Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Bamboo Management for Livelihood and Conservation by the Yi Ethnic Minority People of Sichuan Province, China

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This case study provides basic information on geographic distribution and commercial use of Bamboo [Bambusoideae] in Sichuan province, China. It also highlights the historical and cultural value behind bamboo in Chinese history. The case study of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake tells us how the bamboo industry contributes to economy recovery for Yi ethic minority, as well as local residents in Sichuan province. As a sustainable alternative to timber, bamboo is significant for reducing global challenges such as alleviating urban development and climate change, achieving sustainable development goals (SDG), as well as reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). From a traditional perspective, bamboo has been used by Yi ethic minority for thousand of years to make traditional handicrafts, hunting tools and cultural architecture. It is a vitally memorable resource to record traditional histories, culture and inherited privileges. From a political perspective, bamboo plays an important role in international diplomacy and co-operation such as Belt and Road Initiative. Overall, bamboo has a broad and brilliant future in sustainability, economy, architecture, and politics.

Introduction:Bamboo emerges as a sustainable alternative of timber.

China is well known as the Kingdom of Bamboo.[1]Bamboo is an economic, environmental and cultural significant plant, it has been regarded as a potential substitute of timber-based products. It will play an important role in green development strategies, climate change adaptation planning and environmental protection policies of all countries in the world.[2] In China, bamboo resource is quite broad and abundant. Most bamboo species grow in tropical and subtropical areas of China, with high moisture and warm temperatures, often swept by monsoons.[2]Bamboo is originally grown in the southeast of China. However, it can be found as far north as 40° latitude in Beijing area.[3]

Moso Bamboo in Sichuan province

There are three main reasons why bamboo can be an environmentally-friendly and economically-efficient alternative to timber: rapid growth period, high yield production and disaster resilience.[4]Firstly, the growth period is only half to two-thirds of ordinary wood, and the output is twice that of ordinary timber production.[2] Bamboo grows rapidly, matures early, and produces high yields. Statistically, bamboo can grow to 20 meters in 3 months, and it can be cut in 4-6 years. The yield per hectare can reach 30 tons per year. [2]Secondly, the strong flexibility of Mao bamboo, invented in 1950, it can grow in different climate environment no matter in cold temperature or high moisture.[3] Lastly, bamboo has a strong resistance to pest and insects, it can greatly reduce the use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides during the cultivation.

Not only for commercial use, bamboo forests also plays a significant role in promoting international cooperation between China and other countries: Firstly, Facilitate the construction of ecological civilization and the "One Belt And One Road. [2]A strategic resource for the green development of the China-Pakistan economic corridor to maintain regional ecological balance.[2] Lastly, it is an important link between China and Africa.[2]

Bamboo Planting History in China

There is a long-term history of bamboo used in China. In ancient China, bamboo use has reflected the wisdom of Chinese people and brilliance of Chinese culture.Not only livelihood use, bamboo is also an important cultural heritage in ancient China. There are many records of bamboo in Tang and Song poetry.[5]The earliest use of bamboo in Chinese history can be dated back to 7000 years ago, as early as the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century B.C),([1]).There are several significant milestones of bamboo cultivation and related technology innovation.

  • In 1949, Forest Resource Department started to expand the area of bamboo cultivation and began the research of bamboo for commercial purpose. [4]
  • In the 1950s, Chinese botany experts succeeded in acclimatizing the Mao bamboo from the Chang Jiang area to the north.[4]
  •  In the early of 1970, Guangdong Forestry Research Institute developed a new hybrid bamboo, Chengma bamboo, its strain has high yield, good quality and strong flexibility. [4]
  • In 1999, Chinese government launched ecological engineering ‘Grain for Green Program’(GFGP). The goal of the program is to reduce soil erosion and increase vegetation coverage.[6] Bamboos play an important role in GFGP.
  • In 2002,The Chinese academy of forestry has established a bamboo garden in Sichuan province and Zhejiang province to preserve 100 precious bamboo species[4]
    Geographic location of Liangshan prefecture in China

Geographic Advantage of Bamboo Planting in Sichuan

Location:Sichuan is located in the southwest of China, Sichuan basin is located in the middle reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, consisting of low hills and alluvial plains.[7] And the Sichuan basin is unique terrain where is an advantaged place with optimum moisture and soil to plant bamboo.[7]According to research conducted in 2016, there are 3 dominating species in Sichuan province, accounting for over 84% of bamboo plantation: Bambusa rigida (40.39%), Phyllostachys pubescens (33.00%),Pleioblastus amarus (10.81%).

