In many parts of India, along with certain other tropical climes, the use of bamboo is ubiquitous. Bamboo has been the basic natural resource that has helped mankind to survive and progress since primitive days. For centuries, communities have put the material to functional yet aesthetic use, and their skills having evolved over centuries. Bamboo, commonly known as "cradle to coffin" timber is closely associated with life and livelihood of human beings even today. Nearly 1500 uses of bamboo have been documented so far.
The diverse uses of bamboo range from farm equipment to storage devices, from dolls to measuring tools, from furniture to decorative items. In recent years, a range of products and applications has emerged that use bamboo in newer and value added ways, and which have been developed through the application of scientific and engineering skills. The bamboo has survived through the centuries with the diverse and varied uses of bamboo and its products. Bamboo has been an integral part of the cultural, social and economic traditions of many indigenous societies and therefore, communities have nurtured and protected bamboo and are repositories of vast knowledge and skills related to the propagation, processing and usage of bamboo.
Bamboo is the fastest growing and highest yielding renewable natural resource. It is found extensively all over the country and is capable of constituting one of the most important resources. With increasing demand for timber and wood, which are becoming scare commodities in the world, bamboo can serve as an alternative to many forest products. Its wide range of uses and its great versatility qualifies it to be a multiple-use alternative to timber which will add greatly to the rural agricultural economy in general and act as poverty alleviator for the rural poor in particular. Through the processing of such bamboo goods and products and incorporating many other economic uses, bamboos can boost the economy of the country and facilitate the entry of India into the world economy.
What can Bamboo do?
Bamboo is remarkably varied and adaptable with a wide range of anatomical, structural and chemical properties. Bamboo has many new uses too, developed through the application of science and technology. It can substitute technologically and commercially not only wood, but also plastics, steel and cement and composite materials in structural and product applications through improvements in processing technologies, product innovation and the application of scientific and engineering skills. The expectation is that bamboo can be an important vehicle for sustainable and widespread development, augmenting economic opportunity, income and employment, in particular in relatively underdeveloped areas. Bamboo is also an eco-friendly alternative. It is a material that lends itself easily to simple processing technologies.
Why Grow Bamboo?
Domestic uses of Bamboo
Since time immemorial, bamboo products have been used extensively in rural households. Bamboo has remained part and parcel of cultural practices in regions, such as with the people of Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar who include bamboo products during many of their rituals. Bamboo made artifacts, containers, etc. are indispensable in some of the Hindu ceremonies. Bamboo products are the prerequisites in marriage ceremonies of many tribes and caste. Moreover, the forest produce has also aided livelihood practices, like agriculture. The agricultural sector still remains the largest consumer of bamboo products. Right from sowing to stocking of grains, bamboo articles find wide usage. Baskets, containers, plows, planks, winnowers and range of other articles are used in all the operations in agriculture. In rural households, it is used in construction of houses and fences. It even serves as a food item in most parts of the country. Bamboo can be seen in the urban homes as decoration pieces, furniture or handicrafts and is an essential feature in any celebration that requires a structure, be it marriage or religious festivities.
Commercial uses of Bamboo
The rich bamboo forest has been a big attraction for paper industries for quite some time. A major portion of bamboo is being consumed by the paper industries.
Alternative uses of Bamboo
Owing to the government's intervention for providing pucca house through Indira Awas Yojna and the growing trend of mechanized farming, use of bamboo in house construction/maintenance and agriculture has been reduced substantially over the years. This has fueled for a serious rethinking on alternate uses of such a vast resource of bamboo, which not only earns revenue for the government but also ensures livelihood for millions of people. Rethinking on alternative uses of bamboo is the need of the hour. Research on bamboo is a relatively recent occurrence, so the potential of this versatile material has remained largely unexploited.
Some of the innovative and recent uses of Bamboo include:
Aggarbatti or incense sticks: In Orissa, Khadi and Village Industries Board gives finance to 15 cooperative societies in 12 districts for making aggarbatti sticks. In theyear2003-04, these societies have made a profit of Rs. 407062. (Source: KVIB office). There is a need of expansion of the process.
