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  Bamboo futures

India recently set up a National Mission on Bamboo Technology at an outlay of Rs 2,600 crores in acknowledgement of bamboo’s potential to broad-spread prosperity. India’s 7 north-eastern states’ relative isolation and non-industrialised condition, make them ideal for spear heading a bamboo centred economy.

India is second only to China in the 136 genetic varieties of bamboo [’dendrocalamus’] it has, spread throughout the land. India also has 130 million tonnes of standing crop. It is expert’s opinion that China’s bamboo craftsmen, fine though they are, have become rather set in their ways, whereas India’s, are more versatile and innovative. And yet China’s bamboo economy is Rs 26,000 crores and India’s is a puny Rs 2,000 crores.

Why? There are three reasons. One, China has for long had a focused programme to develop its bamboo economy. In fact the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan [INBR website], created jointly by 27 countries, is head-quartered in Beijing. Another reason is that bamboo is a tragically poetic plant: it dies as soon as it flowers, and whole tracts die en masse, as is happening now in the NE states. But INBR’s Ian Hunter says this can be managed well, using China’s experience. The final reason is that India’s bamboo stands are in notified forests and laws prohibit their felling and transport. There are moves now to de-link bamboo from other forest produce.

The Technology Mission is mandated to address all these problems. It will spend Rs 2,000 crores to develop two million hectares of new bamboo plantations, Rs 275 crores to train and enhance craftsmen’s skills, Rs 139 crores to develop products, processes and standards and Rs 129 crores to develop markets. By 2007, India’s bamboo economy is expected to touch Rs 16,000 crores and Rs 26,000 crores by 2015.

Is that for real? Is it possible to grow that fast? Yes, because bamboo is a miracle plant; it is known to grow nearly a metre per day on occasions. INBR states dramatically, that it takes 60 years to replace a 60 foot tree but only 60 days to replace a 60 foot bamboo. It is also versatile and there are close to 1500 uses for it. [Peek here for a delightful list]. That should not surprise anyone as worldwide, a billion people live in bamboo houses and use bamboo derived products in their daily lives. Of course, bamboo shoots are eaten as well.

Marketable products like mats, baskets, mugs, boxes, furniture, housing structurals, musical instruments, fishing gear, hats, ice cream sticks etc are obvious products, but rather passe for the creative material that bamboo is. As craftsmen climb the value chain they can make up-market products and reap high margins. Outlook magazine in its Feb 23, 2004 issue says, “Bamboo toys can bring in anything between $1 and $150, a bamboo baseball bat costs $80, while a bamboo chair is priced at $250 in the global market.” At the recently concluded World Bamboo Congress in New Delhi, India’s young celebrities walked the ramp wearing fine woven bamboo fabric tailored by fashion designers.

The Mission is to get India’s craftsmen connected to the profitable, quality markets. Bamboo is democratic in that it is close to people, responsive to innovation and open to individual enterprise. For India, an investment in bamboo, is a natural fit.