Botanist by education and horticulturist by profession, Hemant Bedekar was recently awarded a PhD for his thesis titled “Environmental effects on the expression of bamboos in the Western Ghats.” A promoter of bamboo for over two decades now and executive director, Bamboo Society of India (Maharashtra Chapter) he spoke to Hiren Kumar Bose on the future of green gold and issues associated with it.
We have realized only lately that bamboo holds a great promise in ensuring a livelihood not only to the farmer but the artisans too?
It’s true. In most cases, the craftsmen have been dependent on the bamboo available at the mercy of the foresters or the ones growing on private land or acquiring them from the open market. My study shows that most craftsmen are engaged in this business only during certain months, namely November to February when fresh bamboo is available. There is huge potential for this craft activity especially basket making which is still used in the villages. Now, organic farmers too are using large storage cases, made of bamboo, to store cereals and pulses. Then there an increasing demand from the corporate and tourism sector for gift articles. At present, the craftsmen engaged in this industry are generally old people and women. Youth are not interested in this enterprise. The entire craft industry needs to be supported with common facility centres with small hand-operated or single phase operated machines. There is increasing demand for small household furniture which can be manufactured by these artisans. The Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) in order to attract the youth should start bamboo training courses in the bamboo growing areas. Surprisingly there are syllabi for providing training is available, which are updated till 2014. I believe that there is ample scope for providing employment following modernization of the bamboo artisanship.
Can bamboo be the answer to the agrarian crisis and a source of livelihood for our farmers?
Bamboo needs very less water and that too until December – January. Systematic plantation along the agriculture field, along with the newly rejuvenated water currents, along rivers and all water channels, in the catchment area of the dams and percolation tanks, even wastelands and rocky lands will help the farmers as well as the nation. Bamboo reduces soil erosion, allows water to percolate slowly and replenish the underground water too. It works on the principle of rainwater harvesting and makes water available in wells which can be used for the second crop in Rabi. Bamboo has a great advantage that it thrives well if supportive irrigation is there. But it survives even if no water is available for the prolonged period. During drought, it hibernates and again grows when it rains.
Having spearheaded the cause of bamboo since long do you think the Maharashtra Govt. decision and now Central Government’s to free the transit pass (TP) condition for bamboo grown on private land will be a shot in the arm for those who plan to grow green gold?
What was TP? It was a permit to cut and transport bamboos in the given state. This was done for the protection of forest bamboo. These permits were issued by the foresters. The farmer growing bamboo on his private land was compelled to a take permit from the Forest Dept. Foresters always treated this as the source of income. There was always harassment from the foresters from top to bottom. In Western Maharashtra (Sahyadri) and Konkan bamboo has been mainly grown on private lands for decades together. The species grown here is Managa (Dendrocalamus stocksii). It is a non-seeding bamboo and hence never naturally propagated by seeds. As it is a non-forest species it was not possible for the foresters to restrict the movement of Managa. This has helped the farmers of 8 districts of (W. Maharashtra and Konkan) to cut and transport the bamboos to the markets. These markets are from Sankeshwar to Nasik. With one rough estimate, the farmers of Pune district (Only 3 talukas namely Bhor, Velha and Mulshi) sell Rs 150 crores worth of bamboo in open market. There is a well-established system of harvesters, transporters and traders. Kolhapur has two different markets for two different varieties for very long time. If all these 8 districts together are surveyed, it will prove to be the market worth some thousand crores. In Vidarbha, Marathwada and Khandesh, unfortunately, there is no bamboo on private lands. These areas have a climatologically different than Western Maharashtra and Konkan. Due to this difference, only Manvel and Katang are the varieties grow well. These species are mainly forest grown species. Hence foresters took the disadvantage and did not allow the farmers to grow these bamboos on private lands. Even if somebody dared to do that he was caught in the TP process and not allowed to sell his bamboos. The removal of TP regime will take some time to develop the market. Farmers especially the large farmers should take the lead for development of this. It will be a slow process. But it will happen without any intervention of the govt. In fact, in my opinion, there should not be any intervention of govt in trade. The failures of crops like cotton and soybean due to adverse climatic conditions and pest attacks, the farmer is searching for alternatives. Bamboo is a good option for places in Vidarbha, Marathwada and Khandesh where rainfall is scanty.
