Bamboo Investment Scams Exposed!
Thinking about investing in bamboo plantations? Great, but after reading this article about bamboo investment scams and lease plans you might want to re-think your options...
When browsing the internet for the term "investing in bamboo plantations", Google will come up with a growing amount of bamboo investment schemes promising you very high returns. The question is, are these forestry schemes and returns on investment realistic, isn't this another too good to be true bamboo investment scam?
I decided to write this article because I keep receiving emails from people who seek advice and feedback about such bamboo investment opportunities. Instead of answering all these questions individually, I felt it was time to publish my opinion publicly, and let potential investors make up their mind with the information given.
Targeting the Small Inexperienced Investor
The most attractive incentives for investing in bamboo lease plans is the fact that you can invest a relatively small amount of money to generate a high and long term "passive" income. You do not have to know anything about bamboo or lift a finger. Better yet, you are about to invest in a seemingly trustworthy, sustainable, socially responsible, eco-friendly business, which makes you feel good about your investment. You feel as if you found the chicken with the golden eggs, it's a win win situation!
In reality though, you are probably about to invest your money in a very high risk financial product and business model. So the question is: Are you prepared to hand over your savings or retirement money to a company that potentially has no experience with bamboo?
Playing the Experience Card
I have been contacted by dozens of forestry investment companies and brokers worldwide, the reason is fairly simple, most of these forestry brokers have absolutely no knowledge about growing bamboo (other than: there is apparently a lot of money to be made with bamboo). To be fair, the bamboo hype is fueled by the tremendous amount of buzz given by all sorts of articles online, on which some brokers try to capitalize. In the end, it's the investor who needs to do his or her research, you can't blame an "entrepreneur" for trying (can you?).
Having said that, marketing techniques are very smart...
Saying that you have X years of experience with plantations doesn't mean having experience with bamboo plantations (growing bananas is not the same as growing bamboo).
Another way to try and convince the inexperienced investor, is to publish reports from "trusted" sources.
I honestly find it very disturbing when a professor from a reputable University (who doesn't even seem to have a track record in regards to growing bamboo) can be "convinced" to sign off a report that has absolutely no scientific evidence. Especially when an attempt is made to compile a bamboo productivity table, of which I hope the prof. will be held accountable for in a few years!
As attractive the endorsement from such sources may look, quotes gathered from websites bundled in a pdf article are completely unreliable; college kids have send me better and more accurate reports! Take Guadua vs. Moso for example.
Marketing strategies aside, building a business based on the wrong information is just bound to fail (or you need a LOT of money to cover all the mistakes).
Why they need YOUR money to make THEIR business work!
In Central America, bank interest rates are very high. This means companies either need to invest their own money or obtain capital trough a venture capital firm or a group of private investors. This will allow a company to try and obtain capital at better conditions and at much lower interest rates.
The question is, why are some forestry companies only targeting small inexperienced investors instead of a venture capital firm? Professional investors reduce their risk to the absolute minimum, they fearfully investigate business plans (due diligence) and need to know all the ins and out of a company before putting any cash on the table. Professional investors seek to invest in legit companies in return for equity, whereas small investors are easier to convince without having to share the entire (official) business plan or sell company shares.
A possible scenario is that company X will pay you back in the first few years (from the money you initially invested) to get you comfortable, while trying to find ways to get more cash to keep paying back their investors. Similar to accumulating more and more debt to pay and satisfy their first investors until the bubble bursts (Ponzi scheme).
I have been following a lot of bamboo investment offerings and every time a new plan is published, numbers have changed (from yield projections to lower return on investment rates). Mmh, seems like somebody is reading my rants...
The Power of the Affiliate
Just repeat the same lie over and over again and people will start to believe it. Affiliate brokers try to sell and promote a product from another company. By doing so, a company creates sales people for their product which they only have to pay a (usually high) commission when they actually sell. This creates a tremendous buzz on-or offline, and is basically free advertisement.
Business wise, this is obviously a smart strategy. The down part is when incorrect information starts to spread all over the internet and found on different websites and presentation, people will actually start to believe what they read. With the internet cluttered with wrong information, it also becomes very difficult to research and find the real data.
Talking about real data, what about some scientific Guadua bamboo yield projections for a change?
Annual Yield Projections for Guadua Bamboo Plantations
For some reason there is a common believe that large diameter Guadua bamboo poles can be harvested 5 years after planting. So, for once and for all: this is completely FALSE!
