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Wednesday, Nov 08, 2006

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Bamboo cultivation: A viable alternative

M.J. Prabu

Emerging as a major commodity with export potential

GREEN GOLD: A farm worker cutting bamboo in Wayanad district, Kerala. Bamboo is endowed with several features such as fast growth, high total biomass production, low input costs and a capacity to provide yield in 4-5 years. It can provide steady annual returns for over 30 years and has the potential to be the raw material for a variety of industries. It is emerging to be a viable crop. — K.K.Mustafah

Chennai , Nov. 7

In India, bamboo, which is traditionally considered the `poor man's wood', and labelled as `green gold' is being considered a major export item by the centre for the global market, valued at about Rs 50,000 crore. The annual turnover of the bamboo sector in the country is estimated to be around Rs 2,500 crore.

In India, the North-East has the largest stock and diversity of bamboos. Next comes the Western Ghats. Though India has the largest area under bamboo, which is estimated at around 9.6 million hectares, the yield per hectare is estimated at around 0.4 tonnes, which is very low compared to other countries such as Japan, China and Malaysia. About 80 per cent of the world's bamboo comes from these countries, while India, though having more than 100 different species of bamboo, has only about 4 per cent share in the global market.

The National Mission on Bamboo Technology and Trade Development was launched by the National Planning Commission with the sole objective of utilising bamboo as a means of reclaiming degraded land, conserving soil and improving the environment.

Raising forest cover

Bamboo can play an important role in raising forest cover to about 30 per cent by 2008 and about 40 per cent by 2020. It is estimated that there are about 7.5 million bamboo artisans dependent on bamboo for their livelihood, according to official statistics.

Bamboo cultivation can also play a major role in stabilisation of the environmental problems. Deforestation, followed by increased carbon dioxide emission, is one of the major concerns of environmentalists. The cultivation of bamboo as a wood substitute helps to offset depletion of the rain forest. Its rapid growth ensures an effective reconstruction of damaged eco systems as bamboo generates 30 per cent more oxygen than other trees.

It helps reduce carbon dioxide gases blamed for global warming. Some bamboo species absorb up to 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, which makes it an efficient replenisher of fresh air.

Under the bamboo plantation, surface soil (0 - 20 cm) electrical conductivity and soil pH improves and the soil is enriched with organic matter.

Based on the research conducted, bamboo replaces 30 per cent of its biomass in one year, while a tree forest can only replace 3 to 5 per cent. It is also one of the hardiest plant and can yield 20 times more timber than other trees in the same area.

"Unlike most tropical hardwood species, which take at least 30 years to mature, bamboo shoots and culms (stems) can be harvested at about three to four years after planting," says Dr N. Barathi, Director, Growmore Biotech Ltd, Tamil Nadu.

The production can continue for about 20 years or more if properly maintained. While a 60-foot tree cut for market takes about 30-60 years to replace, a 60-foot bamboo takes 50-60 days to replace, according to him.

As a woody grass, bamboo is perfectly suited to agro-forestry. It fits well in agro-forestry situations such as inter-cropping, soil conservation, and yields value-added products such as timber, livestock forage, shoots, fibre and craft wood.

It is a natural water control barrier. Because of its wide spread root system and large canopy, bamboo greatly reduces rain run off, prevents massive soil erosion and retains twice the amount of water required for other crops in the water table.

Bamboo helps mitigate water pollution due to its high nitrogen consumption, making it a solution for excess nutrient uptake of wastewater from manufacturing, livestock farming and sewage treatment, Dr Barathi said.


Economically, it is also remunerative compared to other trees. The returns are recurrent on annual basis after five to six years for up to 30 years or more, without recurring investment on plantation. For farmers disenchanted with eucalyptus, teak and casuarina, bamboo cultivation is a viable alternative.

The most recent advancement in bamboo is the utilisation of bamboo fibre for making bamboo yarn into various fabrics. There are several spinning mills using 100 per cent bamboo yarn, and companies such as Raymond, BSL Ltd of Bilwara group and Paramount Textile Mills Ltd, Madurai, have already launched fabrics made out of bamboo.

"The bamboo fabrics are naturally anti-microbial and due to the presence of micro pores the fabric absorb three times more moisture than cotton, making it superior to others," said Dr Barathi.

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