The Jakarta Post
The rustle of bamboo leaves adds to the mystical atmosphere of a road lined with lush bamboo trees at Penglipuran village in Bangli regency, Bali, where bamboo forests have been maintained for generations.
Penglipuran's communal chief, Wayan Supat, said that of the village's 112 hectares of land area, 45 ha constituted bamboo forestland, spreading over its northern, northeastern and southern parts.
'Bamboo is ecologically vital to the traditional community here, such as for building shingle-roofed houses,' he said.
Bamboo farmer Wayan Jepang said that bamboo is part of the history, culture and life of Bali's Hindu community.
'The Balinese use bamboo from the process of birth, for cutting the umbilical cord, to wedding celebrations, to the funeral ritual of ngaben,' Wayan said.
In religious ceremonies, bamboo leaves and stems also serve as containers for offerings and ritual instruments. Furthermore, bamboo forms part of Bali's traditional buildings and household furnishings.
Bamboo has yet to receive adequate recognition, although it plays a significant role in many parts of the country.
In the villages of Kanekes in South Banten; Naga in Tasikmalaya; Pulo and Dukuh in Garut, West Java; Tana Toraja in South Sulawesi; and Wae Rebo in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, traditional bamboo architecture is climate-friendly and earthquake-proof.
Bamboo ' belonging to the woody grass family (Poaceae) and growing in clusters ' is one of the fastest growing plants, extending by about 100 cm per 24 hours depending on soil and climate conditions as well as the species. The plant can grow at zero to 4,000-meter altitudes in tropical, subtropical, humid and hot regions, covering coastal, riverbank, low-lying and forest areas.
Of around 1,500 bamboo species in the world, over 160 or 11 percent are found in Indonesia. After India and China, Indonesia has the third largest share of the world's 37-million ha bamboo distribution. Bangli alone produces around 2.3 million bamboo poles annually.
Nationally, bamboo exports have reached US$5.8 million, mostly to the US, but sadly, the management of bamboo as a commodity has remained halfhearted, according to Desy Ekawati, coordinator of the Cooperation Project for Revitalization of the Community Bamboo Industry, with the support of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).
'The current paradigm is that bamboo is indistinguishable from poverty,' Desy said.
In reality, timber demand is rising while supplies are growing increasingly scarce with the government's forest moratorium.
'Bamboo actually has the chance of serving as a wood substitute and later becoming green wood or a sustainable substitute,' Desy said.
Although bamboo is not yet widely utilized, the project's location has made it able to sell bamboo as a promising commodity.
Penglipuran, with its bamboo forest and handicrafts, has become a world-famous tourist destination. Bangli is also known as a handicraft producer for local and export markets.
Surya Bambu Bali, owned by young businessman I Nengah Suwirya, is probably the only bamboo processing firm in Bali that applies a lamination technique ' done by smoking bamboo for preservation. With this process, bamboo can last up to 30 years.
Nengah, who sells bamboo blocks, planks, flooring, walls and furniture, said his products have been exported to Japan and Europe.
'Westerners prefer laminated bamboo because it uses no hazardous chemicals and is cheaper than Japanese products,' said Nengah.
His products cost Rp 650,000 (US$54) per square meter. For international buyers, the price is Rp 750,000. A nine-square-meter gazebo is sold at Rp 100 million per unit.
So far, he said that he obtained raw materials from Kintamani and Bangli. When there was a shortage of materials due to big orders, Sumatra and Java remained potential suppliers.
Green School, an international school in Ubud, Bali, renowned for its unique bamboo buildings and furniture, also gets its giant bamboo species from East Java.
With such diverse uses for bamboo, however, Indonesia remains behind China. With vast areas of community-owned bamboo plantations, Indonesia still imports toothpicks, skewers, chopsticks and incense from China.
In fact, according to Desy, Indonesian bamboo species have greater potential than those of China.
'China has no petung bamboo [Dendrocalamus asper], among others,' said Desy. Petung is a large-sized bamboo species widely found in Indonesia and generally used for housing construction and furniture, while its shoots can be consumed as a side dish.
In Indonesia, however, bamboo management has not yet become synergic, with a gap remaining between the upstream sector of bamboo farmers and growers, and the downstream sector of bamboo utilization and industry.
The revitalization project aims to examine and promote bamboo management from upstream to downstream levels and Bangli has been chosen for being Bali's largest producer with its processing industry.
Government policy is not yet pro-bamboo either. Over the past 20 years, China has planted bamboo on 50,000 to 100,000 ha of land annually and provided employment for some 35 million people.
The Indonesian government has yet to intervene by conducting any kind of national campaign for bamboo revitalization. The Indonesian Embassy in Belgium started with the World Bamboo Congress in 2012.
'Ambassador Arif Havas Oegroseno was its motivator,' Desy said.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry has a program for planting 10 ha of bamboo trees per regency in Java and Bali, which began in 2014. The Environment and Forestry Ministry boosts bamboo planting through activist groups and the Industry Ministry stimulates community-based bamboo industries.
The increasing demand and market opportunities call for bamboo cultivation technology, such as the tissue-culture method.
Anto Rimbawanto, a bamboo tissue-culture expert and founder of PT Bambu Nusa Verde, said the technology could reduce bamboo's rooting and improve growth time to eight months, compared to 1.5 years by grafting.
The technology, he said, certainly required considerable investment, such as in sterile equipment and trained personnel, but the effort could create the prospect of a more sustainable bamboo industry with greater economic value.
'And in the process, the widespread paradigm that bamboo is for the poor can be changed to bamboo for the rich with a bigger income being accrued from it,' he said.
' Photos by Lily G. Nababan