Most of the bamboo is distributed in forest areas and has a significant contribution to ecology such as improving wildlife habitats, forest hydrology as well as providing opportunities for livelihood development of the rural poor.
By STS Lepcha
India is blessed with 148 species of bamboo with 29 genera covering 15.69 million hectares of land. Most of the bamboo is distributed in forest areas and has a significant contribution to ecology such as improving wildlife habitats, forest hydrology as well as providing opportunities for livelihood development of the rural poor. Bamboo also helps to reduce the effect of climate change by releasing more Oxygen than trees and sequencing more Carbon on soil. Recent research has also shown that it can improve water holding capacity of the watershed areas by 20% to 25%. Therefore Bamboo is a “Green as well as a pro-poor” resource. That means bamboo has to play a significant role in fulfilling the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of India.
Government of India (GoI) has known the value of bamboo as early as 2006-2007, initiating the National Bamboo Mission (NBM) under Agriculture Ministry (a Centrally Sponsored Scheme with an initial budgetary allocation of 500 crores+ which was expanded further in the 10th plan, and whose 1st phase lasted upto 2015-2016). GoI also started the National Mission on Bamboo Development (NMBA) under the Department of Science and Technology for developing industrial applications for bamboo. The 2nd phase of NBM started in 2018-2019 and is ongoing. The first phase of NBM focused on resource generation through plantation in Forest areas, the second phase has focused on plantation in the areas out-side of forest land so that rural people could get more financial benefit from bamboo resources by selling it to industries. Kudos to the present Government that they have recognized bamboo as a ‘grass not a tree’, and have issued a government order (GO) that states any individual can cut and transport bamboo growing in outside forest areas without permission from the government. This GO has boosted farmers to plant more bamboo in their land to fulfill the demand of industries throughout the year.
While traditional uses of bamboo as scaffolding and basketry are well known, increasingly bamboo is finding applications in innovative new products such as furniture, decor, beverages, engineered bamboo products, activated bamboo charcoal, bamboo textiles, organic pesticides / fungicide, bio- plastic granules etc. The Bamboo market size value was around US$72.10 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach US$ 98.30 billion by 2025. Global market share of China in bamboo is around 70% whereas inspite of Government efforts, India has just 4%. Countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia etc have more market share than India.
Barring the North Eastern region, bamboo is referred to as the “poor man’s timber’ in other parts of India. In other Asian countries Bamboo is regarded as a “Friend’ and a “Brother”, as it is part of their culture and use in daily life. Reasons for disinterest in bamboo within India may also be due to the weak data base for bamboo resources, lack of skilled manpower, lack of advanced R&D, no strategy for use of waste materials, weak cross-sectoral synergy as well as lack of strategic planning which has led to lack of manpower and financial resources throughout the country.
However, the picture is not entirely so gloomy. There is a need to retrofit policy and further strategize for a hybrid phase. There is a need to look at bamboo with a renewed focus. Some action points suggested are:
(1) Establish a full-fledged Institution for Bamboo on the lines of the Coir Board, Tea Board and Rubber Board among others for promoting Bamboo based economic enterprise, creating an accurate bamboo resource inventory and coordinating with different ministries supporting bamboo activities. This could most likely function under the Industry Department.
(2) Create and Develop Bamboo Special Economic Zones in bamboo resource rich areas or states, focusing on “one economically important bamboo species” as per a Growth pole strategy. The rationale being that Bamboo based industries are species-specific, meaning only certain species are good for a particular application and the cost of transporting bamboo is also very high. So a ‘species focused’ approach will help the Indian bamboo sector compete with other Asian bamboo industries.
(3) Improve R&D in bamboo by introducing incentivization in the system where at least 30% to 40% patent revenue is shared with the Scientists doing the R&D. Similarly, the GOI could incentivize industries which develop green innovative products by giving tax holidays for such products for 2 to 3 years.
(4)The Bamboo industry generates over 80% waste so it would be strategic to incentivize such industries to convert waste into innovative products. Subsidies could be provided to ancillary industries to process bamboo waste.
(The author is Retired Senior Forest Officer of Uttarakhand Cadre and also Former Expert Member in Executive Committee of National Bamboo Mission (NBM), Government of India (GoI).The article is for informational purposes only. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online).