Research, efforts, and experiments have shown that bamboo could be an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. This evergreen plant belonging to the grass family Poaceae is a valuable carbon sink and a versatile raw material.
While there have been efforts to promote the cultivation and use of bamboo, the traditional and contemporary uses of bamboo showcase the utility value of this ‘green gold.
In Assam and Mizoram, the traditional hats have bamboo as the main raw material. The pickled bamboo shoots and sticky rice cooked in bamboo hollows are a delight in the Assamese harvest festival, Magh Bihu; Do’o Brenga (spicy chicken cooked inside green bamboo) is a delicacy in the Garo hills of Meghalaya; In Nagaland, pork or fish is cooked with bamboo shoots. In Karnataka, bamboo shoot curries and pickles are popular. The rare bamboo rice is also cherished.
In the Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya, bamboo pipes are used for drip irrigation.
Bamboo is also increasingly sought after as eco-friendly aesthetic home décor. Bamboo tree houses and bamboo curtains instantly make the outdoors cool and chic.
Across the country, bamboo is prominently used in construction, furniture, papermaking, textile, pharmaceutical, and household items.
It is not unusual to see bamboo brooms, incense sticks, matchsticks, hand-made paper, flutes, and hundreds of other items.
The National Bamboo Mission is promoting the cultivation and marketing of bamboo in India.
The mission’s aim is to increase the bamboo plantation area and develop a value chain linking the growers to small-scale industries.
“The emphasis is on bamboo processing, bamboo charcoal and bamboo activated carbon, designing furniture, artifacts, etc,” says Abhay Kumar Patil, Mission Director, Madhya Pradesh State Bamboo Mission.
Bamboo is grown abundantly in Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Karnataka, and other states.
It could be effectively used in the government’s social housing schemes. Bamboo wood is cheap, easily accessible where it grows, and is durable, with greater tensile strength than steel and an ability to withstand greater compression. The plant also grows relatively fast, within three to four years.
“We need more trained, skilled people for the industry to thrive,” says Kamesh Salam, Founder of Canboo, a cane and bamboo value chain management firm in Guwahati.
“People return from Southeast Asia and want to make bamboo houses but the cost of making one dissuades them. If large bamboo housing projects are planned, then the cost will come down,” Kamesh adds.
Kamesh provides the example of Costa Rica, which instituted a national bamboo housing policy in rural areas after an earthquake left only the bamboo houses standing. There are also examples of bamboo houses in Bali, Indonesia, and Thailand.
It was during Kamesh’s tenure as the president of the World Bamboo Organisation, that the World Bamboo Day was declared, on September 18, 2009, in Bangkok at the World Bamboo Congress.
The annual event marks the celebration of bamboo among bamboo-growing nations. They strive to promote the cultivation of bamboo and its usage in new industries, as well as retaining traditional uses locally, for the community’s economic development.
In India, the idea of bamboo houses is often revived when earthquakes and floods occur, but there are no takers afterward. Even in the states of Northeast India, where people have been building bamboo houses for a long time, concrete construction is gaining precedence.
However, there is some solace, as several entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative and utilitarian bamboo products.
“Bamboo is traditionally an integral part of our everyday life,” says Dhritiman Borah of DB industries in Assam. He designs stylish cups, glasses, and cutlery using bamboo, and his water bottles are in great demand in Mexico. Borah wants to make disposable bamboo plates and cups but needs funds to buy a machine to cut costs. “The handcrafted products we make cost more and large-scale production are not possible,” he says. He is experimenting to make bamboo polybags by next year to replace polythene bags.
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