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Bamboo as Green Gold for Doubling Farmer Incomes

What is needed to be done is to grow industrial grade bamboo such as bambusa bambos – only one percent of the bamboo grown in India is of this industrial grade – this being sturdier than Chinese moso bamboo.

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Bamboo, the evergreen perennial flowering plant is actually a wonder crop. It has the potential of helping achieve the goal of doubling of farmers’ incomes (DFI) while also getting Indian small industry to establish itself unequivocally in the world of furniture and construction materials. To get a sense of the enormous opportunity we have merely to look beyond the Himalayas – at our neighbor China, to comprehend how they have leveraged bamboo – in every possible sphere of public activity.

China’s bamboo industry is valued at about 32 billion USD. It has about 6 million hectares of bamboo, about one-fifth of the world’s total, growing annually at 3% – despite rapid urbanization. It produces 40 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks apart from huge quantities of matchsticks, toothpicks, mats, baskets and various other handicrafts and knick-knacks. It is one of the largest exporters of laminated bamboo flooring.

For a farmer, bamboo is green gold. It is easy maintenance as it does not require much water, pesticides or fertilizers. It can grow on degraded land, as much as 1 meter a day, is non-perishable and easy to harvest. It absorbs more carbon-di-oxide than any other plant, spews out copious quantities of oxygen into the atmosphere, is an effective carbon sequestration crop, making it eligible for carbon credits and is also a bio-fuel.

Commercially, bamboo has great marketability for various industrial applications as well. It is four times lighter than steel, it is biodegradable, and has high tensile strength. It is therefore ideal for scaffoldings used in the construction industry and in building panels. It is used for railway sleepers and manhole covers. Bamboo powder mixed with resins makes various bamboo composites. It is a good substitute for timber as it offers better quality and is cheaper without any adverse environmental baggage.

The global furniture market is worth about 500 Billion USD. China’s share is about 18% thanks to bamboo. India is a net importer of furniture, largely from China. There is also need for facilitation of integrated value chains for bamboo products, to encourage appropriate training and technology and access to capital and business development services to access markets. Bamboo based particle board, medium density fiber board, and oriented strand board can be adequately prepared out of industrial grade bamboo apart from usage for other furniture.

India must try to extract the latest commercialization technologies from the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) located in Beijing and absorb the latest scientific research being conducted around bamboo.

The Indian farmer needs to be incentivized to grow industrial grade bamboo. In the late eighties and early nineties, newsprint company Nepanagar Paper Mills in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, under the guidance of the District Magistrate, who was also the Chairman of the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) signed rampant multi-party contracts between the farmer, the banks, the DRDA and Nepa Mills for cultivation of newsprint-grade trees – with the farmer’s produce being guaranteed for purchase by the newsprint company. Similar arrangements should be encouraged for growing and harvesting bamboo on a commercial scale.

What is needed to be done is to grow industrial grade bamboo such as bambusa bambos – only one percent of the bamboo grown in India is of this industrial grade – this being sturdier than Chinese moso bamboo. The Department of Small Scale Industries should become the coordinator for commercializing bamboo on mission mode. Bamboo needs to be looked as a cash crop, rather than just another botanical exercise meant to improve the environment. Doubling of farmer incomes is a tall order. Bamboo can make it possible.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Bamboo farmers magazine 7 Sep 2020

Raghav Chandra

Former Secretary Government of India

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