Burma is well known for its richness in natural resources and when speaking about this people do usually think immediately of e.g. Rubies, Jade and/or teak but no one would ever think that (although very beautiful when used for gardening and landscaping purposes) something as inconspicuous and ordinary as bamboo is an equally valuable natural resource. Burma has an awful lot of bamboo, which is of immense economic value and as such constitutes a presently, alas, almost untapped but highly profitable source of additional income.
Contrary to e.g. precious stones and jade, which are not renewable, thus finite and teak wood (that to renew till it becomes commercially valuable takes between 20 and 30 years) and bamboo (that to renew till it becomes commercially valuable takes only 3 years) are infinite.
As a member of the sub-family Bambusoideae of the grass family Poaceae or Gramineae, bamboo is a perennial flowering evergreen that is said to be originated some million years ago in what is nowadays China from where it started to conquer practically the entire world and developed into more than 1.400 ground and above-ground growing species in 115 genera.
Should someone ever ask whether you know the fastest growing plant on this planet you can rightfully answer, “Yes, I know that is bamboo.”
Out of the in Burma recorded total of 97 bamboo species, 15 belong to the species ‘Dendrocalamus’ (the local names of the top-three of them are Hmyin, Wapyu and Wabo-myet-san-gye) and 11 to the species ‘Gigantochloa’. These bamboos are also some of the 10 most economical species and are members of the group of so-called ‘Giant Bamboo or Timber Bamboo’. They grow under favourable soil and climate conditions within one growing season of some 4 months (rainy season) from ground/shooting level to their full height of about 33 ft/10 m with a culm (also called pole or stalk) diameter of 12 inch/30 cm. At this speed you can literally see the bamboo grow; no joke. Although the first harvest is possible after 1 year, the best harvesting time is after 3 years when the culms are fully hardened.
There is no natural resource that is renewing itself faster and no plant that is more versatile, stronger and at the same time flexible than bamboo. Burma’s Bamboo forests cover about 4.000 sq mi/10.500 sq km) of its land mass, which makes Burma – after China, Indonesia and India – the country with the world’s 4th largest area of valuable wild bamboo forest. Additionally to the already existing bamboo forests large areas of idle land could be transformed into environmentally friendly and balanced bamboo plantations.
Bamboo is a very easy to grow and undemanding, environmentally sustaining plant that easily adapts to different or changing soil and climate conditions. This, in turn, has the potential of turning raw bamboo and moreover bamboo article into products that will significantly contribute to the county’s export income once the Burmese bamboo (and Rattan) industry is capable of producing top-quality bamboo article. This will put the country in a position to successfully compete in the global market with other bamboo and bamboo products exporting countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand and India. Globally, bamboo and bamboo article are a multi-billion USD business and for Burma is a large chunk of it up for grasps.
Bamboo is put to many uses. It is a formidable alternative to wood and used to build complete houses, a large array of furniture, household article and utensils, to make paper and textile fibre and, last but not least, its shoots are a delicacy in many (predominantly Asian) countries and its manifold medicinal properties are highly appreciated in traditional medicine.
With increasing popularity of bamboo and bamboo products in the west the global demand for bamboo and high-quality bamboo articles is rapidly increasing what offers Burma the great opportunity to translate its richness in the natural resource bamboo relatively quick into urgently needed hard cash on national, regional and local level. It opens windows especially for SME’s in the Bamboo industry what includes local private bamboo forest owners.
Main bamboo article in the global bamboo and bamboo product trade are apart from 1st class top-quality culms, for instance, bamboo flooring, bamboo walling, bamboo plywood, bamboo charcoal (to be used as fuel and/or filter), bamboo pulp and paper-based articles, bamboo furniture, bamboo woven products, as food article, preserved bamboo shoots and as ingredients for traditional medicine (homoeopathy) liquid extracts and dried and pulverised parts of several different bamboo species. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Panda bears just can’t get enough of delicious bamboo leaves and tender twigs.