The wonder grass
Bamboo has been an integral part of India’s culture for centuries. The government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is working towards strengthening India’s position in the global bamboo market by implementing schemes that not only benefit the cultivators but also provide impetus to craftsmen and entrepreneurs to display their art in the Indian urban and international markets
Bamboo, often referred to as the ‘green gold’, is an integral part of India’s culture and heritage. According to ancient Indian tradition, bamboo is associated with a person’s everyday life – from birth to death. It is said that in the Vedic period, after childbirth, the umbilical cord was cut with a bamboo knife, owing to the plant’s antibacterial properties. Among Hindus, the last rites of a person are traditionally carried out on a bier (platform) made with bamboo poles. Not just this – from being used as a food ingredient to being required in construction, this wonder plant forms an integral part of rural Indian lifestyle even today.
Applications of this versatile grass include the traditional manufacture of toys, tokris (baskets) and khatiyas (beds), and the creation of such modern-day utility objects as toothbrushes, pens, keyboards, desk organisers, straws, and even watches and speakers! Recognising the versatility of this plant and its importance to the growth of the rural economy, the Indian government has taken several steps to promote its cultivation. In his Mann ki Baat address made on July, 2020, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the benefits of bamboo products created in the Northeastern states of Assam, Tripura and Manipur, and lauded the artisans. Bamboo-based products not only contribute to the Indian economy but also to the Prime Minister’s Make in India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan through self-reliant agriculture.
The big move
One of the biggest steps that the government, led by Prime Minister Modi, has taken towards the benefit of bamboo cultivators has been to amend the Indian Forest Act, 1927 that identified bamboo as a tree. After the amendment, bamboo is now recognised as a grass. This rectification made in 2016 removed several restrictions and confusions that hindered the trade and transportation of bamboo. This much-welcome move now allows bamboo farmers to transport their produce anywhere in the country without the hassle of obtaining a pass. This has also benefitted several indigenous manufacturers and contributed to the country’s overall economy, too. In India, kite-making is a high revenue-generating business (approximately INR 700 crore). With the earlier law in place, bamboo, which is used to make the frame of the kite, could not be transported from other cities and had to be imported from China. Declaring bamboo as a grass has not only curbed the import but has also added to the production value.
The government launched the restructured National Bamboo Mission (NBM) in 2018-19 for the holistic development of the sector. The Mission is being implemented in a ‘hub (industry) and spoke’ model, with the main goal of connecting farmers and increasing supply of appropriate raw material to domestic industry. The Mission has been adopting various schemes to promote the bamboo product industry. It envisages promoting holistic growth of the bamboo sector by adopting area based regionally differentiated strategy, increasing the area under bamboo cultivation and marketing. Under the Mission, steps have been taken to increase the availability of quality planting material by supporting the establishment of new nurseries and strengthening of existing ones. To address forward integration, the Mission is working to strengthen the marketing of bamboo products, especially handcrafted objects. The restructured NBM was launched with an outlay of INR 1,290 crore to promote the industry. Along with this are the capacity-building and training programmes to enhance the skills of artisans to manufacture value-added products that can tap into both the Indian urban market and the global one. Worldwide, the bamboo market size was valued at USD 68.8 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5 per cent between 2019 and 2025. Growing investments focussed on infrastructure development, increasing use of sustainable building/ construction resources, and rising consumer awareness regarding the uses and benefits of bamboos are expected to drive the market growth over the forecast period.
Aiding independent farmers
It is PM Modi’s vision to double farmers’ income by 2020 and this is where bamboo can help significantly. Even with the The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 – which ensure that farmers get better prices for their produce without being subject to the regulation of mandis or agri-markets – farmers cultivating bamboo will reap an added advantage, without much effort. A bamboo grove does not require a substantial area and can be grown along the border of a farm and even a backyard. The cost of maintenance is also minimal as it does not need pesticides or a continuous water supply. There are families near Pune who grow bamboo groves around their home, where every grove generates about 200 poles, annually. Each pole is then sold at INR 400. In fact, on June 27, 2019, the Maharashtra government approved the Atal Bamboo Samriddhi Scheme, which envisaged the supply of tissue culture bamboo sapling to 750 farmers (approximately) in every district of the state at subsidised rates. The state government had also proposed INR 25 crore for the same.
Recently, Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar, launched 22 bamboo clusters in nine states and said that the country is now gearing up to increase exports of bamboo products. The bamboo clusters will be set up in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Karnataka. Addressing the event, the minister called upon the states to take forward the objectives of NBM. “The support being given by the [NBD] to local artisans through locally grown bamboo species will also actualise the goal of ‘Vocal for Local’,” he said, adding that this will help increase farmers’ income and reduce dependency on import of raw materials. With the wealth of bamboo in India and a growing industry, the country should aim to establish itself in global markets for both engineered and handcrafted products, he added.
In October, 2020, an independent forum was launched with an aim to give a boost to the bamboo sector by promoting entrepreneurship, research and trade of high-quality bamboo products in a sustainable manner. A brainchild of former Union Minister Suresh Prabhu, the India Bamboo Forum aims to bring together a voluntary group of 55 leaders in the bamboo sector. The former minister said that in India, the bamboo industry has the potential to positively impact 4 million small farmers and around 1.5 million micro entrepreneurs associated with it in the next five years. The Government of India has taken several major steps to develop the bamboo sector with an aim address such various issues as sustainable livelihood, climate change mitigation and land degradation. With the impetus and support provided by the government towards the holistic promotion of bamboo, its cultivation and production, and the work being done by private entrepreneurs, India is well on its way to strengthening its position in the global bamboo market and also becoming a cleaner and greener nation.