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Credit: Luis Marden

Land Use


A bamboo forest.

In the Philippine creation story, the first man Malakas (Strong One) and the first woman Maganda (Beautiful One) emerged from the two halves of a bamboo tree. It is one of many Asian origin myths that features bamboo—a plant that human beings have cultivated for more than a thousand uses, from buildings to food to paper.

Addressing global warming is another way it can be brought into service. Bamboo rapidly sequesters carbon in biomass and soil, taking it out of the air faster than almost any other plant, and can thrive on inhospitable degraded lands—the ideal place to put bamboo to work.

Just a grass, bamboo has the compressive strength of concrete and the tensile strength of steel. It reaches its full height in one growing season, at which time it can be harvested for pulp or allowed to grow to maturity over four to eight years. After being cut, bamboo re-sprouts and grows again.

Because bamboo is an invasive species in many places, which can spread with detrimental effects to native ecosystems, care should be taken to select appropriate locations and manage its growth.


Philippine creation story: Rodriguez, Evelyn I.  “Malakas at Maganda.” In Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife, Volume One, edited by Jonathan H.X. Lee and Kathleen M. Nadeau, 386-387. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010.

carbon [sequestered] over a lifetime: Toensmeier, Eric. The Carbon Farming Solution. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016.

top-ten…fastest-growing plants: Conservation Institute. “10 Fastest Growing Trees and Plants in the World.” April 25, 2014.

full height in one growing season: INBAR. Bamboo for Africa: A Strategic Resource to Drive the Continent’s Green Economy. Beijing: International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, 2015.

cultivated on…57 million acres: Toensmeier, Solution.

strength of concrete and…steel: INBAR, Bamboo.

“friend of the people”: Cumo, Christopher. “Bamboo.” In Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia [3 Volumes]: From Acacia to Zinnia, 67-70. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2013.

phytoliths…carbon…remain[s] sequestered: Parr, Jeffrey, Leigh Sullivan, Bihua Chen, Gongfu Ye, and Weipeng Zheng. “Carbon Bio‐Sequestration Within the Phytoliths of Economic Bamboo Species.” Global Change Biology 16, no. 10 (2010): 2661-2667.

pulp [vs.] conventional pine plantation: T. K., Dhamodaran, R. Gnanaharan, and K. Sankara Pillai. “Bamboo for Pulp and Paper.” Kerala Forest Research Institute, 2003.

view all book references

Technical Summary


Project Drawdown defines bamboo as: the large-scale cultivation of bamboo for timber or other biomass uses on degraded land, which sequesters carbon in soils, biomass and long-lived bamboo products. This solution replaces other uses of degraded lands like grassland, cropland, and forest.

Bamboo is a woody member of the grass family that grows rapidly. Bamboo grows in a wide range of environmental conditions, and sequesters carbon at a rate greater than or equal to that of many tree species. Following planting, bamboo matures much faster than trees and sprouts via rhizomes, so it does not require replanting. In fact, harvesting mature culms stimulates the growth of new shoots.

This "friend of the people" has over 1,500 documented uses, including: building materials, paper, furniture, food, fodder, and charcoal. Though there are concerns about the invasive potential of bamboo, it should be noted that there are species natives to Asia, Latin America, North America, and Africa. Many of the best species are clumping types that do not run and flower extremely rarely, making invasion via both roots and seeds very unlikely.

Bamboo is a unique subtype of afforestation worthy of consideration on its own substantial merits.


Total Addressable Market [1]

Current adoption of bamboo [2] is estimated at 37 million hectares, based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2010). The total additional area determined suitable for bamboo is 122 million hectares, and is comprised of degraded forest and grassland in humid climates.

Adoption Scenarios [3]

Impacts of increased adoption of bamboo from 2020-2050 were generated based on three growth scenarios, which were assessed in comparison to a Reference Scenario where the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels. Projected future bamboo adoption was based on historic regional growth rates from FAO (2010), using different custom adoption scenarios.

