Bamboo in Bhutan: Using bamboo instead of wood

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Using bamboo instead of wood in building houses could go well with Bhutan’s policy of sustainable development according to an American architect. “Bamboo can yield 20 times more timber than trees an acre and it can be harvested after every seven years whereas trees take about 30 to 60 years,” said architect David Sands of Bamboo Technologies based in Vietnam. He also said that the use of bamboo was both cost effective and environmental friendly. “In Bhutan, building a masonry house on a 20 square ft. plot of land is approximately Nu. 104,000 Using high quality bamboo can bring down the cost to Nu. 81,000.”

David Sands who made a presentation in Thimphu this week on sustainable bamboo housing said that bamboo plantations were also environmentally friendly as it helped reduce carbon dioxide and generated 30 percent more oxygen than trees.

The director general of Department of Forest (DOF), Dasho Dawa Tshering, said that the department was encouraging the use of bamboo as the demand for timber was increasing every year with more and more development activities, adding that “We fear that this might affect the government’s policy to maintain 60 percent forest cover in the country”.

A lot of young trees are also used to erect prayer flags when there is death and sickness in the family particularly in the districts where bamboo is hard to come by.

The director general said that the department had already initiated large-scale bamboo plantation in the southern region. The Forest Development Corporation Limited (FDCL) officials are to start a 15 hectare bamboo plantation in Samtse by June this year.

During the presentation, the home and cultural affairs minister said that replacing timber with bamboo should not compromise Bhutan’s unique architectural features. According to David Sands, bamboo could replace wood and could still preserve Bhutan architectural heritage.

While bamboo as an alternative to wood seemed feasible in Bhutan, there were many factors to be considered according to forest officials. Bhutan had about 50 different species of bamboo and all of these species could not be used for construction and groundwork was needed on the different species of bamboo that can be actually used for construction”.

In addition, bamboo for construction also needed to be treated or straightened in most cases, which would require high technology machines. Asked whether using bamboo for construction was practical enough considering the state of technology in Bhutan, Dasho Dawa Tshering said that using bamboo for construction was not a new thing especially in the villages and for building low cost houses, there is no requirement for expensive high technology machines.

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