Finally I have been able to invest some time into visiting and exploring some of the existing bamboo related operations in costal Ecuador. With some help of INBAR (International Bamboo and Ratan Org) and also directly via Social Media, I was able to get some good contacts. So Sunday 7th of July 2019 I started this endeavor into unknown places. 🙂 We could also call this blog article “La Ruta del Bambu en la Costa de Ecuador” … in English: “The bamboo Road in Coastal Ecuador”. The goal of this is to bring some insights and inspiration for all other people who care about true regenerative solutions for our near future. If you also like to get some more detail raw data about the current state of bamboo in Ecuador I recommend you to download this PDF – Ecuador: Estrategia Nacional del Bambú 2018-2022.
Starting in the capital of Ecuador, Quito.
First planned stop was Central del Bambú Andoas (CENBA). Located in a small town, Andoas in Pedro Vicente Maldonado, a few hours away from Quito in a all-ready rather subtropical climate. This bamboo operation was initially funded with USD 200’000 by the Ministerio de Industrias y Productividad (MIPRO). Its is located in the province of Pichincha.
Now CENBA has a interesting background. It was created back in the time when there was enough rainforest which could be harvested and processed into whatever could be sold. Now a few years ago well they ran out of timber. There is less and less rainforest which is accesible and can be harvested making profit. Its not only in the coastal region of Ecuador its the same situation in the amazon region of Ecuador. Anyway so the local municipality decided to focus on bamboo.
And because of this decision, lots of giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper) was planted in this region. It does grow very well. Currently, in the northwest of Quito area there are a more than 1000 hectares of giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper)!
But being a state organization, CENBA has not yet been able to create a business with the bamboo operation, yet.
Never-less they have a impressive operation which I was able to visit and take photos of. The bamboo operation is complete from receiving harvested giant bamboo timber, industrial preservation, to different added value products. Such as furniture and also different types of bamboo lumber build from giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper). The Dendrocalamus asper is endemic to Asia but has adapted very will to this humid climate. Its the fastest growing plant on the planet. Beside its use for timber and construction the young shoots are edible.
The preservation of the giant bamboo was made with Borax and Boric Acid. I’v been told that the best output has been cooking the liquid with the bamboo. This makes the process faster.
The operation has all needed industrial machines on location. They are producing impressing bamboo lumber. Plain pressed and side pressed.
Twice a year, CENBA workshops are given to the inhabitants of the sector, on the use of bamboo, with the respective techniques for making furniture and crafts. In the last 4 years that the Center works with bamboo, around 700 people have been trained in a total of 22 workshops. CENBA has been working since 1988 and since 2014 is working 100% with bamboo.
Further informations: Ecuador cuenta con el único centro de procesamiento de bambú en Latinoamérica email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Nu Tenka Pa’ Ki” Demonstrative Bamboo Farm
Next stop – the city of Santo Domingo de los Colorados a few hours away of the first stop. This demonstrative bamboo farm is called “Nu Tenka Pa’ Ki”. Its located about 30km outside of the city of Santo Domingo. Its on the main road. The total area is 31.74 hectares. This bamboo operation has one of the most impressive bamboo structures in size and finish of all Ecuador. There are 3 bigger bamboo structures. One was build after the other so one can analyze and see different solutions and improvements over time. At this demonstrative bamboo “farm” they host bamboo workshops. It is managed by the Provincial Government of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas. Total funded amount is USD 1’558’809.-
Obviously the most impressive part of this visit where the 3 huge bamboo structures. I had never seen such massive bamboo structures in real life before. Currently the construction cost are slightly higher than with common construction materials such as steel and reinforced concrete. This is probably because its not yet common to build in bamboo. Even more its still seen locally as the building solution for rural low income population. The last decades there has been lots of propaganda that every citizen should have a “real” brick house. So there is plenty of reparation work here. Still this demonstrative bamboo farm and the existence of the 3 bamboo structure shows there is again some mayor interest in alternative and regenerative bamboo constructions. Which is absolutely why I had to visit this place.
Similar to CENBA they have prepared the place for Bamboo treatment with Borax and Boric Acid. The difference is that they have build some huge concrete pools within the floor of the bamboo structure as you can see in the photos. They have the ability to heat up the liquid to speed up the bamboo treatment too. The difference from CENBA and “Nu Tenka Pa’ Ki” is the base material. Which in this case is Guadua angustifolia and not the giant bamboo.
The Guadua angustifolia is the endemic bamboo to South America. Supposingly when Christopher Columbus first looked at the coast of South America through his monocular he literally saw “giant grass”. Which most likely was Guadua angustifolia commonly known as Bamboo. Which he most likely didnt know about back then. Thus Christopher Columbus said – “If the grass is so huge most likely the people are giants too…” There may be some truth in this regarding the giants. In Ecuador several large skeletons have been recently found near Peruvian border (source more here).