Bamboo mat board: It is the first bamboo based panel to be produced commercially. One of the major uses of mat boards is in building interiors and construction. It has the potential to replace thin plywood. It is estimated that if bamboo mat board replaces wood veneers to the extent of one-fourth the volume of plywood production, about 400,000 cubic meters (m3) of wood can be saved annually which in turn will save 45,000 hectares (ha) of natural forests from eco-destruction and will provide employment to a sizable population.
Bamboo match sticks: To evolve suitable processes and parameters for making quality match sticks from two widely occurring species of bamboo namely Bambusa bambos and Dendrocaiamus strictus, extensive experiments were conducted at (PIRTI, Bangalore under a project funded by the International Network on Bamboo and Rattan. At present, the match industry is using 2 millimeters (mm) thick wooden splints for manufacturing matchsticks. However, bamboo match splints of 1.5 mm squared were found to pass the test of strength prescribed in the relevant Indian Standard specification for match splints. Limited trials in a factory at Sivakasi-Tamilnadu were carried out, especially on waxing and head fixing, and the results were found to be very encouraging. The processes and the results can be replicated for developing match sticks.
Wood substitute: Since bamboo can be grown in any part of the country in a short rotation of 3-4 years, it is emerging as a serious contender for providing substitutes for wood. The potential of bamboo has been known since long and considerable research projects had been undertaken by the various research institutes for converting low-cost bamboo into valuable wood substitutes. Now technology is available for commercial manufacture of products, which can be converted into wood substitutes. The finding of the research carried out by different institutes should be studied and best technology can be taken up.
Furniture: Traditionally, bamboo has been a widely accepted material for furniture making. It is a good substitute for wood. Furniture makers have commercialized the use of bamboo because of scarcity and high price of wood. Furniture making is being done but there should be expansion of the process.
Edible shoot industry: considering the existing resources and its utilization, there is still a good scope for commercial utilization of bamboo in the food- processing sector. With the high moisture content, Bamboo shoots can be processed into canned Bamboo shoots in brine, bamboo shoot candies, chutneys, pickles etc. There is a good demand of bamboo shoot products (orient food) in the local and export markets, specially, in countries namely Japan, Singapore, China, Thailand, Hong Kong and U.K. etc. It is one of the prospective areas for investment.
Bamboo charcoal briquettes: Bamboo generates a lot of waste when processed for incense sticks, toothpicks, matchsticks etc. This waste can be effectively converted into charcoal and activated carbon. The charcoal from bamboo has a higher calorific value than wood charcoal and is used by goldsmiths. It produces more than 7,000 kilocalories per kilogram (kcal/kg), more than wood and half that of raw petroleum. Bamboo charcoal after boiling and cleaning thoroughly in running water is dried in sun and can be used as deodorizer, water purifier, food preservative, de-humidifier and carbonized bamboo fibers
Application in tourism industry: Tourism department builds resorts for ecotourism where bamboo can be used, as it is a sustainable construction material and an alternative for wood.
Bamboos in structural use: Bamboo is accepted as a versatile construction material. About one third of the entire bamboos in India are utilized for construction purposes like columns, beams, roofs, purlins, and trusses. The various structural uses in bamboo are Bamboo-grid reinforcement. Bamboo-grid reinforcement of the road- base is used in case o village/small town roads, which makes the roads very durable.
Foundations: Bamboos are used in foundations, floors, partition-walls, doors, windows, ceiling, roofs, ladders, cooperage and joinery. Massive stems form posts, columns, trusses, rafters and purlins, and usually thick-walled culms of larger diameter and closer nodes are employed in foundations.
Scaffoldings: Bamboo scaffoldings are popular for use in high- rise buildings. Dendrocalamus srictus are commonly used as scaffolding material.
Rafter- purlin: Purlins are important components of roofing system, which act like beams, support and roof grid and transfer the roof- load to the trusses below. Long, straight and comparatively small diameter culms having thick walls are selected as purlins.
