What ails bamboo sector development in India? | Raktim Das

Raktim Das - CopyFrom a ‘poor man’s timber’ to green gold’, bamboo is fast emerging as the super material of the 21st century. It is one of the fastest growing and highest yielding renewable natural resource making it a good substitute to wood in mitigating pressure on natural forests. Bamboo is a family of grass; it matures in as little as 3 to 5 years much faster than hardwood trees. It sends out new shoots after each harvest. Bamboo has unrivalled capacity to capture carbon.

The fact that bamboo is a super material and has immense economic potential does need any reinforcement anymore. From bamboo flooring, bamboo home & outdoor furniture, bamboo weaving products and handicrafts to bamboo charcoal personal care & healthcare products and bamboo apparel affordable and super premium eco homes to bamboo bicycles, bamboo beer, bamboo shoots, bamboo tea and luxury bamboo items like sunglasses, shoes, bags and more to the recently launched black burger with Bamboo Charcoal Cheese by Burger King Japan – bamboo has found usage in almost every walk to life.

China has been extremely successful in leveraging bamboo – the sector provides employment to over 35 million people and generates annual revenues in excess of  US$ 10 billion. China is leading the global bamboo business market place with close to 50% share. Apart from China, other countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam are making tremendous growth and progress in bamboo business.

India has the largest area and the second largest reserve of bamboo in the world. This super material indeed has tremendous potential to transform the country’s rural economy and contribute to sustainable development efforts, especially north east India, which has the country’s maximum bamboo resources.

Yet, no much progress has happened and India lags much behind in terms of bamboo development. A number of policy and regulatory issues coupled with lack of entrepreneurship & skill development has led to this stagnation.

First and foremost we need to answer a very fundamental question ‘IS BAMBOO A TREE OR A GRASS?’. The Indian Forest Act 1927 classifies bamboo as a ‘tree’ contrary to the scientific classification of bamboo as a ‘grass’. Bamboo when felled is referred to as ‘timber’. Thus, this act is applicable to felled bamboo found in all forests, whether private or government owned. It is to be noted that bamboo is subject to various transports and permit-related restrictions under the IFA, only as long as it is classified as a tree. Forest Rights Act 2006 classifies bamboo as a non-timber minor forest produce. It vests the right of ownership and the right to collect, use and dispose of bamboo in the forest-dwelling communities, as a part of their traditional rights. This act restricts the development of bamboo industry by attempting to vest the right to trade in bamboo with only the tribal population. In 2011, the then Minister for Environment & Forests in a letter to the Chief Ministers of all States urged to treat bamboo as a Minor Forest Produce and further urged State Governments to remove transit pass requirements for bamboo grown on private lands. If the bamboo products manufacturers and businessmen faces transit pass requirements, it definitely is a growth deterrent. All the various policies and regulations needs to be closely examined keeping in mind ground realities and the current day context and accordingly necessary revision carried out while ensuring that it is consistent with other related legislations. Simple amendment is not enough, the implementation challenges will also need to be addressed to ensure effective development of this ‘green gold’.

Yet another big factor ailing the growth of bamboo is the lack of accountability and ownership.  The Indian Forest Act is administered by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the Forest Rights Act is administered by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. National Bamboo Mission has been set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture. National Mission on Bamboo Application (NMBA) is under the aegis of Ministry of Science and Technology. The involvement of so many ministries invariable ensures there is dearth of effective coordination resulting in arbitrary legislation, as is evident from the multiple contradictions among the various legislations in vogue currently. The need of the hour is to have an integrated bamboo policy framework amongst the concerned ministries including Forestry, Agriculture, Handicrafts, Skill development & Entrepreneurship, Industry, Rural Development, MSME and DONER.

Apart from regulatory issues, there has not been any concerted and coordinated effort to drive and foster bamboo entrepreneurship along with associated skill development at the grass root level. There have not been any policies or initiatives promoting or developing the bamboo sector covering the entire value chain. Research & development, technology for enhancement of production, productivity & quality, skill development for building the right work force, promotion of bamboo in domestic markets and export promotion has just not been adequate. Participation by the private sector has been minimal and as a result investment has just not come in. Consumers also need to be educated about the social, economic and environmental benefits of using bamboo products.

Raktim Das is a media business professional and an ardent proponent of the the social, economic & environmental advantages of Bamboo.

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