Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2021

As a nation made up of 17,000 islands, one of Indonesia’s most challenging problems in the 21st century has been modernizing its electric grid. 

But now on the island of Siberut, some electricity-starved hamlets are sustainably developing their own energy by relying on a material that has been part of their lives for thousands of years: bamboo.

According to Jaya Wahono, CEO of Clean Power Indonesia (CPI) there are around 50,000 villages that don’t have reliable access to electricity. But in 1,200 households in 3 villages on the remote Mentawai Islands where CPI has set up their test bio-electric plants, people are enjoying reliable power for the first time ever; and bamboo has been playing an important role in this.

The plant has long been used as a staple to make everything from clothing to baskets, and dry or dead bamboo is a ready source of firewood. On top of that, bamboo is a wonder plant for indigenous Indo-Pacific communities who use it for almost all of their day-to-day activities, including making spears, rafts, and even pipes.

As for its power potential, bamboo also serves as a considerably more sustainable alternative to palm oil, which has been used as the primary raw material for producing biomass-energy in the region, but whose cultivation has had significant destructive effects on surrounding ecosystems.

Bamboo, on the other hand, doesn’t require the same devastating cultivation practices compared to palm trees and can grow well on land that has been degraded over time, while needing minimal water or fertilizer input. Furthermore, bamboo grows fast; really, really, really fast. Some species can grow up to three feet a day; and as such, there’s no need to chop whole forests down and start again when it’s harvest time.

On top of everything, bamboo also has the potential to provide jobs to locals and allow farmers to diversify their income streams, reducing their vulnerability to crop failure and helping them adapt to climate change.

While nations around the world are working to equip their infrastructure for the changing climate, Indonesia might have found their path into the future by looking back into the past.

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