Government looks to bamboo to replace timber in Sabah

Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof says the government hopes to tap into bamboo’s many uses to help grow Sabah’s economy.

KOTA KINABALU: The government is looking at promoting bamboo as an alternative to timber in Sabah as the state looks at reducing its reliance on depleting timber reserves.

Speaking to FMT, Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof said an alternative would also be necessary as timber was fast becoming a “sacred” commodity with environmentalists seeking a ban on its usage.

“I think, for Sabah, the state can easily develop other alternatives to timber, for example bamboo. We need to encourage the people to plant bamboo to support industries such as manufacturing, construction and furniture making,” he said.

He said bamboo, considered as poor man’s timber, offered a much better yield compared to oil palm and was friendlier to the environment because of its sustainability.

The people, Redzuan said, had no choice but to look for alternatives to timber now that the harvesting of the resource was controlled.

Redzuan believes bamboo would be a good alternative because it grows fast and can be harvested after three to five years, compared to normal hardwood which takes at least 12 years or even 80 for some species.

Industrially, bamboo has been used in various applications, including for furniture, building materials, clothing and, because it is a plant, in food such as coffee and tea.

Research from the Delft University of Technology also shows that a hectare of bamboo yields 20 cubic metres of building materials annually, about 20 times that of normal timber.

The problem, experts say, is the lack of research on the possible use of bamboo, affecting the development of codes and standards which in turn restricts architects and engineers from coming up with enough designs using the material.

The supposed lack of demand then results in a lack of interest among researchers to study the subject.

Redzuan said it was crucial for bamboo to be “rediscovered” and the industry revived to create the demand for it.

“This is an interesting proposition I would like to bring to the state. I can bring the market in and get the right people here to start processing bamboo into material that can be used for decorations, furniture and many others.

“The technology is not new. Many would be interested to use the products,” he said, adding that even furniture giant Ikea might show interest.

“If I could bring people to invest here and use Sabah’s raw materials instead of allowing the raw materials to leave Sabah’s shores, it would be better.

“If you have this kind of incentive, there will always be a chain reaction. We need to stimulate the economy enough so that lots of people will want to come.”

Redzuan proposed bringing back Sabah’s talents who were now plying their trades elsewhere to help the state’s economy.

He said the ministry’s main agenda was capacity building and to support local entrepreneurs with automation, machines and other facilities to intensify entrepreneurship activities in the state.

“Sabah’s advantage is its people. They are multi-skilled and multi-disciplined. I think that is in their culture. They know many things, especially in oil and gas, chemicals and infrastructure. We need to bring them back to contribute here.

“But first, we need to address the lack of infrastructure here and solve the power issue which is expensive compared to the peninsula and Sarawak,” he said.

Redzuan said he had already conveyed his plan to Chief Minister Shafie Apdal who was happy with the idea and had given his own input in terms of facilitating the process.