Most bamboo investment lease plans I have read, are based on harvesting 4"- 6" diameter poles, starting from year 5. I find it unbelievable that these "forestry experts" don't seem to understand how a newly planted Guadua bamboo plantation actually grows?! They mix up the numbers of 2 very different concepts, namely; the year when such 4" inch stems appear in the plantation and the year when these 4" poles can be harvested.
This is where they mix up their numbers:
Commercial Guadua bamboo stems, which are large diameter poles (10 cm and more), and have the most economical value, start to appear 4-5 years after planting, however, these stems have to mature for at least another 4 years before they can be harvested, which means these stems can only be harvested as soon as 8-9 years after planting. Furthermore, it is also very important to point out that establishing commercial bamboo plantations on farm land of inferior quality (wrong climate conditions, red soils, swamp areas and poor soil fertility) is the definition for absolute failure! See this article about optimal soil conditions for commercial bamboo plantations. If the plantation site is badly chosen, stems of such diameters may never even develop all together.
The table below shows when bamboo stems can be harvested according to their diameter class and height. I would strongly suggest to read our article about: Bamboo growing habits to fully understand how bamboo actually grows and how a Guadua bamboo forest or plantation is formed.
From the above table, you can analyze that the first harvest can take place at 3 years after planting. However, these stems are less or equal to 3.4 cm in diameter and 6.1 m tall. The first commercial stems could be harvested from year 9.
The table below shows what size bamboo stems start to appear at which year in a newly planted Guadua bamboo plantations. Smaller diameter stems mature faster than large diameter stems. The lowest and highest maturity rate (ripening) is also given per diameter class.
Harvesting commercial stems could start at 3.2 years of maturity, however, for construction purposes, bamboo stems should preferably be cut when they are 4-5 years old. This will prevent cracking and shrinkage since older stems contain less moisture content. Bamboo stems also become more mechanically and physically resistant due to more compacted vascular bundles. In other words, the older the stems (closer towards 6.7 years after which they start to deteriorate) the better the quality.
Though the bigger question is: How can these companies guarantee such high returns before 9 years when there is no large diameter sized bamboo that can be sold yet? Sure small diameter stalks can be harvested in the early stages, but they won't generate such high revenues.
It's interesting to compare yield projections from bamboo investment lease plans with the real numbers because some companies change their numbers every time we publish new scientific information. Which obviously raises the questions: What about the first investors who bought into those first projections? How will they get their money back?
Note: All data presented here is from scientific studies conducted by the most respected Guadua agronomists in the business. The given numbers are the result of monitoring Guadua plantations for 20 consecutive years in various countries and on numerous different plantation sites throughout Central and South America.
Sales and Distribution
Finally, how are these companies or brokers going to sell and distribute your bamboo crop once it's ready for harvest? They could very well accept 2,000 hectares worth of bamboo investors but how, and to who, are they going to sell your crop?
I have seen forecasts and market studies from companies offering bamboo investment lease plans which state that Guadua bamboo can be sold for several dollars per lineal meter. In the retail market this might be true (Grade A, cured and dried), however, as a plantation owner, your primary objective is to produce the raw material at the most competitive price (especially when growing bamboo at a large scale), after which 3rd parties will buy and process the bamboo to manufacture value added products. In other words, the projections presented in some bamboo investment schemes do not include the cost of treatment, manufacturing, labor, storage, transportation, etc. and thus completely distort the real revenue figures for the bamboo plantation lessee.
Most forestry brokers are initially not focused on crop sales. The strategy for selling your crop is a problem to deal with later (if ever) and the only thing that matters right now is that YOU will be paying for THEIR bamboo plantation in return for a very high (promised) return and taking all the risk. If anything goes wrong with paying back their investors after the first years, a company will still be able to sell their bamboo plantation and run off with the money. This is basically their own form of "security", since they own the bamboo plantation with your money.
Setting up a structure for investors to fund a bamboo plantation is one thing, having the connections, know how, infrastructure to manufacture value added bamboo products, marketing and distribution is something else. Sure, this could all be obtained over time, but how is it possible to guarantee returns if you don't have any buyers for your crop to begin with?
Read the Fine Print!
The fine print of almost any investment package will confirm what I have discussed in this article (although not in as many words of course). Here are some examples:
- A key area of risk is that the plantation will not produce as much bamboo as forecast in order to generate the levels of return projected.
- The ability to sell the bamboo for the projected price underlies all projected returns. This therefore represents a key risk.
- The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you could risk losing all of the money invested.
- Neither the investment, nor XXX company, is regulated by the Financial Services Authority. This means that the protections that investors have in other types of investment (for example ISA’s, bonds or regulated funds) are not available to investors.
