BEEMA BAM­BOO; Health en­hancer and clean en­ergy pro­ducer

Agriculture - - Front Page - BY RANDY V. URLANDA

BAM­BOO is deeply planted in the lives of Filipinos and its end­less uses af­fect them from birth un­til death.

Ru­ral mid­wives use the ra­zor-sharp bam­boo knife to cut off anew­born baby’s um­bil­i­cal cord and a bam­boo pole to lower the cof­fin into a grave when a per­son dies. Many houses in vil­lages are built with bam­boo splits or wo­ven bam­boo mats called “sawali.” Bam­boo shoots are a nour­ish­ing food when cooked with co­conut milk, whether served a lowly street­side karen­de­ria or a three-star Miche­lin rated up­scale restau­rant.

HUM­BLE BUT VER­SA­TILE

The Philip­pines has 82 species of bam­boo, 21 of which are en­demic or na­tive. Bam­boos are of no­table eco­nomic and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance in South­east Asia, be­ing used for build­ing ma­te­ri­als, as a food source, and a ver­sa­tile raw prod­uct.

De­spite its lowly rep­u­ta­tion, bam­boo maybe the strong­est stuff on the planet. It has greater ten­sile strength (or re­sis­tance to be­ing pulled apart) than steel. Cer­tain species of bam­boo can grow 36 inches within a 24-hour pe­riod, at a rate of 1.6 inches an hour.

In 2009, Dr. Me­rian C. Mani, then di­rec­tor for re­search of the Romblon State Col­lege (now univer­sity)in Odion­gan, Romblon, read in a news­pa­per that a pri­vate com­pany, Fu­ture En­ergy Con­cept, was in­ter­ested on fo­cus­ing on biomass as an al­ter­na­tive en­ergy source. Biomass is an or­ganic ma­te­rial that comes from plants and an­i­mals, and it is a re­new­able source of en­ergy. It con­tains stored en­ergy from the sun. Plants like bam­booab­sorb the sun’s en­ergy in a process called pho­to­syn­the­sis. When biomass is burned, the chem­i­cal en­ergy in biomass is re­leased as heat.

PROPAGATING BEEMA

Dr. Mani, a Doc­tor of Ed­u­ca­tion ma­jor in ed­u­ca­tional man­age­ment,went to In­dia to learn how to prop­a­gate a new species of thick-walled bam­boo—the Beema Bam­boo—de­vel­oped by Dr. N. T.Barathi, an In­dian agri­cul­ture scientist. Af­ter learn­ing about the ad­van­tages of Beema over other species of bam­boo, she or­dered 1,000 tis­sue-cul­tured saplings. Dr. Mani thought that the thick-walled Beema bam­boo was the right biomass ma­te­rial that Fu­ture En­ergy needed.

Beema bam­boo is a tis­sue cul­tured va­ri­ety of the In­dian Bam­busa bal­cooa. Un­like com­mon bam­boos, Beema bam­boo’s culm grows nearly solid, without ge­netic engi­neer­ing. It main­tains a fast growth rate and af­ter ev­ery har­vest cy­cle, it re­grows and does not re­quire re­plant­ing for the next 50 years.

The ex­pe­ri­enced team un­der Dr. Mani of the Romblon Bam­boo Re­search Cen­ter, Inc. (RBRCI) pro­vided and main­tained per­fect growth con­di­tions and en­sured the ideal mat­u­ra­tion of the seedlings. Af­ter 12 weeks, the saplings reached a size of 60 cen­time­ters (cm) and were ready for plant­ing. The first har­vest was done three years af­ter plant­ing. It reached its full har­vest rate af­ter five years, which yielded up to 100 tons of biomass per hectare.

The RBRCI op­er­ates the first Beema bam­boo nurs­ery and plan­ta­tion in the Philip­pines. A Beema bam­boo nurs­ery was started at the Marinduque State Col­lege (MSC) in Oc­to­ber last year to prop­a­gate it,partly to help ab­sorb toxic sub­stances left by the Mar­cop­per min­ing dis­as­ter in 1996. Spac­ing be­tween plants is 3.2 me­ters (m) by1.2 m. It must be planted at least four feet deep then topped with good soil.

A VER­SA­TILE SPECIES

Beema bam­boo’s suit­able ap­pli­ca­tions are for power gen­er­a­tion projects, pa­per in­dus­tries, con­struc­tion and fur­ni­ture, and the hand­i­craft and cot­tage in­dus­tries. All the bam­boo hand­i­crafts in Quiapo like Span­ish fans were sourced from Gasan, a town in Marinduque. Beema is also rec­om­mended for land recla­ma­tion in mines and water clogged ar­eas.

“In 2009, I put up the first Beema bam­boo nurs­ery and plan­ta­tion in the Philip­pines in Romblon,” says the 55-year-old Dr. Mani, the cur­rent pres­i­dent of Marinduque State Col­lege whose main cam­pus is sit­u­ated in Boac, Marinduque, the cap­i­tal town of the prov­ince of Marinduque.

“Beema bam­boo is sim­i­lar to our pa­tong in Cen­tral Visayas and called bayog ( Bam­busa sp. 1) in Cen­tral Lu­zon,” con­tin­ues the bam­boo spe­cial­ist.“Now, we have a to­tal of 16 hectares of fully grown Beema bam­boo plan­ta­tion in Odion­gan, Romblon.

