India also happens to be the world’s second largest cultivator of bamboo after China, with 136 species and 23 genera spread over a staggering 13.96 million hectares. And yet, the Indian Bamboo industry has far from actualised its true potential, with a mere 2.19% share in the global bamboo trade and commerce (as per the INBAR Report of 2019).
A commodity like bamboo, with such extensive potential, unfortunately lies in the shadows of an ecosystem that could benefit from it and yet, does not know how. We believe collaborative coordination amongst different public and private sector stakeholders is the only way to ensure that the potential is fully harnessed. And by extension, to ensure significant strides are made towards the development of the nation.
THE GROSS ANNUAL OUTPUT OF THE BAMBOO SECTOR AND THE BAMBOO SUB-SECTORS THAT HOLD MOST SCOPE FOR GROWTH
The Gross annual output in the bamboo sector is currently estimated to be Rs. 12,507 cr. which is much lesser than the figures of Rs. 25,000 cr. often quoted in some of the public speeches and documents available.
The scope for increase in the economic value of output is to reach Rs. 52,246 Cr. (4.2 times) in 10 years ‘time frame as per this scoping study document.
The bamboo subsectors that hold big scope for monetary growth are engineered bamboo, Bamboo Artefacts & Utility Products (High End), Round Bamboo Furniture (High End), Bamboo Construction (High End), and bamboo as a biomass fuel with applications as coal replacement, producer/CNG gas and liquid fuel.
The farm-based plantation will increase because of the high demand generation for raw bamboo in the above-mentioned applications.
EMPLOYMENT NUMBERS AND STATUS WITHIN THE BAMBOO SECTOR
The total full-time equivalent employment is estimated to be 10.3 lacs of which almost 75.5% comes from the low value-added craft sector to produce mainly the woven basketry related products, mostly in the tribal & north-eastern regions of India.
This figure is also much smaller compared to the 3-5 million persons that are said to be dependent on bamboo sector, a large number among them on part-time basis. The full-time equivalent employment levels can grow from the current level of 10.3 lac persons to 30.37 lac full time equivalent persons (2.95times), thus generating additional 20.07 lac jobs.
Of this, the direct business applications will generate 8.59 lac additional jobs to become 18.89 lac jobs, while the indirect employment generation at the farmers level will be another 11.48 lacs. The current level of employment at the farmers level is relatively small at about3000 as per the estimations made. (See Chart B)
OPTIMISING PLANTATION ANDHARVESTING TO GROW EMPLOYMENT AT FARMER LEVEL
The growth of employment at farmer levels is directly related to the growth in production of bamboo products & their markets as per the details given above. The gross biomass from bamboo is currently at the level of about 49.99 lactones p.a. that must grow to 344.6 lactones p.a. and the entire increase is assumed to come from the private plantation and not from the govt. forestland.
This translates into 6.9 times of the current level bamboo biomass, thus necessitating the land requirement at 17.22 lac acres 10 years later. This computation is based on the assumption of 20 tons of bamboo biomass p.a. per acre. If the entire biomass is estimated to be available at Rs. 3,500 per ton, this amounts to Rs. 12,061 Cr. directly going to the 11.48 lac farmers at an average of Rs. 1.05 lac per acre.
However, many farmers can add value to the harvested bamboo by undertaking primary processing activities including seasoning and treatment of bamboo for higher value realisation. Besides, there is also scope to increase the biomass production from 20 Tons to 40 Tons p.a. per acre if scientific methods of plantation & harvesting are used.
Recommendations for the Bamboo Sector
Based on the findings of the exercise undertaken by the FMC under the EU funded project; a set of 25 cross sectoral recommendations were collated along with timelines.
Private stakeholders, non-profits, and small-businesses have also begun to lean into the bamboo industry for producing products like toothbrushes, baskets, furniture, flooring, and even construction. It is here that the case for bamboo’s potential begins to build!
An illustrative list of recommendations from the 35 industry specialists who have put their heart in unpacking and analysing ways for the Indian bamboo sector to reach the apex of its potential within the next10 years has been made.
Owing to how deeply rooted bamboo is in indigenous communities and culture; inherently as a material, bamboo is sustainable and exceedingly versatile. It is no surprise thus, that the specialists working on this report have fervent faith in its potential, and collectively believe that bamboo can be the key ingredient to achieving India’s commitment of net zero GHG emissions by 2070.
Why this faith in bamboo? What is the evidence for this supposed potential?
