Bamboo Pioneer Desy Ekawati: guiding Indonesia’s national bamboo strategy

Bamboo Pioneer Desy Ekawati: guiding Indonesia’s national bamboo strategy

Welcome to another of our Bamboo Pioneers, a series where we shine the light on people who are bamboo giants. This time we talked with Ibu Desy Ekawati, our long-time collaborator.

Desy Ekawati is an Indonesian bamboo activist who works at the Research and Development and Innovation Agency of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and also a member of the Board of Advisors for the Environmental Bamboo Foundation. Her journey to promote Indonesian bamboo began more than ten years ago when she was engaged in the development of non-timber forest products. At that time, Indonesia held an international seminar that discussed strategies and challenges for the sustainable use of bamboo as a non-timber forest product, and Desy was the chairman of the seminar organizing committee.

Desy Ekawati Bamboo

The international seminar opened the eyes of many people, including Desy, to how advanced the use of bamboo is in China and India. Since 2010, China’s flourishing bamboo industry has become one of the pillar sectors in the country’s forestry industry and also a key in the country’s efforts to establish a low-carbon economy.

Indonesia, as the third largest bamboo producer in the world, has tremendous potential. Indonesia is home to more species of bamboo and has a wider land area to grow bamboo. But ironically, most people in Indonesia think bamboo has no value and therefore the potential of bamboo is not widely known.

“Supposedly with this potential, our industry can be more advanced and our people can be prosperous,” said Desy. Indonesia’s bamboo development is indeed a bit behind when compared to China, which 40 years ago started a movement for the welfare of bamboo farmers. “China has only one goal: to build the people’s prosperity with bamboo”, she continued.

“We can actually be more successful with all the potential of bamboo that we have,” said Desy. Moreover, in Indonesia, there have been many bamboo activists, industries, and even village-owned enterprises that sell environmental services from existing well-maintained bamboo forests. Desy referred to the Nusantara Bamboo Community, the Association of Indonesian Bamboo Entrepreneurs (Perpubi), & industry players who use bamboo for incense products from Rajapolah West Java, and the Boonpring climate village in Malang Regency, East Java.

Has Indonesia also started the ‘bamboo for people’ movement?

Indonesia’s extraordinary bamboo potential needs to be managed and directed properly to be able to provide the best benefits for the welfare of the people. Unfortunately, currently, there is no instrument that can be used to integrate various bamboo utilization activities, in the fields of industry, arts and culture, or nature conservation.

“There is a community-based effort that aims to improve the community’s ability to use and manage bamboo sustainably. This movement is called 1000 Bamboo Villages and started in 2015,” explained Desy. The idea of ​​1000 Bamboo Villages was sparked when she had a discussion with Arief Rabik about the concern about the lack of interest from the community and the government in the sustainable use of bamboo.

The 1000 Bamboo Villages Program empowers rural farmers in Indonesia to become land restoration champions while driving a village-based bamboo industry. This community-based bamboo utilization program was built with the people-public-private partnership framework which seeks to integrate bamboo utilization activities from the upstream to downstream sectors.

“We want bamboo to become an economic driver starting from the community to the national level through a community-based movement, where bamboo remains a commodity that belongs to the community and not an industry controlled by the private sector,” added Desy.

After 1000 Bamboo Villages, what’s next?

The 1000 Bamboo Villages program is currently being carried out by the Environmental Bamboo Foundation with its extensive network in several pilot villages in Indonesia. The Environmental Bamboo Foundation has established a ten-year roadmap of 1000 Bamboo Villages to drive village-level bamboo agroforestry and push the restoration economy.

Like in China, we need political will and policy will. Political and policy support are the two things we need to support 1000 Bamboo Villages to run well as expected. “The visit of the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Bapak Joko Widodo, to the Turetogo Bamboo Campus in Ngada, East Nusa Tenggara shows a clear political will and emphasizes the attention from the highest leader in our country,” said Desy.

The political support shown by President Joko Widodo has opened the door to promote the replication of 1000 Bamboo Villages throughout Indonesia. Furthermore, we need policy will to ensure the movement is well integrated to achieve common goals.

