Converting green gold into cash

An increase in the bamboo-bearing area in Assam is good news for the state.
Converting green gold into cash

An increase in the bamboo-bearing area in Assam is good news for the state. Enhancing the capacity of traditional bamboo artisans and entrepreneurs in the state is critical to utilize available bamboo resources to augment household income and trigger optimal growth of bamboo-based industries. The latest data from the India State of Forest Report, 2021 show that bamboo-bearing areas in the state have increased from 10,525 sq km in 2019 to 10,659 sq km, registering an increase of 134 sq km area. Mizoram accounted for the highest increase of 1,085 sq km area followed by Arunachal Pradesh with an increase of 758 sq km bamboo-bearing area. This is encouraging when the total bamboo-bearing area in the country has declined by 1.06 million hectares. The state has recorded the second-highest increase in green sound culms by 14.54 million tonnes with Arunachal Pradesh recording the highest increase of 18.61 million tonnes by equivalent green weight over the past two years as compared to assessment in 2019. State-wise data also show that Assam with 33.97 million tonnes of bamboo with green soundness, 4.62 million tonnes of bamboo of dry soundness indicate the potential of industrial and other use of available resources. Of the total bamboo-bearing areas in the state, 449 sq km has pure bamboo, 2,300 sq km has dense bamboos and 7,798 sq km area has scattered bamboos. Among the states, Madhya Pradesh has recorded a maximum decrease of 2,473 sq km bamboo-bearing area but has a maximum bamboo-bearing area of 1.84 million hectares followed by Arunachal Pradesh with 1.57 million hectares. Madhya Pradesh also accounts for the maximum occurrence of pure bamboo (847 sq km) and dense bamboo area (4,046 sq km). The Report states that North-eastern states with West Bengal account for 50% of bamboo resources of the country which presents the larger picture of the importance of bamboo resources of the northeast region. An estimated 20 lakh traditional artisans in India depend on bamboo resources for their livelihood. From construction of dwelling houses, fencing used for demarcating boundaries, granaries, erecting temporary pandals, fishing equipment to fruits and vegetable baskets, bamboo tools use of bamboo in rural Assam is widespread. In the construction of the RCC building, the use of bamboo scaffolding is also an environmentally sustainable solution which also helps households who grow bamboo in their backyard to fetch additional income through the sale of bamboo poles. Traditional handicraft items made from bamboo in the state and other states in the region have high demand because of their unique design and utility. Diversification of products by entrepreneurs such as bamboo-based furniture, bamboo serving trays, bamboo mat plyboard, water bottles etc., have found a niche market. Such diversification through value-addition to traditional handicraft items and catering to market demand requires the use of modern tools, machinery besides skill upgradation training. The growth of bamboo-based units in the state has not gained the desired momentum and is limited to a few individual success stories despite huge market potential. Ironically, capital investment for bamboo-based units is low as compared to other industrial units and subsidies are available under schemes and policies of the State and Central governments. A comprehensive study and evaluation on the implementation of the schemes and policies can help the State government identify the critical gaps. Assam Ethanol Production and Promotion Policy 2021 was articulated to create employment generation along the supply chain of the Assam Bio-Refinery being set up Numaligarh which will convert bamboo biomass into ethanol. The Central government push for oil marketing companies rolling out ethanol-mixed petrol has brightened the commercial viability of the bio-refinery, but confusion prevails as petroleum dealers are apprehensive over selling blended petrol. The bio-refinery will require 5 lakh tonnes of green bamboo to produce six crore litres of bioethanol and other biofuels annually and will be sourcing green bamboo from Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya. The India State of Forest Report 2021 will help these states to draw an annual action plan under bamboo development mission to cater to the supply requirements of the bio-refinery as well for traditional artisans and bamboo-based units. Assam Cane and Bamboo Policy, 2019 allows the growing bamboo plantations in forest and non-forest land and obtaining felling/transit permits for transport and economic use of bamboo from non-forest areas is no longer required. The traditional bamboo growers, however, cannot make entirely dependent on the supply of green bamboo to the refinery and their livelihood dependence must be a mix of traditional handicraft items, diversified consumer goods and supply of green bamboos to build resilience against any unseen risks that may lead to shutting down of the refinery. The State government conducting training on skill upgradation for traditional artisan need be complemented by passing on quality information on available credit and market linkage. The government facilitating the supply of tools and machinery will go a long way in generating livelihood opportunities and augmenting household incomes from bamboo.

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