Being strong a CO2 absorber future do we see for bamboo in urban habitats? Growing them in roadsides, parks and open spaces?
Lot has been debated on the Co2 fixation ability and carbon sequestration by bamboo. The International Network on Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) working on this. If planted along water currents flowing through the cities it will improve the water quality flowing. There are ample places in the urban areas where one can plant bamboo. So also along the highways, we can plant bamboos. If planted in city parks and open places along large roads it will be very advantageous First by providing an evergreen landscape and helping reduce the temperature in the cities. Secondly by improve the air quality and thirdly provide huge biomass and along with the biomass which can help run a power plant or alcohol plant or CNG plant bringing in additional for the local bodies.
Which are preferred bamboo varieties in Maharashtra?
There are only four varieties of bamboo grown for a long time and on large scale in Maharashtra. These are Manvel (Dendrocalamus strictus), Katang or thorny bamboo (Bambusa bambos), Managa ( Dendrocalamus stocksii), and Chivari or Ooda (Munrochloa ritchiei). Of these only, the first three are economically exploited. Then, we have some varieties introduced recently, namely Bhima (Bambusa balcooa), Burma (Dendrocalamus brandisii), Giant Burma( Dendrocalamus giganteus) and yellow bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris strata). Except for Bhima, others are yet to be tested extensively in Maharashtra.
Is it true that Bhīma is preferred in Vidarbha and Marathwada while in Konkan it is Managa?
As explained earlier the bamboos which are from forests were not allowed to cultivate on private lands, Bhīma has been introduced. It is growing well in Gadchiroli. It has limitations as far as use is concerned. It is good bamboo for the energy, alcohol or CNG production. Its yields are high. But its growth pattern restricts its use in other areas of use like construction industry. We can judge only when other varieties are planted and started flourishing the in the area. Bhīma gives higher yields when grown with irrigation. Other bamboos grown in Maharashtra are rain-fed bamboos, with irrigation these also may give good yields. Yes in Konkan and W. Maharashtra along Sahyadri Managa is preferred and it is paying. The markets are well established.
What needs to be done on the fronts of technology and resource development to strengthen the foundation of the bamboo sector?
It is always quoted that China has developed the bamboo sector very nicely. I visited China and the Anji County. It is the hilly area of south-central China which provides the bamboo products to the world. It is a temperate region. The variety is Phyllostachys sp. The area is similar to Konkan or rather Sahyadri. Here we have also only one dominant bamboo i.e. Managa. The Chinese Govt. has encouraged researchers, farmers, industrialists by treating bamboo as an industrial crop. Due to hilly topography, there were only two options – either growing timber trees or bamboo. Being a good substitute for timber and fast growing as well as the ability to start production within 3-4 years bamboo a has been preferred. We need to emphasise that sugarcane is not the only cash crop for bamboo has bigger potential than the former. Industrialists should come forward with contract farming of bamboo. There is another hitch. Once processed only 30-40 % of bamboo can be converted into a final product. The bamboos pieces of uniform diameter (6-8 feet long) are converted into strips round sticks which can be used in ply making, lumber making or fashioning Venetian blinds. Reaming waste which is almost 70 % is a load on the cost of the final product. But all the wastes can be used for one or other products. Namely, the upper portion of bamboo (around 8-10 feet) can be utilized for support of horticultural crops. The sawdust which is a major waste in this process can be used for making the pellets or particle boards. The bottom internodes which are of odd diameter can be used for Agarbattis or chopsticks or toothpicks. The remaining portion can be used as charcoal or a firewood. In China the whole process is called the preprocessing of bamboos which are done at village level and all the parts mentioned above are delivered to the respective industry. Such kind of the mechanism needs to be developed in India. The Maharashtra Bamboo Development Board continues to be part of the forestry department. It needs to be freed to flourish. Lot of things to be done by NGOs, like Bamboo Society to popularize and develop the mindset of farmers towards bamboo and we have started these activities. At the bank level, like NABARD and other nationalized banks should start treating bamboo as a plantation crop and provide finance to the growers for the same.