Climate:The climate of Sichuan province is subtropical with cool, cloudy winters and very warm, hazy summers. Temperatures in the Sichuan Basin are mild with very warm summers (26 to 29°C) and cool winters (5 to 8°C)[7]Sichuan basin is an extremely fertile and productive agricultural area,it includes large areas of red sandstone and purple shale that form fertile agricultural soil.[7]

Population: Currently, Sichuan Basin is one of the most overpopulated agricultural areas all over the world, more than 380 persons per square kilometer. [7]Chengdu and Chongqing are two metropolitan cities in Sichuan basin with extremely high population density, each city contains more than 8 million residents.[7]

Tourism:Because of religious reasons, the holy Emei Mountain never experienced human interruption or deforestation, it is one of the best places in China to see subtropical forests and associated animal species.The picture shows Leshan Buddha, a spectacular scenic spot in Ermeishan Mountain, located in the east of the mountain and at the confluence of Minjiang River, Dadu River and Qingyi River.[8] In 1996, Leshan Giant Buddha is included as “World Natural and Cultural Heritage.”[8]

Leshan Buddha, a scenic spot in Ermeishan Mountain

Challenges:There are three main current challenges of Sichuan basin: 1.The environmental degradation caused by thousands years of agriculture, centuries of commerce, and decades of heavy industry,[7] there are only mineral aboriginal forests remain on the inaccessible hillsides of Sichuan basin. 2.The immigration of younger generation and skilled workers 3.The frequency of natural disasters such as Earthquake and rainstorm.

Profile of Yi Ethic Minority

Yi Ethic Minority in Sichuan: Tradition, History, Customs

Traditonal costume of Yi ethic minority in Sichuan Province

Yi ethic minority, as known as Nuosuo or Nuosu, is the one of the biggest 55 ethic minority groups in China. [9]Their population is approximately 8.7 million in China. According to the Chinese Sixth National census in 2010, the population of Yi ethic minority was 8714,393. [9]They live in southwestern of China, both in mountains and river alleys. Their main population areas are in Sichuan and Yunnan province.[9] More accurately, there are 2.5 million of Yi ethic minority live in the southern of Sichuan province. Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, has the largest concentration of Yi ethic minority groups.[9] It is the best place to experience their traditional culture, landscape architecture, and agricultural cultivation.Bamboo is a significant source of food, economy and environment for Yi ethic minority: bamboo adds aesthetic value for their landscape architecture, contributes spiritual value to their traditional culture, improves nutritional value for their food security.

Yi Food culture:

Sour and spicy are their favorite food tastes because of moist climate in Sichuan province. [9]Bamboo root, potatoes, and corn are the main food resource. [9]From their traditional culture, horses, snakes and frogs are forbidden for food because of religious reason.[9] Food resource for Yi ethic minority is overall limited and unstable,especially for poor small farmers and herders from western Sichuan Province.[3] Food security exists “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” [10]No matter for Indigenous People in Canada, or Ethic Minority in China, food security issues are still an essential concern. Bamboo forest and related food products significantly contribute to four dimension of food security to Yi ethic minority groups in Sichuan province: food availability, access to food, food utilization and food security.[3]

Yi Architecture:

