Indonesian bamboo advocacy empowers women, too

In the arid islands of East Nusa Tenggara, a remarkable transformation is underway, spearheaded by the Mama Bambu (Mothers of Bamboo). This group of women is not only championing sustainable bamboo farming, but also reshaping societal norms and combating climate change.

With approximately 532 members and driven by the visionary Yayasan Bambu Lingkungan Lestari (YBLL) or Environmental Bamboo Foundation, Mama Bambu is sowing the seeds of change by planting 1.2 million bamboo seeds across seven districts, propelling Indonesia’s burgeoning bamboo industry to new heights.

For six years, Mama Bambu has been defying gender roles deeply ingrained in the region. Traditionally, females were not expected to farm and create livelihood in East Nusa Tenggara, but Mama Bambu has defied convention by showing that bamboo cultivation can provide them with livelihood opportunities and, more importantly, a lifeline during challenging times, such as the recent pandemic.

The impact of Mama Bambu’s work is best exemplified through the words of member Lusia Ndeng from Bangka Wela Village, Manggarai. She shares, “The money we received from the bamboo cultivation program has been very beneficial for our family, especially in supporting our children’s education. Initially, I had no plans to send one of my children to college, but with the earnings from this bamboo cultivation program, I can now provide higher education for my child.”

Fellow member Angelina Wea from Nggesa Biri Village, Ende, added, “We are very satisfied with the results of our work over the past few months. We earned extra money that we can use for daily needs such as food and school fees for our children. We hope to participate in the bamboo cultivation program again because we really need it.”

Lusia and Angelina’s testimonies reflect the tangible and positive changes that Mama Bambu is bringing to the lives of women and their families. Breaking free from traditional gender norms, these empowered women are cultivating bamboo and securing livelihood opportunities that were once considered beyond their reach. Their determination and resilience have not only transformed livelihoods but also challenged societal norms, fostering gender equality and inclusive development.

“Together, we are nurturing a society where women’s voices are heard, their contributions are valued, and their impact on environmental sustainability is celebrated,” declared YBLL chair Monica Tanuhandaru.

70% to women

Mama Bambu and YBLL have partnered with the provincial government to ensure that 70% of social forestry permits are granted to women. This ongoing collaboration demonstrates their commitment to breaking down barriers and forging a path towards gender equality and sustainable environmental stewardship.

Mama Bambu’s impact extends beyond individual empowerment. As part of Indonesia’s flourishing sustainable bamboo industry, the bamboo planted by Mama Bambu serves a multitude of purposes, ranging from building materials, carbon capture, and even green mobility initiatives. The versatility of bamboo positions it as a key player in tackling the ecological, social, and cultural challenges faced by communities worldwide.

According to YBLL, sustainable bamboo planting plays a pivotal role in addressing ecological, social, and cultural issues. “Bamboo is an invaluable resource with tremendous potential for combating climate change and promoting sustainable development. The success of our initiatives in Indonesia demonstrates how sustainable bamboo practices revitalize ecosystems and empower local communities, particularly women,” said Monica.

Carbon neutrality stands as a critical achievement in sustainable bamboo farming. Bamboo can grow up to 10 cm per day, making it an ideal choice for reforestation and carbon absorption. Based on YBLL research, each hectare of bamboo forest can absorb 50 tons of CO2 annually.

Additionally, the Sustainable Bamboo Forest method meticulously implemented by YBLL ensures that bamboo planting and harvesting are calculated to maximize carbon capture. Unlike conventional harvesting practices, YBLL’s approach preserves portions of the bamboo plantation, leading to compounded carbon capture and ultimately achieving a carbon-neutral process.

Preventing landslides

Furthermore, the impact of sustainable bamboo farming goes beyond carbon neutrality and encompasses vital benefits for communities residing in vulnerable areas. Mama Bambu member Regina Nias from Bangka Wela Village, Manggarai, shares, “With this bamboo cultivation program, we have gained a deeper understanding of the benefits of bamboo, one of which is its ability to prevent landslides. Our area is susceptible to landslides, and bamboo plays a significant role in preventing them.”

The significance of bamboo’s role in preventing landslides cannot be overstated, especially in regions like Regina’s, where such natural disasters pose a constant threat to communities’ safety and well-being. By cultivating bamboo, Mama Bambu is not only empowering women and revitalizing ecosystems but also contributing to the resilience and protection of vulnerable areas against environmental hazards.

Astrid Lusiana Embu, a Mama Bambu member from Wolowea Village, Nagekeo, emphasizes the importance of continuing the program for the sake of their cultural heritage. She states, “Our village has a strong bond with bamboo and we use it for various essential facilities, such as our traditional bamboo bridge, which is crucial to us. We have to replace the bamboo every year when it reaches its harvest age. So, if we don’t preserve bamboo, we won’t be able to preserve the existence of our bridge.”

Astrid’s words shed light on the deep cultural significance of bamboo in her community. The traditional bamboo bridge not only connects their village physically but also symbolizes their connection to nature and heritage. Mama Bambu’s sustainable bamboo farming efforts play a crucial role in preserving this vital cultural element, ensuring the continuity of their traditions and way of life.

2 schools for bamboo R&D

With support from YBLL, Mama Bambu envisions a future where sustainable bamboo practices thrive. YBLL is actively involved in the development of two schools dedicated to research and development, training craftsmen, and nurturing entrepreneurs in the field of sustainable bamboo. This approach aims to strengthen the bamboo industry by fostering innovation, knowledge exchange, and skill development.

YBLL is also committed to conducting research on the impact of bamboo plantations on water sources. The successful outcomes of this research hold the key to preserving water sources in arid areas where Mama Bambu communities reside. By ensuring sustainable water management, these regions can enhance their resilience and thrive in the face of environmental challenges.

Having already mapped the vast carbon capture potential of bamboo in multiple Indonesian provinces, YBLL is at the forefront of developing a comprehensive carbon-neutral mechanism for bamboo planting and utilization. This comes as Indonesia sets ambitious targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. YBLL’s pioneering efforts have led to the creation of an end-to-end scheme that maximizes the sustainable potential of bamboo, aligning perfectly with the nation’s green goals.

YBLL also explores the possibility of expanding its sustainable bamboo initiatives to Southeast Asia, seeking partnerships with governments, local communities, and other stakeholders. The region’s potential for bamboo industry development and its favorable policy conditions present an opportunity for YBLL to extend its expertise and community-based forestry system.

One such country that exemplifies the immense potential of the bamboo industry is the Philippines, which currently ranks as the world’s 5th largest exporter of bamboo. The Philippines has taken remarkable steps towards promoting this sector through the implementation of the Bamboo Industry Development Act. This legislation stands as a testament to the government’s unwavering dedication to nurturing a flourishing bamboo industry within its borders.

YBLL recognizes the significance of this legislative initiative and views it as a positive indicator of the region’s interest in bamboo as a means of sustainable economic growth and climate change mitigation. Through collaborations in research, community empowerment, and sustainable practices, YBLL is committed to creating a positive and lasting impact on bamboo-dependent communities and the environment in the region.

(Photo from Environmental Bamboo Foundation Facebook Page)