“They are now part of the prov­ince’s eco-tourism tour,” says the ami­able Beema bam­boo pro­po­nent. “Vis­i­tors walk­ing through the bam­boo plan­ta­tion en­joy cool and clean air as they walk on the car­pet­like dried bam­boo leaves that cover the path­way. In In­dia they make ver­mi­cul­ture in be­tween the bam­boo stands which uses the bam­boos’ fallen leaves.”

One fully-grown Beema bam­boo could se­quester more than 400 kilo­grams of car­bon diox­ide from our sur­round­ing­sev­ery year for the next 100 years, at least for the next few gen­er­a­tions. It ab­sorbs car­bon diox­ide and re­leases oxy­gen into the at­mos­phere at a rate three to four times higher than any other tree. One bam­boo tree gen­er­ates plenty of nat­u­ral oxy­gen suf­fi­cient for more than one hu­man be­ing’s daily re­quire­ments.

A fam­ily of four, in­clud­ing a dog or cat, would es­sen­tially re­quire 1,100 to 1,250 kilo­grams of oxy­gen ev­ery year for breath­ing, which is made avail­able by three bam­boo plants or­gan­i­cally. In tests con­ducted in In­dia, pa­tients were made to jog through a lush bam­boo farm.Af­ter the test, all of the pa­tients re­cu­per­ated and re­ha­bil­i­tated fully from their ill­nesses.

“Ad­van­tages of Beema bam­boo are: it is fast grow­ing, it has high biomass, it is thorn­less, its wall thick­ness is three times more than other bam­boo [species], and it is [a] ster­ile plant,” ex­plains Dr. Mani. “What’s more, it ef­fec­tively cleans water pol­lu­tion [from] fac­to­ries and ef­flu­ent of mine tail­ings due to its nat­u­ral affin­ity with ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and heavy met­als. That’s why we re­quested the mined out ar­eas of Con­sol­i­dated Min­ing, Inc. for us to plant Beema bam­boo to help in restor­ing the mined out soil into what it used to be.”

“Beema bam­boo has sim­ple char­ac­ter­is­tics. The only dif­fer­ence is that it is tis­sue cul­tured so we can mass pro­duce it,” aver­sDr. Mani. “If we use the tra­di­tional way of pro­duc­ing one plant ma­te­rial, it would take six months with low sur­vival [rates]. How­ever, with Beema bam­boo, in ten weeks’ time there are al­ready tiny shoots or tillers and I split them into

two, thus dou­bling the plant ma­te­ri­als.”

HELP­ING TO BUILD A CLEANER FU­TURE

Dr. Mani wasac­claimed as one of the ten Out­stand­ing Movers in the Philip­pines last year, and was awarded the “Cham­pion of Life and Hero of the En­vi­ron­ment Award” in Fe­bru­ary this year. She has asked the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sources (DENR), and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies with idle lands or va­cant lots for per­mis­sion to trans­form these into Beema bam­boo farms with farmer co­op­er­a­tors who would be paid by the agency landowner to make the farm sus­tain­able.

When fully grown, the bam­boo farms on va­cant gov­ern­ment prop­er­ties could be con­verted into oxy­gen parks where peo­ple can avail them­selves of fresh oxy­gen pro­duced by the bam­boo, and car­bon neu­tral gar­dens to en­hance the health of res­i­dents liv­ing in the area. In the town of Bue­nav­ista in Marinduque, a landowner has planted Beema bam­boo in her two-hectare pi­lot project, com­plete with ir­ri­ga­tion.

A Swedish scientist has taken no­tice of Beema bam­boo as an en­vi­ron­ment-friendly cargo box. Af­ter strip­ping the bam­boo of its skin, the pole is then pul­ver­ized and molded­into air­plane cargo boxes, mak­ing it lighter and en­vi­ron­ment-friendly than sty­ro­for boxes.

Once Beema bam­boo is prop­a­gated in the en­tire coun­try, its oxy­gen parks and car­bon neu­tral gar­dens will help al­le­vi­ate the health con­di­tions of Filipinos, while its biomass will gen­er­ate clean en­ergy and wean our power gen­er­a­tors from harm­ful fos­sil fu­els that pol­lute the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Soon, Beema bam­boo would be planted in some towns in Marinduque, like the one in Bue­nav­ista, to help in ab­sorb­ing toxic sub­stances in the air, soil and water, in­clud­ing the 34-hectare bad­land that was aban­doned by Con­sol­i­dated Min­ing, Inc. since it was closed down,” con­cludes Dr. Mani, who or­ga­nized the “First Pub­lic-Pri­vate Part­ner­ship of Romblon State Col­lege (now univer­sity) on “Al­ter­na­tive En­ergy Us­ing Biomass and Agrowaste” and the “Adap­ta­tion Trial of Beema Bam­boo” hosted by the RDE Unit of the Romblon State Univer­sity with Ger­man and In­dian sci­en­tists as part­ners .

“When these logged over [waste­lands are] planted with fast grow­ing Beema bam­boo, Marinduque [will] be­come a ma­jor eco­tourism desti­na­tion be­cause of its cool Beema bam­boo oxy­gen parks, and a ma­jor in­come earner for the prov­ince as pro­ducer of biomass for power plants.”

Dr. Me­rian Mani in the midst of stands of Beema bam­boo which she planted when she was still re­search di­rec­tor of the Romblon State Univer­sity in 2009.

Beema bam­boo nurs­ery at Marinduque State Col­lege with more than 28,000 saplings.

An Oxy­gen Park in­side the Beema Bam­boo plan­ta­tion in Romblon.

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