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[CANCUN, MEXICO] Bamboo, a wild grass that grows in Africa, Asia and Latin America, could help tackle climate change and provide income for local communities, a conference has heard.

It can sequester carbon faster than similar fast-growing tree species such as Chinese fir and eucalyptus when properly managed, said Coosje Hoogendoorn, director-general of International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), based in Beijing, China.

She was speaking today (2 December) at the launch of 'Bamboo and Climate Change Mitigation' — a report on bamboo's potential role in adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development — in a press conference held during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 16), in Cancun, Mexico.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet — with a growth rate of up to 1.2 metres a day. It is stronger than steel, weight for weight, and its roots can reduce soil erosion by up to 75 per cent.

"Although botanically bamboo is a woody grass and not a tree, bamboo forests have comparable features to other types of forest regarding their role in the carbon cycle," the report said. "They sequester carbon through photosynthesis, and lock carbon in the fibre of the bamboo and in the soil where it grows."

Under regular management practices, bamboo sequestered an equal or greater amount of carbon over the 60-year lifespan of a Chinese fir plantation.

"If the bamboo forest wasn't managed through annual harvesting practices, it would be significantly less effective at carbon sequestration," the report added.

Hoogendoorn said: "Bamboo is a remarkable resource for driving economic development, and is readily available in many of the world's poorest countries.

"One of the major ways bamboo can assist communities to cope with climate change is in low-cost, sustainable, climate-resistant housing," she said. "Its strength and flexibility make it one of the best materials we have to withstand floods, storms and earthquakes."

Alvaro Cabrera, INBAR's regional coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, said that the network is working to provide vulnerable people in the region with safer homes made from bamboo.

Apart from mitigating climate change effects, "people can make money by building sustainable industry that requires little investment", he said.

INBAR is also working with farmers in Kenya and Uganda to replace tobacco farming with bamboo cultivation. But work in Kenya is slowed down by legislation that mistakenly classifies bamboo as tree, which means it is forbidden to cut it down, Hoogendoorn said.

"Bamboo is different — the more you cut it the more it grows and authorities have to understand this."

Link to full 'Bamboo and Climate Change Mitigation' report