Bamboo-based architecture in Sichuan Province

Bamboo plays an important role in their architecture and daily lives for Yi ethic minority.They live in bamboo houses, eat bamboo shoots, wear bamboo hats and shoes, cook food in utensils made of bamboo and walk over bamboo bridges or cross rivers on bamboo rafts, and farm with bamboo tools.[11]As the significance of cedar tree to Nuu-chat-nulth first nation, [12]bamboo is also part of cultural and spiritual heritage of Yi ethic minority in Sichuan province. Historically, bamboo has been used as house material in southern Yi ethic minority regions.As cedar tree is called “ Tree of life” for Musqueam First Nation in Canada,[12]Bamboo is treated as “Roots of Ancestor” for Yi ethic minority in Sichuan province.[13]

Yi Religion:

The religious belief of the Yi ethnic minority is still in the stage of primitive religion.[13]It is similar with First Nation religion in Canada. Nature worship, totem culture, ancestor worship and animism are widespread in the society. [13]The Torch Festival is a traditional festival for the Yi ethnic group,[9] their ancestor believed that fire can drive the evil away, help their crop growing and protect their villages.In some village of Sichuan province, it is a tradition for the elderly to pass down their farming experience to the younger generation during the festival. [9]Since 1978, Chinese Reform and Opening-up Policy , Christianity and Catholicism have also been introduced into the Yi minority areas.[13]

Bamboo Management for Livelihood and Conservation

There are 6 main Global benefits and opportunities for bamboo industry development : 1.Green architecture and infrastructure 2.Sustainable consumption and production 3. Improve people's livelihood. 4. Provide ecosystem services 5. Reduce the speed of climate change 6.Promote gender equality in forestry industry.

Ecosystem services of Bamboo in Sichuan province

Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains

Bamboo forest can provide ecological services in water conservation, soil fertility maintenance, land rehabilitation and carbon sequestration.Studies by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) have shown that cropland restored by bamboo reduces water loss by 25 percent and soil erosion by 80 percent.[2]In the next 30 years, bamboo forestry and bamboo products can reduce carbon dioxide emissions of 7 billion tons, which equals to the contribution of 300 million electric cars to CO2 emissions reduction.[2]

Bamboo Products as a replacement for Plastic Products in our lives

Bamboo is significant in maintaining biodiversity in valley areas of Sichuan province such as Emei Mountain,Liangshan. It is an important component of biodiversity ecosystems. Many endangered species are highly dependent on bamboo in Sichuan province, including giant pandas, red pandas, mountain gorillas and lemurs. [2]Panda is treated as a national treasure in China. In 2006, Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries was list as world natural heritage.[14]Bamboo forest is their favorite food resource for panda, Giant Panda Sanctuaries, where is homeland to 30% of world population of highly endangered panda.[15]It covers 924,500 hectares with seven natural reserves and nine scenic parks.[15] It also provides habitat for their regeneration.Therefore, bamboo not only increases food security for humans --Yi ethic minority, but also contributes to food resource of endangered animals--Giant Panda. Bamboo can alleviate the pressure of other forest resources, which is particularly important in rural and remote concentration area of Yi ethnic minority, where the main reason of forest degradation and deforestation is extracting excessive firewood from forest.[2]

Commercial Use of Bamboo in Sichuan Province

The commercial use of bamboo in Sichuan province has been increasing for the past 30 years, it solely used as firewood or building material in some remote area of Sichuan Province, it currently used as aesthetic furniture, plywood and other commercial products.[2]Firstly, bamboo can be used as landscape architecture purpose, green and breath-taking bamboo adds beauty and aesthetic value to villages, scenic spots and historical sites. However, the utilization rate of bamboo as a green building material in China is substantially lower than other countries, there are approximately 5.38 million hectares of  bamboo forest area in China with low utilization rate.[16]

Secondly, bamboo-related papermaking industry greatly benefits Yi ethic minority in Sichuan province.[16]It substantially increased the economic income and livelihood of Yi ethic minority groups, as well as local residents.For example, In 2018, bamboo industry in Sichuan province had an annual output value of nearly 35 billion US dollars and employed more than 8 million people.[16]

