs and desks that were ordered by the Department of Education. These are made of plyboo that is locally manufactured and produced by the people.

Bersalona also said Inhan was born after she purchased about two hectares of land which is now a bamboo reforestation area that they maintain for their products and for reforestation purposes to help the local communities in Abra to earn income and learn to value the bamboo plants.

Fatima Tangan, chief science research specialist of the Ecosystems Research and Development Service of the DENR in the Cordillera, said that bamboos have a wide range of distribution which makes it an ideal species for reforestation. Added to this, is the plant’s interlocked root system which is very good for soil stabilization. They can thrive in plains, hilly regions, and high altitude mountainous areas. They can also grow in most kinds of soil except alkaline soils, dry desert, and marshes.

She added that bamboos can grow in association with deciduous forests forming dense tickets. Some of these species are buho (Schizostachyum lumampao) and bikal (Dinochloa sp.) which abound in mountain ranges of the Ilocos Region and in Abra.

Tangan added that bamboo has been widely used worldwide for reforestation purposes to abate the effects of Climate Change. Its ability to capture carbon dioxide is a characteristic that makes it a good reforestation material. “One hectare of bamboo plantation sequesters 12 tons of carbon dioxide per year and produces 35 percent more oxygen than the same amount of trees,” she said.

She added that bamboo is an extremely fast growing grass (up to two inches an hour) and can be harvested in three to five years at heights of up to 50 feet, compared to the usual hardwoods that take between 10 and 50 years before they can be used. It is also renewable, “after harvesting, bamboo will grow back from the same plant.”

Bamboo, the largest of the grasses, has over 1600 species, 64 percent of which are native to Southeast Asia. Thirty-three percent grows in Latin America, and the rest in Africa and Oceania. Of the two types of bamboo, the “running” type occurs only in temperate climates or in the high mountains of the tropics. Running bamboo produces both a culm (the above-ground vertical shoot) and long horizontal underground shoots called rhizomes. Tropical bamboo is almost always a “clumping” type, which tends to produce larger-diameter and thicker-walled culms. But its rhizomes are very short, so the bamboo plant stays more contained in a “clump.”

Unlike trees, all bamboos have the potential to grow to full height and girth in a single growing season of three to four months. During this first season, the clump of young shoots grows vertically, with no branching. In the next year, the pulpy wall of each culm or stem slowly dries and hardens. The culm begins to sprout branches and leaves from each node. During the third year, the culm further hardens. The shoot is now considered a fully mature culm. Over the next two to five years (depending on species), fungus and mold begin to form on the outside of the culm, which eventually penetrate and overcome the culm. Around five to eight years later (species and climate dependent), the fungal and mold growth cause the culm to collapse and decay. This brief life means culms are ready for harvest and suitable for use in construction within three to seven years.

Bamboos are of notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product.

It is an important component of development wherein all types of people have adequate access to. It requires little attention during its growing/production cycle and can occupy the same ecological niche as that of trees. It is well suited for agroforestry and healthy ecosystems. It requires only a modest capital investment to generate a steady income. Around the globe, a lot of individuals and communities are dependent on bamboo for their subsistence, shelter, and everyday utilities.

With a 10-30 percent annual increase in biomass versus two to five percent for trees, bamboo creates greater yields of raw material for use. The strength of the culms, their straightness, smoothness, and lightness combined with hardness and greater hollowness; the facility and regularity with which they can be split; the different sizes, various lengths and thickness of their joints make them suitable for numerous end products/purposes. The versatility of bamboo outmatches most tree species. It is known to be a natural and excellent raw material for manufacturing strong and sturdy furniture, handicrafts, and novelty items.

Department of Trade and Industry Abra provincial officer Arell Banez said that bamboo has been traditionally used for weaving and handicraft by town folks which they sell locally or abroad. Now, engineered bamboo is being introduced where construction and other infrastructure finishing materials are produced.

Bamboo in Abra, Banez said, is being developed as a substitute for wood especially with the declaration of a total log ban. With bamboo becoming a high value material, it would benefit entrepreneurs and local growers thus creating more employment opportunities. A bamboo pole may cost P30 each but bamboo made into a finished product can cost as high as P25,000 for a complete sala set.

The DTI participates in the town’s promotion of bamboo by providing capability trainings. Banez added that with Executive Orders issued requiring that DepEd use 25 percent bamboo made desks, the town hopes to shoot up its income from bamboo raw materials to be made as engineered bamboo for school desks.

Carlo’s bamboocraft and furnishings proprietor Carlo Antonio Balneg who owns a mini factory in Tayum, Abra produces bamboo based products such as trays, placemats, planters, hot pads, beach chairs, folding tables, foot stools, and many more. He said that some of their products are sold locally while some are supplied to exporters.

He also hopes that when he is able to raise the capital, he can sell the products directly abroad, which will earn him and the people who produce the bamboo for him bigger income. He also employs local residents who make the products for him.

All being laid down and ready, the province of Abra envisions a province which would soon no longer be known and publicized as a peace and order problematic area but a bamboo exporting and producing province north of the Philippines.
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