Action plan needed for bamboo cultivation

 Due to its versatile nature and multiple uses, it is also called ‘poor man’s timber.’ Though it grows tall like a tree, it belongs to the grass family. It can withstand the drought as well as flood.

India is second only to China in terms of bamboo diversity.  Bamboo is grown on 10 million hectares in India, as it covers almost 13 per cent of the total forest area of the country. The total production of bamboo is 5 million tonnes per year.
Though Madhya Pradesh has the highest area under bamboo forests, the bamboo culture thrives in the North East (58 varieties). From the tender shoots as a delicacy food item to the rice cooked in the hollow of raw bamboo, it is part of everyday life. From house construction to flooring, agricultural implements, bamboo pervades the life and culture. We find the most artistic skills in bamboo weaving in these regions.

The advantage of bamboo is manifold compared to monoculture tree plantations. It grows in forest like natural formations either in monocultures or mixed stands among other tree crops. After planting, the fast growth of bamboo clumps start yielding after 4 to 7 years. It can become part of agro forestry practice in small land holding. New bamboo plantations may curb the pressure from deforestation by serving as wood substitutes. It can be planted to reclaim severely degraded sites and wastelands. It is good soil binder owing to their peculiar clump formation and fibrous root system and hence also plays an important role in soil and water conservation.

Carbon stocks
Recent studies suggest that bamboo is more effective plant than trees in increasing carbon stocks through sequestration of carbon. The estimate provided by researchers studying bamboo plantations concludes that a hectare of bamboo has the potential to sequester between 12-14 tonnes of carbon every year above the ground. Additionally, the extensive root system builds up the carbon sink faster than trees.
When bamboo forest is managed by annual harvesting of mature culms it can sequester more carbon, especially if harvested products are converted into durable products like bamboo furniture or household timber.

The international community, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) as well as Indian government have overlooked the potential of bamboo to address the issue of climate change and enhance livelihood opportunities. Compared to growing trees, a bamboo plantation would repay the investments in carbon development costs within first four years. Moreover, when mature bamboo is harvested, it would fetch handsome net revenues providing employment opportunities to people, artisans. The Medar community in Karnataka is entirely dependent on bamboo weaving, producing items like baskets and mats.

The carbon credit business world wide is in billions of dollars. Large high tech capital intensive projects as well as those which destroy natural forests like micro hydel projects get carbon credit benefits. Contrary to these dubious carbon credit ventures, bamboo plantations can bring the carbon credit business at the doorsteps of poor, marginal communities. If CDM as well as those agencies that are aiming to address the issue of climate change include bamboo as one of the tools to mitigate climate change, it would yield ‘poor man’s carbon credits’.

However, gregarious flowering of bamboo in the North East and in some regions of Western Ghats may lead to releasing of large amounts of carbon in the form of dry bamboo. There is an urgent need to evolve a rationale policy to procure and utilise enormous quantity of bamboo crop after the flowering. Ignoring this would cause a devastation of fire that would engulf the diversity in the region.
It is high time that the national action plan to address climate change in India incorporates these ideas in a separate ‘bamboo mission’ as an important tool to address the issue.

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