Traditional Bamboo Treatment Study

Though bamboo is touted as “the sustainable building material of the future”… there doesn’t seem to be a lot of thought about how that future is going to be affordable for anyone other than the 15-20% of the global population who earn enough to be able to afford to buy a quality fabricated product… Perhaps the price of fabricated bamboo products will in future become mainstream and affordable… However, right now there is a huge gap between bamboo design and concepts which maybe 1-5% of earth’s population could actually afford and what’s available at an average level in western And developing counties… Concepts/design aimed at bamboo being made practical and affordable are lacking AND There is a stigma in developing/post-colonized counties that bamboo is “just for poor people or the very rich”…

Though many countries are putting sustainability measures as priority, a major pressure on emissions is building with the shear size of the population in developing countries who’s population has on average 20% of the carbon footprint of someone living in a developed country – however, the pattern of development of people in these countries is following a very unsustainable material-use path. Do we want to see 70% of the world’s population follow the same pattern as what has caused the present carbon emission crisis? Imagine 70% of the globe becoming like what the around 20% of developed countries have become: Heavy resource and fossil fuel users. You can’t complain about single use plastic in Asian countries while you have a refrigerator running 24/7 in your kitchen – probably using 200 X the energy a person in a developing/post-colonized country uses on any given day. I was quite shocked to realize that a fridge is not a standard or taken-for-granted appliance in Asia and very few people grew up with one in their household (that pattern is changing though).

Bamboo and other sustainable technology solutions could be a way forward to avoid/divert the current trend towards cement, tile and unsustainable resource use – but COST and IMAGE (of bamboo) are the main barriers that need to shift. Essentially, the current market price and cost for treated/treating bamboo is the main factor that prevents local populations from utilising bamboo as a sustainable building material… but if traditional treatment methods were to be revitalised, there could then be an option for local populations to utilise bamboo as an affordable building material, (and also create profitable products).

The cost of materials and chemicals required for treating bamboo “naturally”/non-toxically i.e. borax/boric acid, AND to set up a bamboo treatment facility (though using borax/boric affords a relatively fast treatment process), are insurmountable for people in developing countries on an average salary… and without treatment, bamboo only lasts a few years before insects demolish the bamboo material.
Hence why most “local” people bypass bamboo as an option for building their homes and instead favour cement and other “cheap” non-renewable materials that dont need rebuilding as frequently).

Potentially, making broader planning and management strategies (and government incentives and subsidies also help) available around bamboo treatment and seeing this stage as part of the life-cycle of bamboo instead of an inconvenience – COULD potentially empower local farmers and craftspeople to form cooperative growing and treatment systems/networks and to develop branded products direct to the export market. (That wouldn’t make the merchant traders happy and some work still needs to be done around equalising world currencies and lowering the price of shipping OUT of developing/ post-colonized countries but we can address that issue later hopefully).

Revitalising this knowledge could also offer long term planning options for bamboo to also be an affordable option for building in “western” countries currently growing bamboo where the cost for treated bamboo is very high (currently around AUD$20/metre in australia where its still a boutique industry) and to lower the cost of production through tapping into this traditional knowledge with proven effectiveness which can still be seen; though is of diminished interest in the academic field because of the lengthiness of the process and need for acquired knowledge and “hand-picked” approach (these and other techniques/knowledge associated with the art and culture of bamboo are at risk of being lost currently). So not only could investigating this Traditional Method preserve bamboo, but also create incentive/s for young people to retain cultural knowledge passed down through the generations.

The Traditional Treatment method is labour intensive but requires less cost inputs (material-wise). Basically once bamboo is harvested (minimum age 3 years old bamboo) it is submerged in the rice paddi at the correct time when the paddi is prepared/soft but not yet planted with rice. in a 10 x 10m area (1 Are [10x10m]) we theorise that approximately 500 pieces of bamboo can be submerged for a period of 1 year into the paddi and left for 1 year to ferment/cure.

We are creating an Internships Program and activities around utilising bamboo, all aspects of growing and treatment – from a local perspective – so as to help create an understanding about bamboo and the barriers to its use, and to actually learn first-hand from local carpenters and designers about how to build with it and use it, and at a Community level have these activities inspire knowledge and skills to be retained locally – because it’s at the LOCAL LEVEL that the significant and importance of bamboo really comes into play… After all, what does it matter if a few western people build their houses out of the stuff? That is not, by itself, or by any means going to make the world more sustainable

(and I suppose that most people don’t really care as long as their house looks good and they “look” to be doing the “sustainable” thing… but anyway – What the aim of these courses of action ARE is to empower and integrate the local community, and farmers as well, into the (I was nearly going to say business) world of bamboo… and actually its true. It IS the world of business around bamboo. Because currently the only way locals get to benefit out of it (bamboo) is by being low paid workers – such as is the trend in countries like indonesia that seem to have a very obvious caste/class system which just ASSUMES local people to stay “poor” while the “business people” do all the business. Or you need to come from a rich family and be able to start a business – If you don’t have a house made from cement with a tiled roof you’l have great difficulty in getting a loan from a bank… which makes it very difficult for anyone living “naturally” to be eligible to loan money in the credit system to start a business. Hence why bamboo is seen as “for poor people”.