The availability of regulations to support cross-sectoral bamboo development is very crucial. In addition to complementing the sectoral regulations that are currently available, these regulations will serve as directions for the implementation of the Indonesia Bamboo National Strategy and also regulate the roles of cross-sectoral stakeholders.

“This is a reminder for us, the bureaucrats, non-governmental organizations, and bamboo activists to accelerate the development of a national strategy for the sustainable utilization of bamboo as a manifestation of Indonesia’s policy will.”

What’s the Indonesian Bamboo National Strategy like?

The Indonesian government recognizes the great potential of bamboo and is developing a national strategy for the smallholder bamboo industry. This document will serve as a common reference across sectors and stakeholders in the development of integrated upstream-middle-downstream bamboo in Indonesia.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Research Development and Innovation Agency initiated the drafting of this bamboo strategic plan. A study team has been formed to examine the integrated development of bamboo covering economic, social, cultural, ecological, environmental, policy and regulatory aspects. Composed of researchers and policy analysts with various fields of expertise, the Team produced a draft of Stranas Bambu in early April 2021.

The draft of Indonesia’s Bamboo Development National Strategy focuses on how to integrate upstream, middle and downstream sectors, while still based on the community that has become part of the management and utilization of bamboo.

Indonesia’s Bamboo Development National Strategy will cover the management and utilization of the upstream sector, such as community-based bamboo planting using social forestry schemes. While in the middle and downstream sectors, the document will include efforts to create markets, and build a business model that connects farmers and companies as off-takers to enable People-Public-Private Partnerships implementation.

Big dreams for Indonesian bamboo

“Currently, there are very few references about Indonesian bamboo and I would love to see there is more research on bamboo to be the basis for policy formulation for sustainable bamboo use in Indonesia,” said Desy. She firmly believes that bamboo can provide real benefits to the community.

“Bamboo is a very promising commodity, for both industry and conservation. If bamboo can be used sustainably by the community, then bamboo will be the future of Indonesia”.

As one of the champions currently overseeing the preparation of the Indonesian Bamboo Development National Strategy, Desy Ekawati realizes that an orchestra for the future of bamboo is being assembled. Activists, industry players, and bamboo enthusiasts are longing for an orchestra that harmonizes various efforts for the sustainable utilization of bamboo, the welfare of the people, and the future of Indonesia.

Bamboo Pioneers: Elizabeth Widjaja

Bamboo Pioneers: Elizabeth Widjaja

Elizabeth Widjaja, Indonesian Bamboo Researcher

Bamboo can only be grown in 80 countries. Indonesia has at least 176 species of bamboo out of a total of 1620 bamboo species in the world. 105 of those endemic species of bamboo in Indonesia cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Although it has a huge wealth of bamboo, it turns out that Indonesia does not have many bamboo researchers. Professor Elizabeth Anita Widjaja is a pioneer and perhaps the only bamboo taxonomist in Indonesia. Since 1970, Elizabeth has identified at least 100 variants of 160 species of bamboo in Indonesia.

Elizabeth’s love for bamboo began when she was a student and was involved in research on grasses. Over time, Elizabeth discovered that bamboo is a magical species of grass that has many uses. Yes, you read that right, bamboo is actually a species of grass that can grow to a height of up to 30 meters. Like other grasses, all bamboo has a flexible stem texture and can bend easily.

The woman who gave names to bamboo

Elizabeth’s beginnings in the world of bamboo taxonomy began with research for her thesis. While researching black bamboo as the best bamboo species for making angklung (traditional musical instruments of West Java), she realized that there is only one scientific name for four different species of black bamboo. At that time black bamboo or Gigantochloa verticillata (Wild) Munro is the only name known for four different species: awi hideung, awi ater, awi gambong, and awi mayan.

Elizabeth then became more serious in studying bamboo taxonomy. Thanks to Elizabeth’s taxonomy, the four species of black bamboo were then given new names, some even being named after her last name. Awi ater became Gigantochloa atter, awi gombong became Gigantochloa pseudoarundinaceae (Steud) Widjaja, awi hideung became Gigantochloa atroviolacea Widjaja, and awi mayan was named Gigantochloa maxima (Poir) Kurz.

Until now, at least 160 species of bamboo have been identified and classified by Elizabeth. Of that number, 100 species are the results of her findings.

