More than 17% of carbon dioxide emissions result from deforestation, making it the third leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions. And as the earth’s population increases, the demand for timber continues to grow. Substituting hardwood timber for a sustainable alternative would be an easy way to reduce deforest and emissions.
That’s where bamboo comes into the equation. It grows quickly, needs little water, absorbs carbon dioxide, and survives cutting to grow to harvest again in three to seven years. Bamboo also happens to be stronger and more flexible than hardwood.
Despite the benefits, the world hasn’t switched to bamboo for its timber needs for one main reason: there still isn’t a steady and significant supply of bamboo to industries that currently rely on traditional hardwoods.
EcoPlanet Bamboo plans to address this issue with a progressive vision to make bamboo the timber of the 21st century.
“Anything hardwoods can do, bamboo can do better—and sustainably,” says Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo Group. “The constraint has been that growers have not hit a sufficient scale and professionalism to access the markets needed to have this take off. That is what we plan to do.”
EcoPlanet Bamboo has established its base of operations in Nicaragua to be close to the U.S. market. The investment, backed by the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) guarantees of $27 million, is financing the purchase and conversion of degraded land into commercial bamboo plantations for the sale and export of bamboo fiber.
The company plans to establish a pre-processing facility for the production and sale of its Forest Stewardship Council-certified bamboo fiber. The fiber will be targeted for U.S. and multinational timber manufacturers in industries such as laminates and composites for construction and furniture, pulp and paper production, and the generation of renewable energy. Waste byproducts will be used for biomass energy to fuel the company’s needs, with excess power sold into the local grid.
MIGA’s insurance was critical to the project, Wiseman says. “Put simply, MIGA’s backing gave us the ability to double our investment in Nicaragua,” said Wiseman.
EcoPlanet Bamboo located its Nicaraguan plantations close to rivers to take advantage of water transport when the bamboo is ready for harvest and shipping. The El Rama location also has a particular benefit from a development perspective: the plantations are bringing jobs to one of the poorest regions of the country on the Caribbean coast.
The project’s impact on the local economy is already evident. The company’s initial investment into Nicaragua has generated more than 300 jobs in a region with high unemployment and turned 4,800 acres of degraded land into bamboo plantations—improving biodiversity and reducing pressure on surrounding forests. EcoPlanet Bamboo is diligent about sourcing from local suppliers and creating indirect employment. The company’s philosophy ensures that contributions to the local communities foster good relations, support education, and improve livelihoods.
“This is a strong investment that brings international standards as well as social and environmental responsibility to one of the most underdeveloped areas of Nicaragua,” said Marlon Valdivia Campos, an advisor at the company’s Central American headquarters. “In an area where there was little work, EcoPlanet Bamboo is employing hundreds of heads of families, creating indirect employment, and spreading a culture of progress.”
The company places value on employing workers that might otherwise be marginalized. Thirty-seven percent of staff is female and, of these women, over 30% are supervisors. In addition, an in-house literacy program boasts 11 graduates.
Last November EcoPlanet Bamboo became the first company to receive carbon validation through the Verified Carbon Standard for its bamboo plantations in Nicaragua. In a country and category that have traditionally not benefitted from significant carbon finance, this achievement solidifies the social and environmental impacts that the company is making locally, regionally, and internationally.
EcoPlanet Bamboo’s decision to locate in Nicaragua also points to the great strides that country has made to attract investment. Over the past decade, Nicaragua has maintained disciplined macroeconomic policies that have underpinned average growth rates of around 3.5%, even in the midst of a global economic downturn. According to the World Bank, the government’s relationship with the private sector has improved markedly. This includes achieving a broad-based consensus on the need to maintain macroeconomic stability, promote both private domestic and foreign investment, and address lagging productivity and export competitiveness.
Non-traditional agricultural exports—like bamboo—are a target growth area for the country.
Cara Santos Pianesi is a World Bank communications officer.