- Company XXX has relied on published sources and third parties for certain statements of fact or opinion and whilst it believes that those statements or opinions are correct, it has not independently verified them.
Conclusion: Own Your Bamboo Plantation!
Based on my experience, I can only give you one advice when thinking about making a bamboo investment, OWN your bamboo plantation. Bamboo plantations can be lucrative if you know what you are doing or have an expert partner (as with every business). Sure, you won't be able to own a bamboo farm for 3 or 5k, but you could for as low as 16k (per hectare), with the additional advantage that you have absolute control and ownership (security) over your investment and property.
It is important to understand the whole process from planting to selling crop, before investing in bamboo plantations. Therefore you need to do your own research and evaluate for yourself if investing in bamboo is something to pursue or not.
Guadua Bamboo, promotes responsible bamboo reforestation in Central and South America and help growers and bamboo investors to accomplish their goals by providing them non-biased information and services. We have clients growing bamboo on their own properties, clients who hire us to plant and maintain their bamboo farm, or large companies who aim to cultivate bamboo for industrial use and export. Whatever their situation and objective, we can assist with just about anything they require along the line.
Best Country to Grow Bamboo in Central America
I currently have invested in El Salvador in softwoods, but want to diversify into bamboo plantations, so what's the best place/country to invest, grow and process Guadua bamboo; Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua or Costa Rica?
Stephane from Guadua Bamboo replied:
Essentially Guadua angustifolia can grow in all of Central America, but it is key to:
When to Expect First Income Revenue from a Bamboo Plantation?
I am somewhat confused from the data on this site. In one area I read, commercial stems at 10 cm, will need nine years to develop for harvest and in another that commercial stems of 10 cm in diameter would start after year 5! Is it true income-revenue can be expected during year six?
Stephane from Guadua Bamboo replied:
Commercial sized stems of at least 10 cm in diameter usually start to occur 5 years after planting. However these stems have to mature (become woody) for another 4 years before they can be cut. That's why you can harvest commercial sized stems for the first time 9 years after planting. From then on every single year since the plantation reached its maturity. Please read this article to understand how bamboo grows.
Is it True that Investing in Bamboo can bring over 800% in 15 years?
There is firm that is on it pre-launch stage of its Bamboo investment saying that the first 3 years returns are guaranteed, and there after, some good revenue projection that will run for 15 years totaling over 800% in 15 years.
I would like to know if that return projection is possible in the world of Bamboo investments?!
EcoPlanet Bamboo Investment Offer
This "investment opportunity" is sold quite heavily over the phone and the internet. I wanted to know if you have any comments on this model (everything looks not so good but the forecast returns, however in my experience that is usually where "something happens" and in the end you actually never see them).
They are asking an outrageous original investment of $55K for a hectare located in Nicaragua and a lease limited to 15 years. The plots are supposedly 2 years old already.
In 2016 (year 5) they forecast a first payment of $3,827 and from then on annual payments of $33K (minus a hefty $12K in fees for a net return of $20,845). For every year until 2027 they forecast the same $33K payment but their fee keeps rising, so that in the final year your % has arrived at $17,252 (I have applied their base case numbers based on $1.35 per linear meter). Still, who wouldn't like such returns for 11 years (returning almost 400% of your investment)?
My question is, what are your comments on this?
I would be very uncomfortable with this if I understand the concept. If the fields are already 2 years old that means the expense of planting has already taken place. Why would they then want to sell it? I know that there is still the expense of reaping but I'm sure processing plants would fork out that money if the owner would enter into a contract with the processing plant whereby they would have to supply them in order to get the reaping expenses money up front. It sounds to good to be true.
I have been involved with Bamboo many years now. I'm amazed of what EcoPlanet is saying or even offering!
People, PLEASE investigate before gifting your hard earning pennies!
Thank you Guadua Bamboo for providing the only real and tangible information available.
Bamboo Market Price
What is the market price for bamboo, and for how much (USD) raw bamboo can be sold for. Can you direct me to where I might find the current market prices for raw bamboo and how this process occurs. I'd like to project potential profits before I decide to invest in a bamboo farm.
Stephane from Guadua Bamboo replied:
Market prices for raw bamboo depend strongly from country to country, species, diameter, standing price, harvested price, etc.
To give you an example at a commercial plantation in Costa Rica, Guadua angustifolia is sold at a farm gate price between 0.87$ - 1.34$ green per lineal meter (depending the diameter). In other South American countries buyers might pay between 1 - 2$ per standing culm.
