LUBAO -- It all started as a long-term response to protect Barangay Sta. Catalina from soil erosion by planting bamboo along the riverbank.

But this propagation of more bamboo species for commercial use turned out be a viable tourism potential for the town.

Six years after, the six hectare property along the riverbank has turned into an eco-tourism destination.

The Bamboo Hub and Eco Village, unlike other natural eco-parks in the region, is manmade.

The property is managed by the Lubao Municipal Government and has become a favorite tourism destination attracting families and health buffs that avail of amenities like covered pathways, bike lanes, and even its own fish spa.

But most visitors are attracted to the prospects of leisurely strolls under the forest-like canopy from the hundreds of bamboo clumps that line the eco-park.

The eco-park attracts an average of 600 people on weekends, according to Mayor Mylyn Pineda-Cayabyab.

The mayor said that 325 fully-grown clumps of bamboo are planted inside the six-hectare ecological park. Thousands more will be planted inside a 30-hectare village that the municipal government is developing.

Humble beginnings

The area was not initially conceived for eco-tourism. The bamboos were planted by the then provincial bamboo council and the municipality in coordination with the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Pamcham), which was also pushing for bamboo propagation and the use of engineered bamboo as an alternative to commercial lumber.

The bamboos were to be used for the unique line of environment-friendly products developed in the nearby materials recovery facility of the town. The town, with the help of the Department of Trade and Industry facilitated the training for the engineering of bamboo slots for the creation of bamboo desks.

The facility was also able to make charcoal briquettes with a very high British Thermal Unit (BTU) and these were produced from shredded shavings and waste from the engineered bamboo furniture.

In 2011, the facility was able to give members of the Magalang Bamboo Growers Association (MBGA) skills and technical knowledge on how to make bamboo slots for furniture and bamboo parquets.

The ultimate objective of the project is a sustainable income for farmers and livelihood for their families and the community, to be achieved by turning bamboo, “the poor man’s timber,” into a cash crop, not only through pole sales but also through nursery raising, plantation and primary processing for bamboo-based products and for food processing.

Former Pamcham Bamboo Program coordinator Myrna Bituin said that the potential of bamboo is limitless.

“Just imagine using bamboo in making furniture and even floor parquets. The engineered bamboos are flat and nodes are removed so that the bamboo can be fashioned as slots,” Bituin said.

Such products, she stressed, are durable and insect-resistant since engineered bamboo-finished products are chemically treated.

Even at present, the Lubao facility has been making bamboo desks. According to Pineda-Cayabyab, a school desk made of bamboo would cost more than P1,000 compared to the P700 to P800 for a school desk made of wood. However, desks made of bamboo are sturdier and could last up to five years. Lumber desks can only manage a maximum of two years inside classrooms.

To further promote the wonders and potentials of bamboo, the area where the bamboos were planted was converted into a people’s park and has generated tourists for the town since last year.

“We are looking at further developing the area to promote awareness on the need to protect the environment,” Mayor Pineda-Cayabyab said.

The eco-park now has information posted along its pathways on the importance of bamboo and information regarding bamboo varieties and their uses.

The facility is so successful that officials of the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council (PBIDC) even toured the bamboo hub to benchmark on the practices adopted by the local government to make use of bamboo for recreation and manufacturing.

High hopes for bamboo

The said project recognizes the enormous potential of bamboo not only for construction and furniture, but also for environmental rehabilitation, carbon sequestration, and climate change mitigation. These have been the initial motivation for the propagation of bamboo varieties here but there are also other commercial considerations.

Unknown to people is the fact that the Philippines is the world’s sixth biggest exporter of bamboo products in the world, with a total export value reaching $30 million in 2009.

With the threats of global warming and climate change, and the growing demand for eco-friendly alternative to wood to conserve the world’s remaining forests, international market value for commercial bamboo is expected to hit $20 billion.

Owing to its tensile strength, bamboo is considered by forest scientists as a “poor man’s lumber” whose many new products included high-value engineered floor tiles, export furniture and handicrafts, and musical instruments

Commercial species of Kawayan tinik (Bambusa blumeana), Bayog (Bambusa sp.), Kawayan kiling (Bambusa vulgaris) and Giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper) have long been used in the cottage industries of basket weaving, hut-making and furniture making in the provinces in the country.

There are about 1,000 species of bamboo in the world with 49 species growing abundantly in the Philippines.

As the world’s fastest growing plant, bamboo can grow up to a meter a day, can reach maturity in five years, and can be harvested once every two years for about 120 years. Bamboo belongs to the Graminae family of grass, like rice and corn.

The PamCham, in recent years, have been advocating the use of bamboo and its propagation for commercial and environmental purposes. It even once urged local government units to reinforce dikes and river barriers with trees and bamboo. Bamboo is said to be very effective in preventing slope erosion and barrier breach.

Most promoters of bamboo propagation in the region believe that a sustainable bamboo industry will position the Philippines as the second largest bamboo producer in the world, next only to China whose current market share is about 50 percent.