Bamboo: Ecuador’s Versatile Renewable Resource

Bamboo has long been valued as an alternative to wood, particularly in rural areas, and as people around the world become more aware of the need to actively conserve our planet’s natural resources, new uses are constantly been developed for this very versatile and fast growing plant. Ecuador has more than forty species of bamboo, eleven of which are endemic, with the provinces of Loja, Azuay, Pichincha and Chimborazo having the greatest diversity of woody bamboo species. The Pacific watershed region has fewer species of bamboo, but produces large quantities of this increasingly important product.

Of the various species of bamboo, Guadua angustifolia is the most sought after for its versatility, flexibility, lightness, strength, hardness, endurance and aesthetic appeal. It is undemanding, fast growing and virtually pest free. A growing number of consumers, most notably in Europe and North America, are keen to support the concept of renewable resources and are making use of bamboo for flooring, counter tops, walls, decking, furniture and a host of other applications in the home, business and public places. Promoters of ‘green’ products offer everything from toothbrushes to clothes pegs made from bamboo, with prices often being very competitive against synthetic products, and certainly more environmentally sympathetic than using hard timbers.

As members of the grass family, bamboo is fast growing, with some species growing at a rate of up to 100cm in 24 hours. This in itself makes bamboo a good alternative to using hard timbers that have taken decades to grow. Bamboo can be harvested every five years without damaging its root system or the environment in which it is growing, whereas once a hard wood tree is cut down it will never regenerate to its previous state. By capturing up to 12 tons of carbon per hectare annually, bamboo plantations also make a significant contribution to the environment.

Conservationists are hopeful that with the increased interest in bamboo as an alternative to hard wood, deforestation rates may slow down – and ideally, stop completely. However, it is a case of supply and demand and it is ultimately up to consumers to support the bamboo growers in Ecuador and the products they produce.