Bamboo in the Global Context

An evergreen plant and a member of the true grass family Poaceae, bamboo is the fastest growing woody perennial on the planet, and some of the giant species can grow up to four feet per day. Most bamboo species grow in the tropics; however, some varieties occur naturally in subtropical and temperate zones of all continents except Europe. The growing zone ranges from latitudes 46 °N to 47 °S and from sea level to over 13,000 feet (4,000 m) in elevation. The plant can grow as short as a couple of inches, to as tall as 100 plus feet and 8 inches in diameter. There are currently over 1,250 known bamboo species, and 136 genera. The bamboo family is diverse and can grow in a wide range of climates and conditions. Sizes, shapes, colors, and behaviors of bamboo can also vary significantly. Asia alone has over 1000 species, most of it in natural stands. Current major bamboo producing and using countries include China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Bamboo is an important resource for livelihood, generating income and improving the nutritional status of over 2 billion poor people mostly in rural communities. It also provides the resource base for expanding Small and Medium Enterprise sector, providing employment and income generating opportunities to alleviate poverty especially in rural areas and communities. With such properties bamboo can be considered an excellent entry point for poverty alleviation programs and initiatives.

Furthermore Bamboo benefits rural-urban communities as it (a) blends itself to agricultural approaches, (b) can be grown on non-agricultural land with annual harvests, (c) is easily processed by simple tools because it splits linearly, (d) Bamboo based industrial development benefits the communities through its demand for human resources for growing, harvesting, transportation and processing of bamboo, (e) Provides nutritious food in the form of bamboo shoots (f) bamboo also works for land protection, soil quality improvements including improved water holding capacity, higher water capture and recharge benefiting agriculture and food security.

The Bamboo Economy

There are about 1500 documented uses of bamboo. The market for bamboo and bamboo products is growing and over the past years has been spearheaded by a rapid increase in bamboo production and/or trade coming out of China and other parts of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Latin America. Technical innovations in processing, particularly standardization and product innovation have enabled bamboo products to compete in mainstream wood-product markets such as laminated flooring, composite boards and paper and pulp. Other promising bamboo products do not compete in the timber products markets, such as bamboo shoots and bamboo handicraf ts, and these sub-sectors are subject to unique factors affecting growth.

The world bamboo market is currently worth USD 8 Billion/year, of which China’s share is USD 5.5 Billion. The largest markets are handicraft (USD 3 Billion), bamboo shoots (USD 1.5 Billion), traditional furniture (USD 1.1 Billion); the remainder consists of window blinds, chopsticks, panels, charcoal etc. In 1992, France, Germany and the Netherlands were the major markets for bamboo, collectively accounting for 53% of the world’s total imports (NAFRI, NUoL, SNV. 2007). Traditional markets cover handicrafts, blinds, bamboo shoots, chopsticks and traditional bamboo furniture, which count for 95% of the market to date. New market products include modern/laminated furniture, flooring and panels cover the remainder 5% of the bamboo sector.

It is estimated that the current value of global trade in bamboo products is over 8 bn USD, and is expected to rise at 17 bn USD by 2017, assuming mid-level growth. In view of the global market trends in bamboo usage coupled with the fact that India has the largest recorded bamboo resources globally; the need to prioritize this sector is of great significance. In India, 13.47 million tons of bamboo is harvested annually of which 11.7 million tons is utilized industrially in paper mills, as scaffolding or fencing, for internal consumption in bamboo-growing households, handicrafts and miscellaneous items like incense-sticks, ladders, ice-cream sticks, agricultural implements, etc. But no reliable estimates of quantities are available for any of these items. Due to the abundance of the natural product, small holders harvest the bamboo from the edges of their farms and their surroundings; there is negligible large-scale commercial cultivation of bamboo in India. The annual market for value added bamboo in India is estimated at approx. 1.0bn USD in 2004 which is expected to grow up to 5.8bn USD by 2015. India has 30 per cent of the world’s bamboo resources, but contributes only four percent share of the global market. This is mainly because of low productivity.

Some of the Salient Features of Bamboo are as Follows

  • Bamboo is strong, with the compressive force of concrete and the strength-to-weight ratio of steel.
  • Bamboo absorbs carbon dioxide and releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere than an equivalent stand of hardwood trees.
  • Some species of bamboo grow more than three feet each day! No plant on the planet features a faster growth rate. When it is harvested, it will grow a new shoot from its extensive root system with no need for additional planting or cultivation.
  • Bamboo can replace the use of wood for nearly every application. Paper, Flooring, Furniture, charcoal, building Materials, and much more can be made from bamboo. What’s more, bamboo fibers are far stronger than wood fibers and much less likely to warp from changing atmospheric conditions.
  • With very little attention, a bamboo shoot can become a structural column within three years, and that building could stand strong for a lifetime. Even sustainable timber can’t begin to compare with bamboo as a conscientious building material.
  •  Though bamboo has traditionally been used throughout Tripura, new treatment methods have given bamboo a longer lifespan. Selective Bamboo are harvested from local sources, and treated ecologically, then lab tested to confirm its durability and integrity.