Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

The international network for bamboo and rattan

History of INBAR
Network organization
Socio-economic research

Brian Belcher
Principal Economist
International Network for Bamboo and Rattan


Bamboo and rattan are arguably the most important non-timber forest products in Asia. The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is a global network which has been established to support and help coordinate research and development based on these important plants. This paper presents a brief history of the network and provides an overview of the current organization and activities. It also gives details of the socioeconomic programme of INBAR.

History of INBAR

INBAR is a relatively new network, just over one year old, but it has its roots in more than a decade of bamboo and rattan research in Asia. The network was created by the forestry interests in Asia, with support from Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). INBAR is administered by IDRC from its New Delhi Office.

Bamboo and rattan have very high value in a range of applications, both as fiber and as food. Furthermore, for many reasons, they are often particularly important to poor and disadvantaged people. Recognizing this importance, and the great untapped potential, IDRC began supporting research on bamboo and rattan utilization and development in the early 1980s at several universities and governmental and non-governmental research agencies in the region. Other international and donor agencies began to provide technical assistance in the area as well. Those early projects, and the researchers involved, soon began to collaborate, sharing information and materials. Several international workshops were held, at which researchers had the opportunity to meet one another and to work together to set research priorities. An informal network was born, and over the years, with IDRC support, it became more and more formalised.

After more than a decade, an evaluation of the ongoing work reaffirmed the importance of bamboo and rattan in Asia and globally. Some estimates put the total market value of these two commodities in the order of US$ 14 billion! Millions of people depend on these commodities to a significant degree for their livelihoods. The evaluation also identified the urgent need for more coordination in research on these commodities. On the basis of ever increasing demands for raw materials, increasing population levels, overexploitation of the resources, and deforestation, and recognizing potential benefits of increased investment in research, IDRC convened a meeting of interested donors in May of 1990. This meeting recognised the substantial benefits to large and small industries and to poor people, as well as the role these resources might play in the conservation of tropical forests, and noted the need for more strategic research. Several donors agreed to support a study team to review and synthesise past and current research, to identify strategic research gaps, and to make recommendations for the future.

The study team recommended the formation of an international network to extend existing research activities, broaden their scope, and act as a focus to draw together funding into a coordinated global network. The recommendations were shared with national programme leaders in Asia, and with donors, and support was garnered for the formal establishment of INBAR in 1993.

Network organization

INBAR's general objective is to alleviate poverty through the sustainable utilization of bamboo and rattan resources. To achieve this, INBAR works to: identify, support, and coordinate interactive research on bamboo and rattan according to priorities set by national programmes; build skills and enhance capacity of national research and development institutions; strengthen national, regional, and international coordination, cooperation, and collaboration.

The network has a research advisory group (the RAG), made up of senior directors and managers of forestry research from the Asia region, which advises on strategic and policy directions for the network. The research programmes are guided by five working groups of national programme scientists in the following areas:

· Socio-Economics
· Production Research
· Post Harvest Technology
· Information, Training, and Technology Transfer
· Biodiversity and Genetic Conservation

The first four programme areas are supported out of INBAR's core budget. The fifth programme area is funded by the Government of Japan through the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). A joint INBAR/IPGRI working group has been established and work is underway.

The working groups have the responsibility to set out research priorities in their programme area, and to review and comment on research proposals according to the appropriate criteria. Research is executed by national programmes, government research agencies and universities. There is also increasing involvement by the NGO community. INBAR provides financial and technical support, but the network depends on strong in-kind support to research by the national programmes.

Emphasis is given to inter-country collaboration in INBAR-supported research. For example, a joint programme of Agroforestry Trials for Bamboo on Degraded Lands is currently underway in India, Thailand and China. In other approaches to collaboration, different research groups take on research components according to their respective strengths. A third model of collaboration is being used in the socio-economics research programme, where a series of studies conducted in several countries will support the development and improvement of a conceptual model.

A large number of activities have been initiated in each of the programme areas, and several have already been completed. INBAR currently has two series of publications-the "Technical Series" and the "Working Paper Series" - and a quarterly newsletter. A list of publications, and the publications themselves, are available from the INBAR Secretariat.

Socio-economic research

INBAR's primary objective is to alleviate poverty through the sustainable utilization of bamboo and rattan resources. There is widespread agreement that to achieve development we need to create employment and income generating opportunities. Essentially, rural poverty is more a problem of who has money to buy food than it is of total food availability. In an increasingly market-oriented, cash-based world, people need access to cash income. The bamboo and rattan sectors provide great opportunities for increasing employment and income, particularly within small and medium-scale enterprises.

Successful development of these kinds of opportunities depends on much more than overcoming technical constraints. Development interventions must be targeted to suit the needs and opportunities of the target groups. Poor people must be able and willing to take advantage of improved technology. Whenever, some aspect of the bamboo or rattan industry is identified as an entry point for development, the whole system must be considered and all important problems must be identified, whether they be technical, social, political or economic. Furthermore, major trends or changes in the production-to-consumption-system must be taken into account.

