While we talk a great deal of water and tree conservation, we sometimes forget that land itself is a precious resource. Unfortunately it is one that is disappearing under the stress of overpopulation and irresponsible farming practices. While we are not necessarily losing square footage, we are losing the rich, fertile topsoil, and in a world with ever-increasing mouths to feed, the loss of that soil is one to worry about.
The bamboo plant is being looked at more closely than ever as a means to control soil erosion in countries around the world.
Soil erosion is caused by the following:
- Removal of vegetation – Whether it’s deforestation or farming without proper crop rotation, the removal of vegetation will expose the topsoil to the elements causing it to disappear. This is just one more reason why bamboo is a more responsible crop to grow as it can be harvested by cutting at the base of the plant rather than a full removal from the ground.
- Sheet Erosion – The removal of the entire topsoil as a result of heavy rain
- Rill Erosion – The removal of topsoil caused by runoff water that has formed small streams
- Gully Erosion – The removal of topsoil caused by deep depressions formed by swiftly moving waters
- Riparian erosion – The removal of both topsoil & underlying soil by fast moving river waters
- Soil Leaching – Not actually a loss of topsoil itself but the disintegration via rainfall of the minerals which make topsoil so fertile.
- Wind erosion – More common in areas where there is less vegetation, the heavy winds move the fine particles of topsoil to other areas. This is a major concern in areas where desert winds are starting to carry sand into fertile lands and is adding to the desertification of some countries.
Bamboo is ideal to help control soil erosion for the very same reason that some homeowners hate it. Running bamboo has a net like root system that creates an effective mechanism for watershed protection. It works to stitch the soil together along fragile riverbanks, deforested areas and in places prone to earthquakes and mudslides. Studies have shown that because of this wide-spreading root system along with the unique shape of the bamboo leaf create a stem flow rate of 25% which means that bamboo greatly reduces rain run-off, prevents massive soil erosion and keeps up to twice as much water in a watershed. What makes bamboo even more ideal for use in soil erosion is that it is hearty enough to flourish in areas where poor farming practices and overgrazing have damaged the soil.
(For those homeowners not looking to control soil erosion, visit our Bamboo Garden section to learn about the neighborhood-association friendly variety of bamboo plants.)
From Rwanda to Indonesia, more programs are introducing the multi-tasking bamboo as both a resource to enter the world market and one to help replenish barren soil and help control erosion.
Haiti, in particular, is a strong candidate for bamboo crop development. The location of this island nation puts it in the path of one tropical storm after another which causes massive soil erosion. A small rainstorm can trigger huge mudslides so imagine the damage that the massive earthquake caused when it shook their weak soil. As the country looks toward more responsible land-management and the means to rise out of poverty, bamboo might very well provide the roots that can hold Haiti together.