Roof- grid: It is made by bamboo reeds or half or quarter- split bamboo culms. The individual pieces are first fixed over the purlins 25 centimeters (cm) apart like the rafters running from edge to edge. Similar structures are wired over these perpendicularly with similar spacing to constitute a grid system to contain the roof covering materials.
Reinforcement in concrete: Bamboo is suitable for reinforcement in concrete for small span structures and for ancillary uses in building construction after due precautions. A process has been developed in Forest Research Institute, Dehradun to use bamboo in the construction of roof slabs, beams, electric posts, etc.
Bamboo in disaster management: Bamboo is suitable for housing in earthquake- prone areas. Its strength and flexibility make it a viable material for building shelters that offer protection against hurricanes and earthquakes. In regions of frequent earthquakes, construction of bamboo- framed houses is recommended. Bamboo- framed homes have excellent wind resistance strength.
Betel vines: Bamboo is used for supporting crops like betel vines. Betel vine cultivators cultivate betel vines in specially made bamboo mat enclosures provided with interspersed long bamboo stakes for supporting the betel vine. Betel leaves are in great demand for pan chewing, a popular custom among Indian population.
Through resource generation and utilization, bamboo is expected to create employment opportunities, improve infrastructure, increase ecological security and improve the economy. Utilization of bamboo has witnessed several changes with time. The proportion of consumption of bamboo has been tilted as per the sectoral demand and related policies. Occasionally monopoly of major users has exploited this vast resource.
Development of Bamboo as an Enterprise
Development of Bamboo as enterprise shall focus and promote on the following aspects:
- Crafts, handicrafts and Art Products
- Value added products and wood substitutes such as ply, flooring tiles, shuttering, etc
- Food products.
- Conversion of Bamboo to other mass scale uses such as Bamboo Charcoal and Biomass energy plants for generation of power.
While India has second largest bamboo resources in the world and many people are dependent on it for their livelihood, there is a substantial need to promote the utilization of bamboo to the extent possible. Bamboo hitherto known as a poor man's timber has of late gained importance as a resource capable of fostering in economic benefits. The diversity and utility of bamboo has enhanced its potential, making it a viable medium to bring economic growth. The diversified applications of bamboo such as building materials, activated carbon, usable form of energy, bamboo shoots, etc. had brought attention to prefer bamboo as a better substitute to wood and other materials.
Value added bamboo products would have vast potential in generating income and employment, especially in the rural areas. The waste generated could also be converted into value added products such as activated carbon, etc.; this indicates the utilization of bamboo to the fullest extent. Bamboos are fast becoming a luxury raw material to craft value-added decorative and export items from tea tray to table mats, furniture, flutes, flower vases and wall hangings, among many others. The potential of the bamboo market offers a large aggregate employment potential. Agriculture alone cannot solve the employment related poverty situations. Therefore, what India needs urgently is a long-term policy for bamboo management where all the stakeholders are taken into confidence and the communities’ interest are given paramount importance. This long-term approach should open up the hitherto present but unexplored as well as newer vistas of bamboo utilization. This will be possible only after markets are sought. This will help bamboo become a development resource which improves the economic condition of the people and the region by generating jobs for millions of people, most in the tiny and small-scale enterprise segments and in rural and remote areas.
- Ghosh. G.K. Bamboo: The Wonderful Grass (2008) New Delhi, APH Publishing Corporation
- Issues in Cultivation and Utilization of Bamboo, Rattan and Forest Trees in Private and Community Lands, Peechi, Kerala Forest Research Institute, 2002 (Edt. C. Mohanan, K.C. Chacko, K.K. Seethalakshmi, S. Sankar, C. Renuka, E.M. Muralidharan and J.K. Sharma)
- Soderstrom, TR, CE Calderon. 1979. A Commentary on the Bamboos (Poaceae: Bambusoideae). Biotropica 11(3): 161-172.
- Farrelly David, 2003. The Book of Bamboo. ISBN: 0871568241.