Monday, August 01, 2011

Bamboo: A Source of Livelihood

Bamboo could be a new source of livelihood for millions of poor tribal inhabitants and forest dwellers across India. Bamboo is an important part of rural livelihood in many nations, especially in developing counties like India. The bamboo economy, ranging from resource generation to value-added applications, has supported approximately 8.6 million livelihoods in the country. Small land holders at the forest fringes, in particular, improve their livelihoods by processing bamboo growing in their backyards. With planned development of integrated bamboo-based clusters, most value addition can be done closer to the resource, resulting in large scale socio-economic benefits.

Millions of families are dependent on bamboo resources for their livelihood in India; from tender shoots to rice cooked in the hollow of raw bamboo, it is part of the everyday life. From house construction to flooring and agricultural implements, bamboo pervades life and culture. Due to its versatile nature and multiple uses, bamboo is also called ‘the poor man’s timber’.

The advantages of bamboo plantations are manifold, when compared to monoculture tree plantations. It can become part of agro-forestry practice in small land holdings. New bamboo plantations may curb the pressure from deforestation by serving as wood substitutes. It can be planted to reclaim severely degraded sites and wastelands. It is a good soil binder, owing to its peculiar clump formation and fibrous root system, and hence plays an important role in soil and water conservation. However, rapid urbanisation and large-scale demands for housing in urban areas may pose some problems for ecological sustainability.

Recent studies suggest that bamboo is a more effective plant than trees in increasing carbon stocks through sequestration of carbon. Researchers studying bamboo plantations estimate that a hectare of bamboo has the potential to sequester between 12-14 tonnes of carbon every year above the ground. Additionally, the extensive root system builds up the carbon sink faster than trees. The Indian government, as well as the international Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), overlooked the potential of bamboo to address the issue of climate change and enhance livelihood opportunities. 

When a bamboo forest is managed by annual harvesting of mature culms, it can sequester more carbon, especially if harvested products are converted into durable products like bamboo furniture or household timber. It can be a good substitute for energy intensive products, thus helping reduce fossil fuel-based products. It is used in over 1,500 applications. Until recently, the life span of these products were short, but the up gradation in processing techniques has enabled durable products that have longer life to be manufactured, mainly in housing components and furniture.

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