However, while the harvesting of this material plays an important role for the Greater Mekong region in South East Asia, traditional forestry practices can be damaging to the tropical forests in which it’s grown, leading to forest degradation. Forest cover has fallen in this region.

WWF has established a European Union-funded program for sustainable production and processing of rattan in the Mekong region in order to avoid destruction of the forest, improve production and ensure future supply, and also to promote and implement the United Nations’ principles of ‘Cleaner Production’.

This includes optimising material and energy flows, reducing emissions, and minimising waste and water contamination.

“Forests with such a wide variety of flora and fauna, which have disappeared in other regions of the world, still exist in the Mekong region,” said Thibault Ledecq, WWF Sustainable Rattan Project Manager.

WWF is working in conjunction with three Swedish designers, graduates from Lund University – Clara Lindsten, Therese Brober and Per Brolund – and in cooperation with local companies to develop a range of rattan products, from doormats made of rattan waste to foldable baskets, as well as unique lounge chairs, that are suitable for the international market.

The WWF Sustainable Rattan program promotes clean production, leading to more efficient use of raw material and reduced use of toxic chemicals.

Increased economic interest in rattan could help protect the forests and secure biodiversity, as design can help to contribute to its production by teaching more sustainable methods and finding ways to minimise material use, making products with a higher quality and longer lifespan, and finding new uses for the waste that’s produced from production and harvesting.

Some of these methods include using square elements and arcs, and using traditional carpentry joining methods in order to avoid complex joints that require the use of screws, nails and plastics.

Another sustainable practice being promoted is leaving the natural peel on the canes, which not only protects the cane, but also negates the use of the diesel boiling process and the use of toxic lacquers.

These practices are not only cleaner, they are also beneficial to recycling. Another component in helping to reduce the carbon footprint of rattan is the use of flat packing to reduce transport costs, which involves consumers self-assembling in the country of destination.

The success of the WWF Sustainable Rattan program has increased the income of locals in the Greater Mekong region by 20 per cent, as well as their global market competitiveness.

“Sustainable rattan only has a chance if there is a market for it and if the forests where the rattan grows are still standing,” explains Ledecq. “With credible forest management, responsible trade and consumer awareness we can ensure that this fascinating natural raw material has a future.”

An innovative collection for rattan home accessories was showcased at the international design fair Ambiente in Frankfurt/Main in February.

A book about the program and the designs is available for free as an electronic publication at www.panda.org/rattan

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