The importance of research for the use of bamboo in Indonesia

The use of bamboo in Indonesia is still not optimal because the government has not paid enough attention to bamboo. Many people think that bamboo is a weed because it is not easy to kill a bamboo clump.

Bamboo has a high survival rate. Even when burned, bamboo can still grow back. Even after experiencing drought during dry season, bamboo will grow again. The extraordinary resilience of bamboo means that it has excellent potential to be planted on dry and degraded lands.

​​”There are many opportunities for bamboo utilization such as for fiber, renewable energy, preventing erosion, for water conservation, and others. Therefore, we need more research on bamboo,” said Elizabeth.

Research is not only needed to find out the various benefits of bamboo, but also to invent better technology for its sustainable utilization and to increase the added value of bamboo.

“Until now, Indonesia has not carried out a detailed inventory of the bamboo population. Bamboo inventory data using drones and remote sensing is still not sufficient to provide information about the potential of bamboo. Especially if the bamboo lives underneath a tropical forest canopy.” The lack of information related to the bamboo stocks means we unable to know for sure how big the potential of bamboo for industry is in Indonesia.

Bamboo cultivation will not become a priority unless entrepreneurs in Indonesia feel the need for it. In fact, many industries in the world are starting to look at bamboo as a key raw material. For example, the textile fiber industry which has become more popular lately in Indonesia. Currently, Indonesian bamboo textile makers still rely on imported bamboo fibers.

Likewise, bamboo paper is very much in demand for painting. The price of bamboo paper is very expensive because it has high artistic value. Not to mention the benefits of bamboo for medical use. Research to uncover better technology in processing bamboo for various benefits is very much needed.

“I hope the use of bamboo can be increased but it must be balanced with better knowledge and technology to support sustainable utilization,” said Elizabeth.

The capacity of the bamboo industry must be calculated carefully, including the availability of bamboo raw materials. Bamboo cultivation is very important to ensure its availability for the industry and of course for its ecological and land conservation role. Agricultural technology research is needed to support bamboo cultivation for industry.

For Elizabeth’s dedication and achievements in the world of bamboo taxonomy, she received various awards, including The Best Young Scientist from LIPI in 1997, Satya Lencana Karya Satya in 1997 and 1998, Bintang Jasa Utama from the President of the Republic of Indonesia in 2000, and the Harshberger Medal by the Society of Ethnobotanists, India in 2001.

Bamboo pioneers: Singgih Kartono, founder of Spedagi Bamboo Bike

Bamboo pioneers: Singgih Kartono, founder of Spedagi Bamboo Bike

Welcome to our new series of interviews with people doing incredible things with bamboo. From entrepreneurs to scientists, community facilitators, and bamboo farmers, we will be bringing you diverse stories and experiences through our Bamboo Pioneer interviews. Our very first one is with Singgih Kartono, who is not only passionate about bamboo and bike design with his company Spedagi but also about starting a village revitalization movement based on bamboo! He is the mastermind behind the incredible Pasar Papringan concept. Read on to learn more.

I was born in a village and bamboo is a very abundant plant in my village. When I was a kid, I liked to make toys, and the most easily available material for making toys was bamboo. Unlike wood, bamboo is easier to split and cut.

Bamboo is very close to our lives. Almost all village households, furniture, agricultural tools, and even houses use bamboo material. Our closeness to bamboo once made me not see the advantages and uniqueness of bamboo. Even as a designer, I had a time when I stopped the use of bamboo material in my works and switched to wood.

I started making bamboo bikes in early 2013 after seeing and being amazed by the bamboo bikes designed by Craig Calfee from the United States. His bike is not only made of bamboo, it also has great design and is very well made and assembled.

Bamboo in Indonesian villages

Bamboo in Indonesia faces the exact same problems that Indonesian villages face: boredom and inferiority.

The boredom arises because bamboo has been familiar to us for a long time and is very close to our daily lives. In the village, people have experiences with bamboo from birth to death. From kitchen and household utensils, agricultural tools, houses, buildings and construction of tombs also use bamboo.

Bamboo is also seen as something that is closely related to poverty and this view creates feelings of inferiority. For example, many novels describe poor families with ‘the ones who live in bamboo houses’.