Eco BambooLot in Nicaragua
I have been approached by an agent who aggressively wants to sell me 1.23 acres of bamboo plantation with free title to the land in a company named EcobambooLot in Nicaragua. They are projecting positive cash flow in the 3rd year after ownership and successively growing then on. The upfront cost including the maintenance fee is $11,000. Starting in the 3rd year the maintenance fee is 16% of the revenue from sale of crop.
I am not sure if this is another such 'too good to be true' scheme, or a real investment opportunity with perpetual returns.
Standing on the sidelines for now.
Stephane from Guadua Bamboo replied:
There is only one thing I can say, ask the company in questions how and to who they are going to sell your bamboo crop. Growing bamboo is one thing but selling it is something completely different. Most of these brand new forestry companies have absolutely no experience or network before they start planting and "think" the sales part of the crop in x amount of years is just a 'detail' to deal with once the time is there. Unfortunately though both aspects need to be covered BEFORE they put the first plant in the ground or you will probably never see any return on investment.
For example we only plant 50 hectares of bamboo when we have signed contracts from clients who need 50 ha worth of bamboo every year. This means we know exactly at what price we can sell the crop and who will buy it. How else is it possible to calculate the returns to the investor?!
Most of these bamboo companies project their numbers based on very superficial research online, but the problem is that bamboo as a raw unprocessed material has very low value. Only when the company can add value to the raw material and sell the finished product it can become profitable for the investor as well.
Minimum Acreage for a Profitable Bamboo Plantation
What is the minimium area to at least have a profit for bamboo, especially if you only grow for poles? When can you expect income for pole production, in a small scale level? Yes, there is money in bamboo, but it is the flooring and other stuff already, which for sure small farmers can't afford to set up such facilities. So, again what is the minimum area? Thanks. This site is very helpful.
Stephane from Guadua Bamboo replied:
Any size plantation can be profitable whether it is 1 ha or 10,000 hectares. The question you should ask is: How are you planning to sell the bamboo?
Will you (or a partner) be making value added products from the bamboo and what kind of product? Or will you be growing bamboo to target a specific market? The end use of the crop plays a crucial role. For the energy or biomass industry you would need large scale cultivation, but this is not the case for niche products such as handicrafts or furniture. Maybe there is a local need for a certain bamboo product such as fencing poles or props for tomato growers.
Whether you grow on a small or a large scale, there will always be a market for bamboo. The key is to find out who needs what (poles, pulp, chips, etc.) and at what quantity. Once you have pinpoint the potential market and what price they would pay for the product, you'll have to calculate operation and transportation costs to determine your potential profit.
Always keep in mind the importance of location. Growing bamboo in remote areas with no road access and no available labor force could make your entire business plan go bust. You will also need to determine which species to grow. This again, depends on the end use for the bamboo and climate conditions of the area.
As you can see, it takes much more research and study before you can start planting bamboo for profit. So if I may give one advice, do not pursue bamboo just because of the potential financial rewards. As with any business, easy money doesn't exist!
Let's assume a revenue of $1 per linear foot of pole, selling untreated poles directly to a buyer (there's the key: find a buyer). There are 43500 sq ft in an acre. Assume an average total of one linear foot of pole per square foot of land. At $1/linft, that's $43k/year. Let's assume $0.10/linear-foot, and 4 square feet per linear foot: that's $1k in revenue.
So there you have it: upper and lower bounds. You can imagine that for ever 4 square feet, a 4-year culm will produce a 20 foot cane. Harvesting every 4 square foot patch on a 4-year rotation would mean 2700 canes harvested per year. If those canes are 20' long and sell for $0.10/foot, then you've got 20 * .1 * 2700 = $5400/acre/year, not even trying very hard! Just wait twenty years till you've got an acre of 60' tall, 6" diameter moso!
The simplest added-value projects in the US would be selling potted culms ($5-$30/gal plant) or making woven mats or privacy/garden screens ($1-$5/sqft). Other ideas: Selling edible bamboo shoots to a local co-op / health food store, raising a pig or ducks in the understory, or making bamboo bike frames ($100-$2k/frame) and trailers. Looks like you need reliable buyers, and multiple products, to make more than a thousand dollars per year.
Stephane from Guadua Bamboo replied:
Indeed diversification is good tactics to maximize the revenue for a bamboo plantation. Using different parts of the culms for both low and high-end markets is common practice (keep in mind that every part of the bamboo culm can be utilized).
Culms could be used for light and temporary construction kits, such as pergolas or wedding arbors. Even the leaves could be used or sold as animal fodder while branches and culm tips could be chipped into mulch.
So many uses, so many opportunities with bamboo,...become passionate and you'll surely find your niche.