The need to boost bamboo cultivation

India is the second largest bamboo-growing nation after China. Although the area under bamboo cultivation in India is larger than China, the latter dominates the global market supplying 83% of bamboo products. India’s share stands at a measly $4.5 billion despite it being the largest repository of the bamboo resources with almost 14 million hectare under bamboo cultivation.

China has better productivity with only six million hectares under bamboo cultivation. In view of the China’s leap in bamboo growing, the headquarters of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan was shifted to Beijing from Delhi a few years ago. Though 44 countries report growing bamboo, three - China, India and Myanmar - account for 80% of bamboo resources.  

Though bamboo comes from the grass family (Poaceae), it is considered a woody grass and qualifies as a structural material far superior in strength than timber yielded by several species of trees. In fact, it excels over steel when it comes to volume versus strength ratio.

This has led China to deploy wings made out of bamboo for wind turbines as they provide 14% advantage over steel. In fact, in view of its immense tensile strength (resistance against being pulled apart), China is using the material for tunnels, ducts and pipes (after normally required treatment). This has been in evidence along the Belt and Road Initiative being built across Central Asia.

Due to its fast-growing property, bamboo is treated as a cash crop as some varieties even report a metre’s growth in 24 hours in the initial stages. It can attain a height of 40 to 60 feet in four to five years. The elastic nature of the bamboo plant allows it to withstand stormy winds.

Besides, bamboo cultivation yields enormous environmental dividends. It is known to produce 35% more oxygen than trees. It yields enormous amount of biomass ideal for pulp industry. Research in Japan has shown that bamboo can absorb as much as 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year. Though its role in purifying the air is well known, the plantation owners would like more economic uses of the material for expanding the area under its cultivation.

Elevating bamboo in the value chain has therefore been the most crucial challenge engaging the scientists. The Bengaluru-based Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute (IPIRTI) has been engaged in developing appropriate technology for raising bamboo in the estimation of builders, designers and architects.

Thanks to its research spanning over half a century and transfer of technology, several units manufacturing bamboo composites such as bamboo mat board, bamboo corrugated sheets, bamboo vertical as well as horizontal laminates, bamboo lumber products and bamboo particleboard have sprung in and around Bengaluru and in places as far as Tripura.

However, promotion of these industries in the northeastern states remains a challenge where barring Tripura, not much headway has been made in terms of industrialisation. Ikea and Walmart which have set up shopping malls in India in recent years are keen to procure bamboo products from the Indian hinterlands, but suppliers of the commensurate scale are still far from the Indian horizon.   

Bamboo Mission

The National Bamboo Mission was initiated in 2006 in view of the bamboo’s close ties with the northeastern states. It had fixed a target of capturing 27% of the $950 billion international market. Though it succeeded in expanding the cultivation and propagation of bamboo, it failed to address the link between the farmers and the industry.

It failed to meet the target for 2015 and India’s share has remained at $4.5 dollars. The Second National Bamboo Mission, a sub-scheme under the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture, was taken up in 2018 with an initial allocation of Rs. 1,290 crore and is designed to focus on enhancing productivity—currently 3 to 6 tonne per hectare for India versus 30 to 40 tonne for China—and augmenting technology transfer to MSME industries.    

The northeastern states account for 65% of the bamboo grown in India. Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Karnataka account for 11, 8, 7 and 5.5%, respectively. Be it a structural element for dwellings or articles of domestic use or even food, bamboo is intensely enmeshed with culture and livelihood of the seven northeastern states.

It is the mainstay of a vast and diverse variety of handicrafts the states produce. All across the rural households in North India, bamboo in its raw form provides the basic framework material for the charpoys, racks, shelves and a variety of furniture. The humble domestic ladder and scaffoldings, of course, invariably come from bamboo all across the nation.

With its low weight, low thermal conductivity, environmental sustainability, load-bearing and quake-resistant properties, bamboo could offer wider opportunities as a substitute for timber.    

Yet, for being a remunerative agro-forestry crop, it would presuppose establishment of a value chain network within and outside India. An International Conference and Exhibition on Bamboo Composites being hosted in Bengaluru by the IPIRTI from February 9 to 12 will discuss the promotion of bamboo composites and ways and means to achieve the targets of the Second National Bamboo Mission.

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The need to boost bamboo cultivation

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