The review of past bamboo and rattan research noted a very important gap in our understanding of the social and economic aspects of the bamboo and rattan sectors, and recommended more attention be given to this important area. IFAD agreed, and is providing support for socio-economics research. Among other things, it is hoped that the socio-economics research will help to identify opportunities for IFAD investment activities.

The Socio-Economics Working Group (SEWG) met for the first time in August of 1994, hosted by the Faculty of Forestry of Kasetsart University in Bangkok. That meeting identified the main client groups for socio economics research as: 1) poor and disadvantaged people involved in the bamboo and rattan sector; 2) donors and multilateral development banks; 3) governments; 4) NGOs and community-based development groups; 5) researchers; and 6) the private sector, including foreign investors. It is intended that the socio-economics research programme of INBAR will provide strategic information and analysis useful for each of these client groups.

The socio-economics programme of INBAR has three main objectives:

1. to provide a basis for development/ investment addressing the needs of people involved in the bamboo and rattan sector;
2. to provide an analysis of policy and institutional issues with a bearing on the sector; and
3. to contribute to the development of methodologies and approaches for this kind of work.

The programme is made up of a number of individual research projects falling into two principal areas. The first is a series of small projects which are collating available information on the economic, policy, institutional, and social aspects of the bamboo and/or rattan sectors in several Asian countries. Research has begun in the Philippines, China, Indonesia, India, Nepal, and Thailand. Similar activities are in the exploratory phase in several other Asian countries. The resulting information will be merged into a single database. This collaboration will result in the first estimate of the size of the bamboo and rattan sectors in the region. Where possible, time-series are being assembled to give an indication of trends. It will also provide a state-of-the-art report on qualitative aspects of the sectors.

The second area is a series of case studies designed to satisfy two principal objectives. First, they should identify constraints and opportunities for sustainable development within particular rattan and bamboo production-to-consumption systems, and recommend appropriate interventions. Some of these recommendations are likely to be for research to tackle technical problems, or for the transfer of existing knowledge. These can be referred back to the appropriate working groups within INBAR (Production, Post-Harvest, Genetic Resources, Information). Others will aim to overcome resource constraints, either through institutional mechanisms (e.g., credit, market development) or through improving delivery systems (e.g., nursery development). Still others will aim to improve incentives for particular courses of action through policy reforms, and targeted rural development projects of the kind IFAD undertakes.

The second objective of the studies will be to provide an empirical basis for the development and refinement of frameworks for analyzing NTFP production-to-consumption systems. The bamboo and the rattan sectors are characterised by a wide range of production, processing and marketing systems. These systems use numerous species and produce many types of final products. Within the various "production-to-consumption systems" there is great potential for improvements which could contribute to sustainable increases in the welfare of resource-poor people. However, achieving this objective will require a thorough understanding of very complex social, economic and policy contexts.

Clearly, each system is unique, with a complex set of socio-economic and technical parameters governing the way resources are used and the way benefits are distributed. Still, there are also many common elements. By developing a framework we hope to facilitate comparisons of one system with another. Research can describe different production-to-consumption systems, identify opportunities and constraints in their development, and prescribe development interventions. As an empirical basis is developed, it will become easier to identify "typical" production-to-consumption systems, and the constraints and opportunities common to them. As development projects are undertaken which address some of these constraints, the results can be compared in a systematic way.

In order to understand the range of systems, four case studies each on bamboo and on rattan production-to-consumption systems are being supported by INBAR. Cases have been selected to represent various levels of management intensity at the raw material production stage. Examples of extractive-based systems through to plantation-based system, with several intermediate situations, are being studied. The studies are tracing the flow of material through the various processes and transactions to the ultimate consumer. Stakeholders at each stage are being identified. The studied will describe as fully as possible the social and economic factors which make up the "decision-making environment" (i.e., the factors that affect the way people use their resources). With improved understanding in this area it will be easier to know what kind of development interventions (technical, policy, institutional, investment, etc.) are needed to benefit target groups in a sustainable way. The studies will also help to show where further research is required. Information generated in this way will increasingly shape the research agenda within INBAR and will help ensure the relevance of technical research.

Research is being undertaken in China, Thailand, India and Nepal on bamboo-based systems, and in Indonesia, India, and the Philippines on rattan-based systems. In each, there is an emphasis on a multidisciplinary team approach. Some involve NGO partners.


INBAR is meant to serve the needs of people interested in sustainable development based on bamboo and rattan resources. The organization hopes to achieve that goal through information sharing and collaboration. INBAR can offer technical support, financial support for strategically important work, and a forum for exchange among people working in the field. Membership in INBAR is open to anyone with an interest in bamboo or rattan. The network is eager to expand its range of contacts and collaboration.

Bamboo is a major NWFP in every part of Asia and the Pacific.

INBAR supports research on production, post-harvest technology, genetic resources, and the socioeconomic aspects of bamboo and rattan.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page