Our Traditional Treatment Course/program integrated with an online course participation to compliment our Local Farmers program with Astungkara Way here in Bali. Through participating in the online course we are developing, you will gain knowledge in the following areas (selected units from of our Bamboo Internships Program) comprised of:

  1. Traditional Bamboo Knowledge and Treatment – live Video Units as we set up the project (harvesting, site prep, submersion) and interview and document the available information about this potentially game-changing approach to utilising bamboo affordably… and
  2. Building a Bamboo Cottage – which is where you can stay when/if you choose to partake in our Practical Internships Program and do the hands-on experiential side of this learning. The cottages will be built as “home-stays” with families in Bali along the Astungkara Way Trail and in the village of Belege alongside local carpenters in their village – to seed a real Bamboo Learning School.
  3. Video Documentation of our Local farmer program around Harvesting and maintenance of bamboo clumps; Growing/Propagation of Bamboo; Planting Bamboo; Bamboo Silviculture
  4. Property Management Planning – long term development projects, community planning and preparation for sustainable use of bamboo.

The program will run on 3-6 month cycles and you can sign up and buy the video units as they become available – though the online course program will have much more in-depth content and conversations and LIVE interactions as we progress and also include weekly meetings/question and feedback time with us through the design and sourcing and making stages.

Traditional Treatment Online Farmer Program

The desired outcomes for this program are to: 1) enable local farmers to make an economic assessment for using areas of land for traditional bamboo treatment and lower the input costs associated with bamboo treatment – increasing potential of local farmers to gain economically from and contribute to the growth of bamboo as a renewable and sustainable resource for building in tropical and subtropical areas; and, 2) to enable lower-cost sources of sustainable bamboo material to be built with in long-term project planning for sustainable communities worldwide through revivement of traditional knowledge about bamboo. 3) propagate knowledge of practcal aspects of managing and working with bamboo physically.

We look forward to sharing all about this exciting project to make bamboo affordable and accessible to people around the world… from both developing and westernised countries in the hope to bring together cultural/traditional knowledge with the luxury of time/modern planning and organisation to make this a schematic/blueprint for retaining traditional knowledge and also enabling local people in developing countries to benefit fairly from the worldwide cultivation and utilisation of bamboo.

Our hope is that in this way, bamboo can become a culturally unifying medium both in technique And material…. and not just another crop or something to become industrialised and swallowed up in the consumer/capitalist/market system. Yes, everything needs to have a bottom line and be “economically viable”… but how do you put a value on being able to breathe, or the smile of a child? There are things, so many things/experiences we can have when we can open our minds to seeing another way of being and actually Being in the experience of bamboo culturally… as a westerner, personally, it has opened my eyes to living a different way, rethinking my values and being able to enjoy sharing/spending time with others and living a shared experience; it’s changed the way I see goals/progress (for better or worse) and enriched my life experience immeasurably.

We gave an Instagram and Facebook Live in March about what our courses are about (bottom line)… not fancy architecture but making the Majority of people see that bamboo can be utilised and can be more than a “temporary” material – in areas/demographics who currently see bamboo as just for poor people or the very rich… We want to close this gap and enable bamboo to be utilised by the common person, anywhere… and help to plan in these modern times when money is king… and tradition comes second… for bamboo to alleviate and be leveraged practically to become the building material of the 21st Century and beyond! Here’s that Instagram link (my personal account)

I look forward to seeing you join us and help to share this knowledge about making bamboo affordable and accessible. It’s going to take ALL of us to actually step out of the capitalist rut and co-create projects which are actually going to pave a way out of the skewed value system and the very unfair post-colonial contrived global currency climate that is basically what keeps people in developing countries working low-paid to enable “us” westernerd to maintain our unsustainable lifestyles. Time to wake up people and collaborate ourselves way out of this mess.

Thank You for supporting this initiative!

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See details on our full Intenships Program HERE and other PRACTICAL WORKSHOPS offered by Bamboo Creative Bali and our collaborators.

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