Bamboo forest plantations reach maturity in 4-6 years and culms can be harvested 2-3 years later; trees typically are harvested after 20 to 50 years or more.
The rhizome mat does not die and decay after the annual or 5-year harvest where as tree roots die, decompose, and release carbon after harvest.
The soil is not exposed to erosion after harvest as happens in clear cutting of trees. The rhizome mat, which continues to live after each harvest, protects the ground from erosion.
Initial planting costs are lower than for trees (Widenoja 2007).
More frequent harvests provide more frequent and quicker income for farmers and large plantation investors.
Over 90% of the biomass is stored in culms and rhizomes (Widenoja 2007).
Bamboo can be harvested by hand or small chain saws, thus less fossil fuel is used than by large machinery to harvest and load trees.
Bamboo forests are typically harvested in a very different manner than tree forests. Bamboo culms are usually harvested 2-4 years after the shoot reaches its full height, which can take just a few months. Sympodial (tropical clumping) species will send up new shoots every year if conditions are adequate—depending on rainfall, temperature, and nutrients. Bamboo can be sustainably harvested yearly or up to every 5 years. In the past, tree forests were typically harvested by clear cutting, which is more economical and provides full sun for a newly reforested tree crop. However, clear-cutting adversely affects the local ecosystem, encourages soil erosion, and dramatically reduces the carbon sequestration rate of the forest. More sustainable tree forest harvesting techniques are gaining acceptance in the USA.
However, bamboo still has a much quicker turn-around time than trees. Trees grown for fuel, paper, and pulp are generally harvested every 7 years (eucalyptus) to 12 years (pine). Trees grown for building lumber are generally harvested between 12 to 50 years (i.e. pine and fir) and teak every 40 to 80 years. In contrast, bamboo is harvested every year after it reaches maturity. Since bamboo has a much quicker turn-around time than trees, the same area planted in bamboo can, over time, produce much more useable biomass than the same area planted in trees. If the biomass is converted into long-term durable goods such as building construction materials, then a hectare of some bamboo species can yield much more stored carbon over time in durable goods than a hectare of many tree species in the same time span.
Although most bamboo resources grow naturally, greater attention has been paid in recent years to the establishment of planted bamboo. Bamboos have long been cultivated in villages and, historically, the rural poor have been the prime users of naturally regenerating bamboo.
Bamboo was rarely planted on forest land and there was little knowledge of bamboo afforestation and reforestation on a large scale. In the last two or three decades, population growth and new bamboo processing opportunities have led to the over-exploitation of existing bamboo resources, leading to stricter regulation and even harvesting bans in some countries. These factors have contributed to the development of bamboo plantations.
Several studies and pilot projects regarding bamboo propagation have been developed, addressing seed and clump propagation and rhizome and culm cuttings. The traditional propagation methods have relatively low costs and do not require skilled labor, but they are not always applicable to large-scale areas. Micro-propagation, currently used primarily in ornamental horticulture, can be applied in large-scale initiatives. Studies are currently underway to transfer this technology to tropical bamboo countries.
Bamboo can grow on marginal land, not suitable for agriculture or forestry, or as an agroforestry crop. It is relatively lightweight because the culms are hollow, and unlike wood it can be easily harvested and transported without specialized equipment or vehicles.
Bamboo requires little attention during its production cycle, can be selectively harvested annually, and needs no replanting after harvesting. As a natural and renewable resource, bamboo offers an opportunity to turn away from the destruction of native forests towards managed commercial plantations that can be selectively harvested annually without the destruction of the grove or stand.
Bamboo is a sustainable cropping system for sloping lands, reducing soil erosion and delivering sustainable farming systems.
Bamboo is suitable for the recovery of degraded lands.
Bamboo reduces rain run-off and downstream flooding and retains water within the watershed. It is an effective erosion control plant and natural control barrier due to its widespread root system.
Bamboo’s rapid growth rate and selective harvesting sequesters up to 12 tons of CO2 per hectare. It releases 35% more oxygen than equivalent areas of trees.
Bamboo may be produced with comparatively low inputs of fertilizer and pesticides (proposed models in this analysis have zero inputs assumed).
Bamboo also helps mitigate water pollution due to its high nitrogen consumption.
In typhoon and hurricane areas, bamboo protects surrounding environment during typhoons due to its height. It's resilient and regenerates even after strong storms.
The wider environmental impacts are primarily driven by the extent to which bamboo products are used as a substitute for hardwood and slow-growing timber. Greater use of bamboo as an alternative to hardwoods should contribute to a slowing in the depletion of tropical forests, with corresponding benefits for bio-diversity, conservation, and carbon sequestration. (Source: New Bamboo Industries and Pro-Poor Impacts: Lessons from China and Potential for Mekong Countries, FAO 2006)