A BAMBOO advocacy group, Bambuhay, is touting bamboo growing as an untapped source of income for farmers, and said the building material also has multiple applications as a potential plastic replacement and as a means of addressing a number of other environmental problems.

Mark “Sultan” Gersava, founder and chief executive officer of Bambuhay, told BusinessWorld in an interview: “I focused on bamboo because it is one of the underutilized crops in the Philippines.”

Formed in 2018, the social enterprise promotes bamboo for use in products that can prevent the further worsening of plastic pollution, deforestation, and climate change. It started with capital of P10,000 and ended 2018 claiming revenue of P6 million.

The initiative’s products include bamboo straws. In the pipeline are bamboo-based drinks stirrers, iced tea, and charcoal briquettes, developed in partnership with Department of Science and Technology Forest Product Research Development Institute (DoST-FPRDI).

The briquettes do double duty as an insect repellent from the smoke produced and the ashes can also be employed as a fertilizer.

Mr. Gersava said bamboo growing has many environmental benefits.

“It captures more carbon dioxide than any other plant. For every hectare, other trees can capture 48 tons, while bamboo can capture 62 tons. It also produces 30% more oxygen. So, it does not only provide livelihood, it also balances the environment,” he said.

“You just have to plant it once, and it will grow forever. You just have to cut the mature ones,” he said.

Currently, the company has a bamboo straw facility in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija, engaging 12 people in production and 37 harvesters.

It sources its bamboo from the Talavera Watershed Forest Reserve, which has 100,000 hectares of naturally-grown bamboo. The organization estimates that about 50,000 poles yields 200,000 bamboo straws.

The company’s buying price of P2 per pole is higher than the market rate, which it calculates can yield a farmer between P600 to P1,200 per day, depending on productivity. The activity also keeps farmers from engaging in slash and burn agriculture.

The communities have stakes of 2%-10% in the project.

The group is planning production facilities in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija and Norzagaray, Bulacan within the year. Other target areas are Iloilo, Aklan, Bukidnon, Davao, and Sultan Kudarat.

It currently supplies clients like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Bo’s Coffee, Zagu, Happy Lemon, Gong Cha, the Marco Polo Hotel, the Fairmont Hotel, and the Crimson Hotel. It currently exports to Malaysia via the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf chain. It is prospecting potential sales to companies in Canada, Germany, the US, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

“You need to have a prosperous life, you need to run a sustainable business, and you really need to have a sustainable livelihood for the people that this is a fair trade na hindi lamang ‘yung nag-start ng (that not only the owner of the) business ‘yung yumayaman (captures the gains),” Mr. Gersava said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang