THE Philippine Bamboo Industry Council (PBIC) plans to convert at least 19,000 hectares of land into bamboo plantations this year, including 13,000 hectares in the Western Visayas.

The government inter-agency group said in a statement Wednesday that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will be providing shared service facilities for agri-businesses that venture into bamboo processing.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, who chairs PBIC, said that bamboo plantations will be included in the department’s Roads Leveraging Linkages of Industry and Trade program, which aims to build plant-to-market roads to ease the delivery of products, especially from remote areas.

Agri-business ventures like bamboo production and processing are also entitled to tax incentives under DTI’s Strategic Investments Priorities Plan.

“Bamboo planting can provide a sustainable source of livelihood to people in the countryside. Since the plant grows quickly and is weather-resilient, it is an ideal business for farmers who are looking for alternative sources of income,” Mr. Lopez said.

PBIC Vice Chairman and Ilocos Sur Representative Deogracias Victor B. Savellano, a Deputy Speaker, volunteered his district for the pilot program.

He said the target areas for plantations will increase as various groups, including the Department of National Defense and some State Universities and Colleges, are interested in planting bamboo on their properties.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also committed more than half of its national greening program to the propagation of more bamboo, according to Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.

DENR will also provide training on bamboo production, and will offer loans with 2% annual interest for bamboo farmers through LANDBANK’s Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) Lending Program.

DTI said that the plant, which takes two to three years to grow compared to the decades-long growth of wood trees, can be used for construction, furniture, and paper-making.

In March, PBIC will launch its official campaign, known as “Kawayan, Kalikasan, Kabuhayan, Kaunlaran, Kinabukasan” promoting the bamboo industry. — Jenina P. Ibañez