Thirdly, bamboo has been recognized as a green, aesthetic and environmentally-friendly material in furniture.Recycled bamboo products is a potential solution for global plastic pollution, environmental bamboo products can replace disposable plastic products such as tableware, tea sets, paper and packaging. Replacing steel with bamboo will be a huge innovative and environmental development. In order to expand commercial use of bamboo, the physical experts in China are studying the mechanical properties of bamboo. It can be clearly seen from the Chart I, the mechanical density of bamboo is 0.789. Bamboo flooring is 34% harder than white oak and 2.5 times more stable than commonly used wood flooring.[17]Last but not least, gender inequality is a controversial issue in forestry industry all over the world. Bamboo industry can also promote gender equality. Compared with timber, bamboo is easy to carry , it gives women an opportunity to participate in primary processing and increases their added value. Overall,It is definitely a practical option with strong environmental and economic benefits to replace timber with bamboo.

Chart I. Mao bamboo and other wood species Mechanical Strength Comparison

A Devastating Earthquake in Sichuan Province

Impact of earthquake in sichuan province 2018

On 12 May 2018, a devastating earthquake occurred in Sichuan province with 7.9 magnitude, [18]it was an unprecedented disaster for Yi ethic minority and local residents in Sichuan province.It caused 69,277 deaths, 374,643 injuries, and 17,923 missing people.[18]From a financial perspective, over one million villagers lost their agriculture-dependent incomes, the direct income loss accounted for RMB 850 billion.[19]This earthquake heavily destroyed natural ecosystem and urban architecture in Sichuan province, food security became an emergency for Yi ethic minority in some remote areas of Sichuan province.

China Sustainable Bamboo Enterprise Programme, which ran from 2009 to 2017.[19]The program aimed to create sustainable development models through an emergent bamboo industry, as well as alleviated livelihood issues faced by local residents and  ethic minority, post-disaster.[19]On the other hand, it also helped meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as well as REDD+.This program also promoted bamboo industry linkages between Zhejiang and Sichuan Provinces. After five years’ work, the growth of community-based bamboo SMEs has leveraged a whole production chain, from bamboo forest resource cultivation, to harvesting, and primary processing, semi processing, end-products processing and marketing[19].The integrated chains of Bamboo production industry brought employment opportunities to local residents and Yi ethic minority, it also helped technical upgrading and innovation.The average annual income for the participants has increased by over 30%.[19]

Table 2. Affected stakeholder and interested stakeholder involvement of 2018 Sichuan Earthquake
Affected stakeholder Yi Ethic Minority Local Residents Weichuan Municipal Government
Rationale Mental and emotional connection with their traditional land they lost their agriculture-dependent incomes, the direct income loss accounted for RMB 850 billion.[19] reduced the revenue income of Sichuan provincial government, it also destroyed the infrastructure, building, and natural forest of city.
Interested stakeholder Central Government of People’s Republic of China United Nations of Food and Agriculture Organization:UNFAO, UNESCO. International Environmental Organization :WWF IBRO,INFOR, CIFOR
Rationale launched the partner assistance policy for


$20 million dollars for earthquake relief and recovery[20] NGO :Sustainable Bamboo Enterprise Program to help reestablish the local economy and create job opportunities

Different Stakeholder Involvement

Affected Stakeholder

Yi ethic minority: their long-term welfare is likely to be dependent on bamboo forest and agricultural production. Moreover, they also had mental and emotional connection with their traditional land. Local residents: they lost their agriculture-dependent incomes, the direct income loss accounted for RMB 850 billion. [19]The Provincial government of Sichuan and the Municipal Government of Weichua : the devastating earthquake directly reduced the revenue income of Sichuan provincial government, it also destroyed the infrastructure, building, and natural forest of city.

Interested Stakeholder

Central Government of China: after earthquake, the Central Government of People’s Republic of China launched the partner assistance policy, which aimed to help ethic minority in Sichuan province to re-construct their hometown.

