National Forest Monitoring

Putting bamboo on the map

There are likely to be far more than 35 million hectares of bamboo around the world.

Bamboo is a ubiquitous sight across many parts of the tropics and subtropics – but until now, it has been difficult to assess exactly how much of it there is.

The fast-growing grass plant can be found in Africa, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas. There are over 1600 known species, with thousands of uses. In 2019, USD 3.054 billion of bamboo products were exported. But while bamboo can be an important part of sustainable development in the Global South, particularly as a tool for poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation, its total spread remains elusive.

According to the latest figures, published in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 (FRA), bamboo covers about 35 million hectares of land across Africa, Asia, and the Americas.  In fact, FRA 2020 reports a 50 per cent increase in bamboo area between 1990 and 2020, largely because of new expansion in China and India.

While impressive, there are several reasons to believe the 35 million hectares is actually an underestimate:

  • Of the 132 countries that reported on bamboo for FRA 2020, only 23, or 17 per cent, reported having bamboo cover. This does not include a number of countries which have previously reported bamboo data, and over 10 million ‘missing’ hectares of bamboo from countries in Asia and Latin America which were reported in FRA 2010.
  • In fact, many countries which do have plentiful bamboo resources did not submit data at all for FRA 2020. The International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) estimates there may be more than 40 countries with significant bamboo resources which are missing from the report, due to a lack of capacity to assess bamboo resources, or a lack of coordination between different government departments.
  • In addition, in a number of countries bamboo statistics should be revised, based on newer or more accurate data. To give an example: in the last few years, INBAR has helped seven countries to conduct bamboo resource assessments. Of these, only one country used this data for FRA 2020; another two provided outdated information, and the rest did not provide data at all.

The lack of information on bamboo cover, species and uses limits the understanding of its’ potential. Without accurate data on bamboo’s availability and applications, policymakers are unlikely to integrate the plant into their strategies for climate change mitigation, or poverty alleviation. Similarly, companies need clear information about bamboo supply before they can begin to integrate the plant into their business plans.

It is this knowledge gap which the FAO, in partnership with INBAR, is aiming to fill.

Starting in 2021, FAO and INBAR are working to improve global reporting on bamboo. The objective is to develop a set of internationally recognised methodologies and technical tools to support bamboo cover, stock and carbon storage assessments.  The overall aim is to improve knowledge about bamboo resources, and build capacity for enhancing their climate change mitigation and livelihood development potential.

FAO and INBAR have identified a number of critical barriers for bamboo resource monitoring, and a step-by-step plan for how to overcome them. Firstly, as bamboo is often inter-mixed with other natural forest types, assessing its total extent can be a challenge. High spatial resolution remote sensing solutions do exist for measuring bamboo forest coverage, but their prohibitive costs can prevent them being more widely used. With INBAR's experience, FAO's extensive work on forest monitoring and the ever-increasing availability of high-resolution satellite data, FAO and INBAR are looking to identify more cost-effective solutions, which can more easily be integrated into countries’ forest monitoring work.

The same goes for carbon stocks: while some types of woody bamboo can be a powerful carbon sink, much depends on the plant’s location, species and management. In addition, existing methodologies for assessing carbon stocks in trees cannot be used for bamboo. FAO and INBAR will encourage the up-take of standard methodologies for assessing bamboo carbon stocks.

Developing standard methodologies and tools are only part of the solution. Training is also needed, to build capacity and technical knowledge in bamboo-rich countries, as well as to ensure that the assessment of bamboo resources becomes a continued and sustained part of an integrated forest monitoring system. Workshops and guidelines should focus on how to conduct bamboo resource assessments, as well as ways to monitor and assess bamboo’s carbon storage potential, and how to integrate bamboo into REDD+ projects, livelihood development programmes and carbon offsetting initiatives.

By supporting improved reporting on global bamboo resources, FAO and INBAR should help bamboo-rich countries in the Global South to realise the full potential of this ‘bank in their backyard’.

FRA 2020 can be accessed here:

For more information about INBAR’s work, visit

This post was originally featured on FAO Forestry: 

(Photo: Bamboo harvesting in Myanmar ©FAO/Marco Piazza)