Let’s not leave bamboo behind


Farming is not a get rich quick scheme

It’s time we put bamboo back on the map.

I sat down with Deogracias Victor “DV” Sevillano; former governor of Ilocos Sur, former deputy speaker of the 18th Congress, and current vice chair of the Philippine Bamboo Industry and Development Council (PBIDC) to discuss the lack of interest in what has the potential to be a booming industry.

Sevillano has been vice chair since 2017, with Rene “Butch” Madarang serving as current executive director. “Bamboo was my advocacy, even when I was governor,” Sevillano said, before switching to Taglish. “That was one of [our projects] because it’s simple, doable, and has a purpose. Our farmers and fisherfolk need kawayan, so if you go to the provinces… you’ll see that every household has bamboo in their backyard. That’s where they get… posts for bahay kubo, fisherfolk use them as outriggers [for their boats], and farmers use them for trellises… it has a lot of uses.”

He learned about the PBIDC when he was a congressman, and asked then Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez if the bamboo industry could be revived. The vice chair position was created and Sevillano was sworn in. The PBIDC has an automatic board composed of the DTI secretary as chair and members that include the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), some non-government agencies, and so on. There is no budget allocated to the organization. So many, if not all of its projects, have been funded by Sevillano’s office since he joined. This led current DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual to request that he continue in his capacity as vice chair.

Sevillano has big plans for bamboo, should he be given the opportunity to execute them. “I said it would be a waste if we didn’t do this because we have a new President who is also a member of the PBIDC as the Secretary of Agriculture. Then for the EO (Executive Order) regarding the use of bamboo materials for desks, tables, chairs… there’s the vice president. So I think this is the time to take [the bamboo industry] seriously.”

He added that The Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Roadmap already exists (interested parties can request a copy through the Freedom of Information Philippines website) and all government agencies and interested parties have to do is follow it if they are truly interested in reviving this industry, while being open to changing according to current circumstances, of course.

When asked about the current state of the Philippine bamboo industry, Sevillano had only two words: “Watak-watak (in shambles).”

“There are government programs,” he continued. “The DTI has provided SSF (Shared Service Facilities), the DENR said that 50 percent of its NGP (National Greening Program) will now go to bamboo, and the DA said they declared it as a high value crop. So what’s its status? It’s really in shambles… no direction. So I said our strategy should be that our next meeting be hosted by the secretary of Agriculture so we can present the bamboo economics for the whole industry.”

Bamboo holds huge economic potential. It’s an $80 billion industry in China alone, for example, and according to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Philippines ranks sixth in the world in terms of bamboo exports. “We can increase our production, and at first, we will be addressing so many things: climate change, because it absorbs pollution. Second, livelihood. Third, soil erosion [prevention] can be a project,” Sevillano said, expounding on the third point. “There was a time when the DPWH [had a project] where they planted vetiver grass as a component of their highways. This time, why don’t we add bamboo…? It holds the soil in place.”

The industry should be holistic. “Not just planting… [there’s] processing labong (bamboo shoots), and there’s a need for bamboo poles, so they have to be treated. [These things have to be] community-based.”

He cited a list of industry concerns: that many interested communities lack access to production materials like seedlings; that the National Greening Program only accounts for tree planting in protected areas, with no follow up plan for their care after; and so on.

Bamboo, he believes, can be both an industry resource and an integral part of public spaces. He cited his own project when he was in office, where his district worked with the Department of Labor and Employment’s TUPAD (Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers) program where recipients planted and maintained bamboo parks — public spaces that are now venues for picnics and birthday celebrations.

In the meantime, the PBIDC continues its mission to educate Filipinos on the potential benefits of bamboo, alongside its livelihood and conservation programs. “We inherited bamboo,” Sevillano said. “It’s there whenever we need it… but [we] have to be educated [about its uses].”