Also the output in this bamboo operation is more of a educational one and not focused on added value products. There are a few bamboo furnitures which lay around but they have been build for educational purposes within bamboo workshops. During my visit there where something like 2 entire school classes who arrived at the location for a ongoing workshop. The “Nu Tenka Pa’ Ki” demonstrative bamboo farm is managed by the regional government.
Next stop Pedernales visiting the bamboo collection of Juan Carlos Salazar, Guambu. Actually he not only has bamboo but also lots of producing fruit trees! Juan Carlos Salazar is one of the people I have meet which has a very strong knowledge about the Bamboo plants. This is not so common in Ecuador and normally there is only some superficial knowledge.
So I was really glad to get to know him and visit his bamboo collection on the farm near Jama not so far from Pedernales. Now Juan Carlos is also one of the very first in Ecuador to sell Bamboo Shoots stored in a glass with water and vinegar. Juan Carlos Salazar Guambu is a true renewable entrepreneur focusing on bamboo with his start-up.
Guambu has a specialized nursery with currently a variety of 50 bamboo species and about 100 tropical fruit trees.
Further informations: facebook.com/guambu78/ and WhatsApp 0994482278
Regeneration Field Institute
From Pedernales I traveled to Bahia de Caraquez which is located in the Province of Manabí. The city was founded on the sea, settled permanently in the current bay back in the days in March 1628. It still has some colonial look even after the last earthquake. In Bahia I met Lucas Oshun and Raisa Torres. Together we drove to the town of Chone where the Regeneration Field Institute farm is located. Lucas and Raisa have been active in the region building with bamboo since the last big earthquake. At the farm they hold trainings for international students and local builders in how to construct with caña guadua.
The farm house is a very unique bamboo building of two stories build in Guadua angustifolia and wooden floors. The roof is different than most local constructions. Its build with polyester tar paper torched down on top of caña picada and then traditional shingles on top of that. So from within looking to the roof you will only see Guadua which is definitively much sexier than the common metal or plastic roof-look. The ground floor is for meetings and the kitchen as well as a research lab. The top floors are rooms for sleeping. I’v spotted a few nice bamboo furniture on location. Near the main structure they are currently building another guest house. Structure is in Guadua and the wall are with cement. Which is indeed a good option IMHO. The floor of the guest house is also guadua and then about 5cm of cement on top.
If you like bamboo structures this is definitively a construction you should visit too. The Regeneration Field Institute Bamboo building was build by Ecuadorian Architect Robinson Vega from the Universidad Católica de Guayaquil. They are also building within the region small bamboo bus stations.
Further information: RegenerationfFieldInstitute.com
Mercado de Pescado de Manta
After Chone I headed to the coastal city of Manta and visited the local fishmarket “Playita Mía” at the beach. “Playita Mía de Tarqui” is a association, dedicated to seafood sales.
Now this was quite a surprise. I did not expect to find it. But I did. Its not a complex bamboo structure but still highly functional and huge. The structure is like a L from above. The roof is plastic fake tiles which is one of the cheapest and lightest options I believe. And yes there was plenty of fresh seafood. This bamboo structure was build in 2010 and they have space for 76 single seafood selling points.
Further information: Go to Manta and visit the “Playita Mía de Tarqui” mercado de marisco.
El Centro de Diseño de bambú (ICDF)
The Dos Mangas village is not so far from the well known coastal party town of Ecuador: Montañita. Its located in the Santa Elena Peninsula. There is even a Airport in Montañita for the very wealthy people of Guayaquil and Quito who have mansions in this area.
Here I was shown around by Architect Riccardo Mondello. Now this bamboo center was sponsored by the International Cooperation and Development Fund from Taiwan. Total funded amount was USD 1’500.000 during the initial 3 years. Most likely with some Foreign Publics political interest. Of Ecuador officially regarding Taiwan like a own state… So politics aside. The bamboo operation is very well equipped they have similar bamboo machinery like CENBA and EcoMateriales. They could produce added value products as seen on some photos. Currently this is not possible due to some local political situations. Never-less Riccardo has shared some business ideas with good potential IMHO regarding added value bamboo products.
One of the challenges in Latin America for bamboo products is that the asian bamboo products are normally always much cheaper in production and much more advances technologically. Currently in Ecuador all bamboo operations still focus on producing bamboo pressed panels. Plain pressed and side pressed. Meanwhile in Asia they have started making pulp-fiber out of the bamboo and pressing it into whatever form. It can be bamboo-timber for industrial frame or bamboo tubes made with bamboo fiber. Time will tell regarding added value bamboo products. But with bamboo its not only about that. There is food, there is the environmental improvement with bamboo plantations. There is just so much potential that focusing only on just one or a few thing seems just not extremely rudimentary. Check out some potential of bamboo in this older article here.