  • Plausible Scenario: In this scenario, all regions are assumed to grow at Asia’s growth rate, the highest regional rate.
  • Drawdown Scenario: This scenario assumes bamboo adoption on 50 percent of the allocated land.
  • Optimum Scenario This scenario assumes bamboo adoption on 75 percent of the allocated land.

Emissions Model

The sequestration rate of bamboo is 15.4 tons of carbon per hectare per year, based on 13 data points from 11 sources. This value includes carbon sequestered in long-lived bamboo products from harvested bamboo. As the productive lifespan of a bamboo planting is 75-100 years, emissions from replanting are not modeled.

Financial Model

First cost of bamboo is US$1,606.76 per hectare, [4] based on meta-analysis of 11 data points from 6 sources. It is assumed that first costs for the land use that bamboo is replacing have already been paid, as the land is already in production. Net profit margin is $1,006.91 per hectare per year, based on 11 data points from 5 sources. This compares to $407.46 for the conventional practice of annual cropping.

Integration [5]

Drawdown’s Agro-Ecological Zone model allocates current and projected adoption of solutions to the planet’s forest, grassland, rainfed cropland, and irrigated cropland areas. Adoption of bamboo was constrained by our higher prioritization of food production and forest restoration, and was limited to humid climates. Adoption of bamboo was the third-highest priority in degraded forest and the fifth-highest in degraded grassland.


Total adoption in the Plausible Scenario is 48.4 million hectares in 2050, representing 39.6 percent of the total available land. Of this, 9.4 million hectares are adopted from 2020-2050. The impact of this scenario is 7.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2050. Net cost is US$23.8 billion. Net savings is US$264.8 billion.

Total adoption in the Drawdown Scenario is 60.6 million hectares in 2050, representing 49.6 percent of the total available land. Of this, 23.5 million hectares are adopted from 2020-2050. The impact of this scenario is 13.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2050.

Total adoption in the Optimum Scenario is 92.3 million hectares in 2050, representing 75.6 percent of the total available land. Of this, 55.3 million hectares are adopted from 2020-2050. The impact of this scenario is 28.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2050.



While few benchmarks for the global mitigation impact of bamboo are available, it can be considered a form of afforestation. Combining bamboo with our other woody crop solutions afforestation and tropical tree staples, emissions reduction in 2030 is 1.0, 1.9, and 2.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year in Drawdown's three scenarios respectively. This is still somewhat low compared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s estimate of 4.0 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent for 2030 for afforestation, assuming a price of US$100 per ton of carbon dioxide-equivalent (Smith, 2007). This difference is due to Drawdown’s land allocation prioritizing agroforestry and other food-producing, high-carbon-impact land uses. In addition, a price on carbon was not modeled.


The rarity of reported soil sequestration rates in the literature is a key limitation. Our results would also be made more accurate should life cycle analysis of the full bamboo value chain become available.


Bamboo is already cultivated on 37 million hectares, and represents an important high-carbon land use. It produces products of critical importance, and can help reduce pressure on intact forests. It has been somewhat neglected as a mitigation strategy, and it is Drawdown's hope to help bring this multipurpose mitigation solution the attention it deserves.

[1] To learn more about the Total Addressable Market for the Land Use Sector, click the Sector Summary: Land Use link below.

[2] Determining the total available land for a solution is a two-part process. The technical potential is based on the suitability of climate, soils, and slopes, and on degraded or non-degraded status. In the second stage, land is allocated using the Drawdown Agro-Ecological Zone model, based on priorities for each class of land. The total land allocated for each solution is capped at the solution’s maximum adoption in the Optimum Scenario. Thus, in most cases the total available land is less than the technical potential.

[3] To learn more about Project Drawdown’s three growth scenarios, click the Scenarios link below. For information on Land Use Sector-specific scenarios, click the Sector Summary: Land Use link.

[4] All monetary values are presented in US2014$.

[5] For more on Project Drawdown’s Land Use integration model, click the Sector Summary: Land Use link below.

Full models and technical reports coming in late 2017.

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