This report has, at multiple points, emphasised the fact that bamboo makes for a sustainable and more economical alternative to produce daily items and goods. If this shift were to be successfully made, we also know that it would open doors to employment and economic growth for multiple stakeholders across the value chain. This leaves space for a huge question mark. Why are we yet to see this shift (to bamboo) made in full swing?
Having said that, we also know that the Indian Government and multiple private organizations/stakeholders have, in their own capacities, attempted to make this shift.
For instance, under the Forest Rights Act, the Government allocated significant portions of forest land to forest dwellers along with rights on the non-timber forest produce (NTFP) of these regions. While evidencing the Government’s positive approach to indigenous products, this provision has also created multiple opportunities for tribal forest dwellers, SCs, STs, and the rural poor to become active stakeholders in afforestation drives. This in turn, translates into creating green livelihoods and green employment for the individuals in these communities (through bamboo plantations). The positive contribution this makes to the nation’s GDP, has not gone unnoticed. that the current contributions of the bamboo industry have been recognised as promising, and that it has been considered worthy of time, resources, thought, and investment; and, in spite of whole-hearted attempts, the failure to begin optimising the potential of the bamboo industry is possibly due to roadblocks, challenges, or lack of clarity and information on part of stakeholders.
Private stakeholders, non-profits, and small-businesses have also begun to lean into the bamboo industry for producing products like toothbrushes, baskets, furniture, flooring, and even construction.
Largely, the recommendations of this report fall into 4 categories:
Suggestions to increase privatized production of bamboo; Upskilling supply chain actors and primary units, along with increasing their exposure and improving systems; Directing and inspiring funding (whether governmental or privatised) towards the bamboo industry, and improving systems and awareness in order to increase the quotidian use of bamboo products and materials.
Currently, India heavily relies on forest bamboo to fulfill its bamboo supply requirements.
However, the existing state of forest management is inadequate which underscores the importance of effectively managing bamboo stocks.
In a recent development, the government reclassified bamboo as a grass, which has substantially improved its availability.
Nonetheless, for this 10 Year Growth Plan to truly be a success, it is crucial to establish a daily bamboo selling system at forest bamboo depots along with promoting bamboo cultivation on private land.
Presently, the Indian bamboo industry predominantly comprises Own Account Enterprises (OAEs) who have limited exposure to scientific tools, techniques, and skills. Often, they also lack innovative tools such as molds (which need to be developed), scientific dyeing and treatment practices, or proper finishing methods. To further exacerbate limitations; both OAEs and other value chain actors, including architects and designers, often have minimal awareness of market opportunities for contemporary bamboo products. Furthermore, they also lack the necessary skills to produce goods for national and international markets.
There is however, more to the story. Owing to a clearly problematic management system on the supply chain front; private sector companies lack confidence in the bamboo sector and are hesitant to invest in it. This sets off a vicious cycle wherein a lack of funding prevents the sector from developing on its challenges (mentioned above).
Where do we begin addressing these challenges?
One, it is crucial to support and promote entrepreneurship along with production organizations as public goods. Two, the technology required for contemporary products and markets must also undergo innovation, stabilization, and acceptance from Funding Institutions (FIs). The third factor here is to create supportive policy frameworks, including initiatives like Public Procurement which will play a vital role in achieving the Growth Plan’s vision and promoting sustainable consumption.
Given the need for extensive collaboration among various stakeholders in the bamboo value chain, including policymakers, BDSPs (Business Development Service Providers), technology institutions, training institutions, and governmental and non-governmental development organizations; it is important to establish a self-sustaining forum. This forum would facilitate knowledge sharing, both existing and new, to drive the sector forward.
With these factors, future possibilities, and the bamboo sector’s scope in mind, this 10 Year Growth Plan offers recommendations to fast-track the growth of the bamboo sector over the next decade.
Within the ambit of the 4 categories mentioned above; the recommendations of this report span across multiple industries and would be relevant to a variety of individuals and organisations involved in the bamboo sector.
From reforestation of appropriate bio species of bamboo that hold commercial potential, to scientific and sustainable harvesting, value chain development, and supply chain management – these recommendations are extensive but well researched.
Forging appropriate market linkages using the Cluster Development Methodology is also a factor that is highlighted. This will help not only towards doubling rural incomes but will also pave the way for a vibrant rural economy. This in turn, will lead to an increase in the nation’s GDP and a significant reduction of the trade deficit.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Mukesh Gulati as the Executive Director, FMC, was the Senior Advisor and later the Project Director in the EU-funded project.
Sanjeev Karpe, an entrepreneur in the construction & furniture was the Technical Expert, under the EU project. He worked as a guide, facilitator, and advisor to the project.