It was interesting to learn that the region of Dos Mangas is endemic to the Guadua angustifolia MANSA. This is the less known Guadua which has almost no thorns at all. So locally it is called Guadua MANSA which means “tame” bamboo because of the lack of thorns.
Also CENBA produces bamboo panels or timber from Dendrocalamus asper (Giant Bamboo) but at the Centro de Diseño de bambú (ICDF) they produce similar bamboo panels or bamboo timber but from Guadua angustifolia. So there are always different roads which lead to similar solutions. The bamboo operation EcoMateriales in Guayaquil also uses Guadua angustifolia.
La Noble Guadùa
“La Noble Guadùa” is a community association in planting management, use, processing, transformation and marketing of Guadua angustifolia. It’s located in the town of Olon near Montañita. There facilities are slightly out of date but on the other hand they have some real artesanal bamboo crafting skills. They know how to work the Guadua. Which is not managed equally well by all bamboo actors. They also have all the setup for Bamboo treatment with Borax and Boric Acid.
Bamboo Library of the Catholic University of Guayaquil (UCSG)
First Bamboo Documentation Center in Latin America, Guayaquil – Ecuador. They have introduced the first Bamboo Documentation Centre in Latin America, within the Faculty of Architecture and Design. This Center combines the traditional use of the guadua, used in building through technological innovations. The Bamboo Documentation Center receives bibliographic holdings which on the subject of bamboo have been compiled, preserved and increased with the donations from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).
In the past three years, the Ecuadorian Institute of Intellectual Property (IEPI), after a global search, registered, in the patents and trademark office, various bamboo products considered innovative. – Three types of boards, which use bamboo as raw material called Guadua angustifolia Kunth. – Two transformation Processes, used in the previous products. – Two minor tools. – Two products fire resistant or retardant. These products were shipped to the Antarctica (Polar circle) where they are being subjected to tests, with excellent results to date. – It is worth mentioning that these are the first patents that the UCSG obtained based on Applied Research. Well at the Bamboo Library I met the Architect Robinson Vega again.
The bamboo building minimizes energy consumption, taking advantage of cross ventilation, shade and thermal insulation of the metal roof with polyurethane. Does not use air conditioning system, only 2 ceiling fans in reverse, expel hot air; more than two points of induced passive ventilation, arranged under the building, introduce fresh air into the interior. The foundation is made up of plinths, stone walls and reinforced concrete beams, on these rests the construction, formed by columns, beams and diagonals of round guadua, anchored to the foundation by means of black steel rods, embedded in the columns.
Further information: email@example.com and La caña guadua es la fuente de inspiración de los ecomateriales
This is the the bamboo research center / production development of the UCSG in Guayaquil. Managed by Architect Robinson Vega. The EcoMaterials research project was funded with USD 815’359.- by national Secretaría de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENESCYT) and the Catholic University of Guayaquil (UCSG). From a bamboo research point of view this is THE place to visit. Quite interesting.
Currently Robinson is focused on researching the potential insulation and fire retardant properties of different natural fibers from agricultural waste when combined with bamboo fibers to make floor, wall, ceiling, roof, and sidewalk panels, a emergency accommodations for the Ecuadorian Navy in Antartica (south pole).
The Ecuadorian Antarctic Refuge is a research project subsidized by the Research and Development System of the Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil, which proposes the use of natural fibers discarded by agribusiness in the construction of two emergency shelters, with the objective of analyze the viability of these fibers as a building material in low-income housing.
Bear Bamboo is a start-up business from Belgica Aguilar. She is also truly fascinated of bamboo and is exploring the different business opportunities in Ecuador. Like Juan Carlos, Belgica is also one of the very first in Ecuador to create Bamboo Shoots stored in a glass with water and vinegar. She actually harvests the Giant Bamboo (Dencrocalamus asper) herself in the coastal region and processes it into the glass jar. It does taste very yummy. Currently it is still rather extremely difficult to obtain this kind of bamboo food in Ecuador. Additionally Belgica had a few other bamboo items like the bamboo sunglasses and the bamboo beer from Mexico. So this visit was like kind of Xmas and New Year in one moment 🙂
Further information: www.pieesecuador.com and @belgicaaguilar79 or WhatsApp 0993283652
Again. There is a lot of competition. I would recommend much more collaboration instead of competition. We believe that Collaboration clearly outperforms Competition. Never-less there is more than just plenty of potential here with the bamboo.