Going Big on Bamboo: Marcventures taps rising bamboo market for community enterprise
Photo caption: In first photo, Jose Dagala Jr., MMDC AVP for Social Commitments, is seen discussing the proposed bamboo program to his team and other company staff at the MMDC mine site office. Second photo shows bamboo seedlings from the MMDC nursery that were transported to Magosilom in Cantilan, an MMDC host community, for a scheduled tree planting activity led by the Environment team. Third photo shows Katrina Plaza of MMDC’s environment department who gladly takes part in the said activity and is hopeful that sooner or later, residents of the community would realize the potentials of growing bamboo.
Seeing its huge economic and environmental potentials, Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC) is forging multi-stakeholder partnerships to tap into the country's promising bamboo industry.
MMDC's Bamboo Plantation Development Program will be implemented in three phases over five years: the establishment of a 10-hectare demo bamboo plantation, business development, and market research.
Jose Dagala, MMDC Assistant Vice President for Social Commitments, described the project as a great balance between the company's grassroots development agenda and long-term environmental objectives.
"Basically, the idea is to develop an income-generating bamboo business that is managed by the community itself, and one that is anchored on the company's rehabilitation plan," Dagala said.
MMDC is currently in the thick of implementing the program's opening phase, which includes the identification and training of 20 to 30 community members who will eventually be organized either as a cooperative or a community corporation.
Dagala said the company has already met with LGU officials and representatives of the local Indigenous People's group to identify the program recipients.
While organizational preparations are underway, the 10-hectare demo plantation at the Pili mined out area, which is undergoing extensive rehabilitation, is also being developed.
Meantime, MMDC is laying the groundwork to establish links with local government units, government agencies and community organizations to strengthen the program. Activities are also in the pipeline to introduce the economic potentials of bamboo farming to the community.
Business development initiatives will begin somewhere between the second and the third year of the program, signaling its second phase. At this juncture, Dagala said the community entity that will run the business will already have a responsive organizational structure to better govern their own business.
"During this phase, we expect members and their officers to be already well-equipped with the necessary knowledge, tools and training in running their business more effectively," he said.
Dagala maintained that good corporate governance remains a key to a sustainable community-run business.
The last phase of the program, meanwhile, will focus more on market research, in which the community stakeholders learn the ropes on creating value-adding products and services."
"At this stage, we expect them to develop a solid understanding on every segment of the bamboo market, including finding potential opportunities and building connections,” Dagala said.
Currently, bamboo seedlings are being readied at the company's nurseries for the 10-hectare demo farm, to be planted at 6x8 spacing.
Based on MMDC's rehabilitation plan, the bamboo plantation can expand to at least 40 hectares.
"We envision a local bamboo industry that is profitable for the community, a sustainable business that is good for the environment, and one that will last long after MMDC has reached the end of its mine life," MMDC President Yulo Perez said.
The economic potentials of bamboo cannot be overstated. For starter, it has about 1,500 uses although its most popular use is commonly limited to furniture pieces.
Bamboo is also sturdier than some wood species, and is considered an excellent building material. According to the Philippine Bamboo Foundation, Inc. (PBFI), some bamboo species can withstand 52,000 pounds per square inch (psi) before reaching breaking point. For comparison, steel has a 60,000 psi.
PBFI estimates that the country’s bamboo-based furniture industry grows at a rate of 15% annually, with export revenues amounting to USD3.2 million per year. Worldwide, it noted that that the bamboo-based handicraft industry alone is growing at a rate of 7 percent with export revenues of USD8 billion per year.
In 2015, the Department of Trade and Industry pegged the international market value of commercial bamboo to $20 billion, fueled by the growing demand for eco-friendly alternative to wood.
With such huge demands from domestic and foreign markets, PBF noted that the current 52,000 hectares of bamboo plantations around the country aren't just enough.
Inspired by these data, Marcventures Holdings Inc. President Isidro C. Alcantara Jr. expressed his excitement about this project. “This bamboo program is anchored on our core principle of Sustainability,” he said. “The success of this program will provide great opportunities for our host communities to survive and thrive long after our operations have ceased. Our organization throws its full support behind this program.”
More than its money-making potentials bamboo is, above all, good for the environment and could even be an essential component to stave off the effects of climate change.
According to the Bali-based Environmental Bamboo Foundation (EBF), bamboo can release up to 35% more oxygen than trees.
"Some bamboo even sequester up to 12 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per hectare," it said, adding "bamboo is the fastest growing canopy for the regreening of degraded lands, and its stands."
In fact, bamboo is cited as a veritable alternative to slow-growing tree species to effectively combat deforestation.
In places where geohazards are rampant, such as in Surigao del Sur, EBF says bamboopresents a solution "as it can be an ideal tool for preventing soil erosion, landslides and flooding."
As MMDC and its partner communities venture together to explore the economic and environmental benefits of bamboo, they certainly will take heed to the enduring qualities of this tallest grass in the world:
Calm, resilient, and strongly-rooted yet flexible.