(18 Jan 2011)
High in the mountains of Beichuan (PRONOUNCED bay-chwan) County, farmers chop bamboo to supply raw material stock for a local factory.
Unlike trees, this highly versatile grass doesn't need to be replanted - in fact, it replenishes itself for harvesting within three to five years.
And it's strong too. Its strength to weight ratio is higher than graphite.
With careful management, yields can be further increased - though according to Beichuan forestry official Zhou Jin (PRONOUNCED joe jee), the locals here usually just let the bamboo fend for itself.
"In Beichuan, farmers in the forests like to grow bamboo, but they pay little attention to looking after it. They just let it grow unattended. They don't heed any technical information about growing bamboo," he says.
In Beichuan, where bamboo provides livelihoods for 6,000 people, there's also been scant interest in producing goods, locally, from their natural resource.
As a substitute for timber, bamboo is used for paper making, fencing, furniture, building homes, even clothes including lingerie.
It's valuable - and eco-friendly, but times are changing.
The European Union is funding INBAR (the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan) to help boost production of bamboo by sustainably growing yields in the forests and developing rural factories that make bamboo goods.
"Beichuan didn't have any bamboo manufacturing at all before. We only sold it. If someone came, they sold it, if no one came to buy, they just let it grow," says Zhou Jin.
The efforts are aimed at boosting rural economies that were devastated by the massive 2008 earthquake.
INBAR's US$ 2.5million advisory project focuses on eight townships across Sichuan (PRONOUNCED sitch-wan), including here in Beichuan.
It also promotes more effective marketing, greater use of bamboo in construction and safer factory working conditions.
This factory, supported by Citibank's Foundation and the EU programme, began making bamboo sheets in October 2009.
It's a fairly primitive operation, with 16 employees, that focuses on low value products.
But it's the only bamboo manufacturer in this county.
The factory set-up costs amounted to US$ 27,000.
In 2010, it sold 50,000 (2 metre x 1 metre) sheets at just over US $1.50 each.
Profit, after paying for the bamboo and wages was 60%.
Customers come from north-west China - Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia - where they use the matting for sun-drying dates, ginseng and herbs.
It may be basic here, but INBAR hopes it will inspire other entrepreneurs to establish bamboo production centres, especially those that focus on building materials.
"With the help of the Citi Foundation and INBAR, what we're producing now is at the lower level of the industry. But I'm starting to make other products - it will grow slowly," says general manager, Zhou Xu.
Bamboo has been used in construction for thousands of years.
In Sichuan, however, most bamboo dwellings have been replaced by concrete, steel and brick - though so much of that collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake.
The EU funded programme seeks to promote bamboo in building - especially in areas that suffer natural disasters like Sichuan.
But the deputy chief of the Sichuan Forestry Technology Advisory Bureau, Long Xiaoxiong (PRONOUNCED long shee-aow shee-ong) says the industry first needs to get through the red tape and satisfy the authorities that are responsible for construction standards.
"There are construction standards to build houses with steel and concrete. But to build bamboo homes we don't have standards from the construction departments. So, what kind of bamboo house should we build, what standard should we reach?"
His colleague at the Beichuan bureau, Zhou Jin also has reservations.
You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/b954a1848629887d4e31b55a007e6239
Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork