bamboo(CNN)The word bamboo typically brings to mind images of baskets, or bamboo shoots commonly used in Asian cuisine.

But this hearty, fast-growing plant has become an economic stronghold in parts of the world, with an estimated global economy valued at $60 billion a year, according to the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), an intergovernmental organization promoting bamboo and rattan.

Though Asia is by far the biggest grower of bamboo, Africa's growth in bamboo has "great opportunity", according to Hans Friederich, director-general of INBAR.

"The (African) continent has vast reserves of largely untapped bamboo that, if properly managed, could benefit rural communities and promote green economic development," said Friederich.

Sturdy plant with huge potential

Bamboo can grow up to almost one meter a day. Not only can it rapidly regenerate, but it has the advantage of being incredibly versatile.

The robust plant is used to make everything from watches, bikes, scaffolding, chopsticks, flooring, furniture, building and roofing materials, paper and textiles among other items.

"You can really plant bamboo in soil not useful for something else," said Friederich, explaining the plants potential in Africa. "To plant bamboo on unproductive land and eroded soil is very feasible," he said.

What's more, says Friederich, is that bamboo is a resource that's truly sustainable. He believes it can help not only help boost the economy but also provide an environmentally sound way to alleviate many challenges in some African countries.

"Bamboo can be harnessed to reverse land degradation, slow deforestation, combat climate change through carbon sequestration, and boost rural livelihoods through the creation of jobs and income," added Friederich.

It's a plant which doesn't require any chemicals -- fertilizers or pesticides -- as it's largely immune to disease and pests. The United Nations Environment Programme and other UN bodies all realize the potential for livelihood from the plant, said Friederich.

18 African countries have joined INBAR, including Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda.

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