In the concept that I developed at Spedagi Movement, I see the future as the past in a new form.

Let’s say the past is that bamboo. When I look into the future, then I see bamboo in a new form. We need to look at the past and everything around us today through the lens of the future. In developed countries, people use science to see what is around them that can be used in the future.

When it comes to cutting bamboo, I still use traditional knowledge. I determine the logging days according to traditional knowledge. And it turned out okay. I understand why traditional people carry out the practices which we know as niteni (observing, paying attention). They observe the environment around the bamboo so that they know the best way to treat this plant. They don’t have the tools, instruments, or a more detailed scientific approach supported by adequate equipment, so they can’t formulate it scientifically.

How we should view bamboo

First we need to take care of and plant more bamboo.

Viewed as boring and inferior, bamboo is prone to being evicted from the landscape. I found a lot of bamboo plants were being eradicated. Whereas bamboo is part of the landscape of the village community; the cultural, historical, and environmental landscapes. And I think if this important part is lost then one day we will be very sorry. Moreover, bamboo has become one of the materials that is a promising substitute for wood because it grows very fast and has very good qualities.

Second, we must be able to educate people about bamboo in new ways

Because what we are fighting against is a perception of being boring and inferior. We need a creative approach so that people can see that bamboo is extraordinary. However, to be able to see how the past, or everything around us, has future values, we must learn to see it through the lens of science, therefore we need to broaden our horizons. We must clean our glasses or learn to use new glasses, to be able to see the value and future potential of bamboo.

What is Spedagi?

If we take bamboo seriously, the products we create will be different and unique, which makes us different from other countries. Moreover, many bamboo species are found in Indonesia as the climate is suitable for bamboo.

The Spedagi bamboo bicycle is not just a means of transportation using bamboo material, but more than that, this bicycle has become part of the Spedagi Movement and has turned it into a product that has created a social movement. This uniqueness is not found in other products.

Spedagi is one example of how I try to show that bamboo is not a material that can only be made for simple and inexpensive products. Bamboo can be processed into a good and high-value product.

Spedagi was awarded the G-Mark Japan Good Design Award in 2018. G-mark Japan GOOD DESIGN award is the largest Asian award founded in 1957 and reflects Japanese design values and principles that aim to enrich lives, industries, and society.

Pasar Papringan: restoring rural pride

The Papringan Market project is actually quite simple, because its activity is only to clean the bamboo clumps and then create a terrace area between the bamboo clumps using honed stone – which is actually a traditional technique that is environmentally friendly as the terrace still absorbs water. When the bamboo forest was cleaned and simply arranged, the bamboo clumps in it looked beautiful and became an authentic and natural garden. The empty area underneath the bamboo canopy that we clean with the community then becomes a place to sell local products in the form of culinary, handicraft, and agricultural products.

Papringan market also shows that the culture of the traditional or village community is full of ‘future values’ due to the following:

Papringan market is a plastic-free market emulating traditional communities in the past that did not use any plastic. All vendors at Papringan Market only use leaves and bamboo baskets for containers to transport and store merchandise. Isn’t it time this traditional practice becomes a future practice? A value that reflects how to protect nature sustainably starting from the local economy.
Papringan market provides healthy food with 100% traceability because all the ingredients are taken from the surrounding environment. We know who the food ingredients are grown by, and from whose garden the banana leaves used for wrapping are taken. Aren’t these all stories from the future that have also come from the past?

So we have to learn or find a way to be able to see the value and potential of bamboo and all other resources in the village as something special.

What we need to teach our children about bamboo

Combining the boredom of rural communities with the amazement of urban communities in relation to bamboo is something that is important for us to use as a basis for formulating a better education for the younger generation, especially children.

Children in the village need to be introduced to how to process bamboo starting from the benefits of bamboo shoots for cooking, growing bamboo, making toys from bamboo, to how to dry bamboo using new tools or technology. Children in the village are usually very interested in new technology.

Meanwhile, young people in urban areas or developed countries need to be invited to see the ‘bamboo lives’ of traditional people, so that they can see how bamboo is an important part of life. In addition, they also need to be invited to learn traditional knowledge about bamboo.