Latin America can become a significant player in the bamboo industry, though not without major support from regional governments and a bigger effort to raise awareness about the potential economic benefits, Chinese expert Li Zhiyong told Efe.

"I think there's great potential in Latin America if we can obtain the positive support of governments, and also we need to do something to inform people about the advantages of bamboo," Li said during the inaugural International Congress on Sustainable Forest Production, which kicked off Wednesday in Quito.

Li, deputy director general of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, or Inbar, said soft bamboo has "great potential" as a food source and noted that Chinese people have been eating that evergreen plant for more than 3,000 years.

Inbar says bamboo, which covers 3 percent of the world's forest area, is one of the world's tallest and fastest-growing plants and its rate of growth and maturation allow it to be selectively harvested year after year.

It therefore is a sustainable alternative to the use of wood and an important source of income for both producers and processors.

Bamboo forests also make a valuable contribution to the ecosystem, helping to combat soil erosion and assist in capturing carbon dioxide.

Among Latin American countries, Brazil may be able to develop a bamboo industry the soonest since it has vast areas under cultivation and is working with China on ways to develop this product, Li said.

But many other countries in the region have "very good conditions" for developing their own bamboo industry.

"We've had successful experiences with countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and China because the governments have supported the producer and the companies to develop the bamboo industry" through policies such as subsidies, he said.

"An important part of this story is having demonstration plots," in which a few families plant bamboo and benefit from the crop, thereby serving as an example to others who may decide to join the initiative, Li said.

In China, bamboo is not only consumed as a food but also used to make "more than 10,000 bamboo-derived products," generating a range of profit-making activities, Li said. EFE