United Nations of Food and Agriculture: it donated $20 million dollars for earthquake relief and recovery.[20] UN had assisted the Government in education, health, nutrition, clean water, sanitation, psycho and social support, child protection, HIV/AIDS and social policies for children.[20]There is no long-term dependency of UNFAO with bamboo forest in Sichuan province.

Environmental NGO: International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (IBRO) launched Sustainable Bamboo Enterprise Program to help reestablish the local economy and create job opportunities for local residents.


Comparison Co-management in India and China.

It has been learned from Case study Cooperative Forest Societies CFS, Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India.The tenure rights can be divided into four categories:operational level rights,collective choice rights,duration of rights, as well as rights to compensation.[21]As for Co-management Bamboo Forest in Sichuan Province,China, Yi ethic minority solely has operational level rights to access and withdraw from forest. The collective level rights are owned by the Sichuan provincial government.As for Cooperative Forest Societies in Kangra,CFS had both operational level rights and collective choice rights.[21]In terms of legislative protection,1878 Forest Act declared most forests are protected in Kangra Valley, which means customary rights had been registered[21].However, there is no legal title of Yi Ethic minority’s land in Sichuan province. As for joint-ownership, co-management bamboo body needs to pay provincial tax to Sichuan Provincial Government. In India, Haq Chuharram defines as one-quarter of income from tree sales in the forest should be paid to the co-proprietary body representing the land owner of the village, it was approved in 1859 for forest conservancy in Kangra.[21]

Table 3. Tenure Rights Comparison between Bamboo forest in Sichuan province VS Cooperative Forest Societies in Kangra Valley, India.

Tenures Rights

Legislative Protection

Criminazation of customary behaviour

Indigeneous Title : traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory

Joint ownership Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)

Co-management Bamboo Forest in Sichuan Province,China

Only Operational level rights

No Collective choice rights

No legal justification for customary right of Yi ethic minority No. No customary right or indigenous title for ethic minority. co-management bamboo body needs to pay provincial tax to Sichuan Provincial Government. Public participation through representatives of People's conference.
Cooperative Forest Societies CFS, Kangra Valley,India Both Operational level rights and Collective choice rights: Management,Exclusion,Alienation Rights. 1871 Indian Forest Act-Legal basis of Forest Management,

1878 Forest Act-customary rights registered.[21]

Yes 1878 Forest Act declared, customary rights had been registered.[21] Haq Chuharram :one-quarter of income from tree sales in the forest should be paid to the co-proprietary body representing the land owner of the village[21]. Good negotiations.

Bottom up participation and consultation

Recommendation:Co-management of Bamboo Forest

“Forests are not only geophysical, but also are political.”[21]Not only economic benefits bamboo contributes to Yi ethic minority, it also plays an important role in international diplomacy and co-operation.Although there is no customary-claimed bamboo forest in China, all of land are owned by the Central Government of People’s Republic of China. Yi ethic minority has been living in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture for thousands of years, there is no legal justification to prove it is a traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of Yi ethic minority.In Canada, indigenous titles have been gradually justified through legal conventions such as ILO conventions 107 of 1957 and C189 of 1989.[22]In China, the rights of Yi ethic minority has not been fully recognized and justified yet.As for property rights of bamboo forest, Yi ethic minority solely has operational level rights, which means they can only access bamboo forest and withdrawal related products from bamboo forest. There is no collective choice right such management rights,exclusion rights and alienation rights.[23]From a long term perspective, Cooperative Bamboo Management Societies should be established between Yi ethic minority and the Sichuan Provincial Government. As the importance of indigenous consultation and public participation, the Consultation of Ethic Minority is also necessary before launching a land-based program in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture. The duration of rights, as well as rights to compensation should be taken into consideration for Co-Management of Bamboo Forest in Sichuan province. As a country of 56 ethics, respecting cultural diversity and uniqueness is incredibly significant for national unity in China. There is still a long way to go to improve policies and laws to protect the rights of Chinese ethic minorities.


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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Yichen Wu. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.