Bamboo – The poor Man’s Green Gold

By Ravi S. Behera and  Ranjit K. Sahu

Bamboo belonging to the grass family perfectly suited fro agroforestry purpose in areas needing environmental reclamation and is a nonmember forest product. In India, bamboo, is traditionally considered the Poor man’s wood or  Green Gold. It is being considered as a major export item by the centre for the global market. Bamboo has been obtained from natural stands from time immemorial and is increasingly being cultivated like other agricultural crops, in professionally managed plantations. The growth of industries utilizing bamboo demands sustainable cultivation and management of bamboo resources. India is blessed with very rich biodiversity of bamboos.

Cultivation, production and processing of bamboo offers numerous opportunities for poor people in India. The annual yield in tonnes/ha depends on the environment as well as the species. It is estimated that almost 25% of the biomass in the tropics and 20% in the sub tropics, come from bamboo. In this regard, there is potential for expanding its acreage. In India, the North East region has the largest stock and diversity of bamboos. Though India has the largest area under bamboo, the yield per hectare is very low compared to other countries. Bamboo plantation raising should be encouraged & promoted due to their high value, rapid productivity, uniformity of crop, choice of species linked to peoples’ need and industrial demand. Bamboo forest constitutes about 13% of the total forest area of the country. About 50% of bamboo produced in India grows in North Eastern region and West Bengal. India has the second largest bamboo reserves in the world after China. Bamboo products being biodegradable also have  an advantage of replacing plastic ware where possible.

In view of commercial cultivation and economic utilization of bamboo as a substitute for the fast depleting timber resources, a comprehensive programme of bamboo is the need of the hour. Sectional upgradation, enhancement of employment opportunities for artisans, youth and entrepreneurs and promotion of value-addition through better and well-designed product development need to be  the focus.  Strategies for optimum propagation, conservation and diversifying of production and processing activities through organized community action need to be  taken up.

Bamboos perform a vital  role in increasing  forest cover and stabilization of the environment especially in areas with problematic soil and topography. The cultivation of bamboo as a wood substitute helps to offset the depletion of the trees in the rainforest leading to their conservation. Its rapid growth ensures an effective reconstruction of damaged ecosystems. Bamboo is one of the many sustainable non wood resources that can generate income for a large forest dependent rural /tribal population and further steps are needed to implement their plantation is areas affected with mining. Being a fast growing crop its roots also help  in binding soil due to the  tillering nature. Bamboo clumps act as shelters and food for many wild fauna and thus can help to revive the dwindling populations of birds, insects and small mammals. Bamboo clumps can be a source of certain kinds of edible mushrooms in addition to their young shoots being used for culinary purposes. In tribals tacts of India, bamboo shoots are sold in the markets. Bamboo shoots are also eaten by urban people. The staple use of bamboo shoots in Asian cuisines also makes this a potential export commodity.

Presently bamboos are used for various construction purposes such as for Structural, Piped Water Supply System and Drainage, Bamboo Furniture, Weaving Industry, Bamboo Board Bamboo Reinforcement in Concrete, Bamboo-reinforced Mud Walls, Light Bamboo, Wall Paper Pulp, Rayon Pulp, Bamboo as Fuel, Bamboo as a Saviour of Environment, Phytoremediation of polluted environment, a renewable resource for Agro-forestry, Production Bamboos as Ornament,  Artificially Shaped Bamboo, Bamboo for Alleviation of Poverty Women Empowerment Potential in India. Rural communities make Baskets, Winnows, Storage bins and sell it in the local shandies and earn a decent livelihood,

Bamboo can be used to make furniture. It is used for decorations, bamboos are used as writing surface, Bamboo fiber are used to make high quality paper, bamboo are used to produce musical instruments and it is also used to construct weapons.

Bamboo and Global Challenges

Bamboo is well suited  to address four major global challenges:

  1. Shelter security, through the provision of safe, secure, durable and affordable housing and community buildings.
  2. Livelihood security, through the generation of employment in planting, primary and secondary processing, construction, craft and the manufacture of value-added products.
  3. Ecological security, by conservation of forests through timber substitution, as an efficient carbon sink, and as an alternative to non-biodegradable and high-embodied energy materials such as plastics and metals.
  4. Food security through bamboo-based agro-forestry systems, by maintaining the fertility of adjoining agricultural lands, and as a direct food source–example, edible bamboo shoots.

While the focus in the foundation years was on the industries that were already using bamboo as a raw material, the paper industry and handicrafts and setting up the infrastructure and investment in new industries, the emphasis in this stage will be on the shift from lower value-added applications to higher value-added ones–bamboo board, flooring and bamboo shoot for example.

There is an urgent requirement to make an expeditious development of bamboo sector in India, which is impossible without formulating appropriate strategies. The market for bamboo and bamboo products is growing and over the past years has been spearheaded by a rapid increase in bamboo production.

SIDBI and State livelihoods Missions are promoting the cultivation, processing, value addition and marketing of Bamboo and Bamboo products in India. Bamboo clusters in North East region and states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have high potential for engagement of rural youth and poor communities to ensure a dignified and sustainable livelihood.

Bamboo may hold the key to ensuring the sustainable reforestation and development of tribals tracts and  elephant corridors in India, that are increasingly seeing human wildlife conflicts by acting as a buffer between human demands and nature.

Photos : (Ravi Shankar Behera).

Various products made by rural artisans from bamboo being displayed for sale in Deogarh


About the Author:

Dr. Ranjit K. Sahu is a Research professional and freelance writer with over a decade of experience in biomedical research , currently located in Virginia, USA. His interests include education, environment, sustainability and health care in the underprivileged regions of the world.

Ravi Shankar Behera is a free lance consultant in the development sector and affiliated to several organizations, currently based in New Delhi.



  1. Wonderful article, it’s really subjective information

  2. Laxmikanta Sahoo says:

    Excellent article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *