Bamboo – India’s underused wondergrass

India is the second largest grower of bamboo in the world, next after China. Yet our bamboo potential is vastly underutilised.


The bamboo industry in India is estimated at 10,000 crores.

Do you know that there are more than 1500 ways to use bamboo?

Bamboo is one of the oldest materials used by humans  – from hunting to housing, containers to food. Bamboo’s potential and significance in mitigating deforestation and global warming is emphasized in the Kohima Declaration (September 18th, 2010). The Declaration “recognizes the potential of bamboo as a resource and as an enterprise to contribute directly and significantly to achieve three out of the eight UN MDGs  – to eradicate extreme poverty, ensure environmental sustainability and develop global partnerships for development of the bamboo sector.”

But unlike China, India, while being the second largest grower of bamboo in the world (estimated as a 10,000 crore trade), under-utilises the wondergrass vastly.


How China uses Bamboo

In China, bamboo is referred to as the ‘friend of the people.’ Bamboo growers thrive in China  –  a fact well established by their millionaire bamboo farmers.

Bamboo grown in China is marked by age making it easy to identify mature bamboo. China’s preprocessing model ensures that wastage is reduced to 5-10% as opposed to India’s Direct Supply model in which wastage is around 50%. The value of bamboo is increased by making use of the entire bamboo in various industries that include bamboo boards (similar to plywood), handicrafts, disposable cutlery, soaps, bio-pesticide, charcoal for water treatment, fiber for clothing, etc. Technology that makes China the number one in the world bamboo market is provided by China National Bamboo Research Centre which was setup as recently as 1986.

China has the advantage of having the Monopodial (straight) variety of bamboo that is easier to grow and process whereas India is home to the Sympodial (clumpy) variety which is tougher. However, there are many lessons we could learn from China for India.

The varied uses of bamboo
Bamboo has many uses the world over.

Bamboo lifestyle products created by Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at NID

v  DASSO uses it in the dashboard of its cars; there is potential for it to be used in airplanes

v  Many parts of Europe use bamboo charcoal in water purifiers

v  In Columbia, bridges are made out of bamboo

v  Taiwan makes disposable bamboo plates and cups

v  IKEA has started using bamboo

v  Though Europe does not grow bamboo, Belgium leads the world in bamboo tissue culture

v  In Ethiopia, bamboo is used as biomass for creating charcoal

v  The Clinton library in Germany uses bamboo panelling

v  The Chinese have mastered the art of creating clothing from bamboo fiber

In India, bamboo mat corrugated sheets are being used in railway stations (Haridwar, Anand Vihar in New Delhi). Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) uses bamboo flooring on some of its buses.

Superfast and sustainable


Bamboo cycle

A bamboo cycle

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants – it grows 3 times as fast as Eucalyptus. It takes about 4 years before bamboo can be used in construction. However, it can be used for various other purposes including food, clothing and handicrafts, at various stages of its life. Bamboo provides a rich means of livelihood and  life improvement even in rural areas of the developing world.

Dr. Nath of Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute (IPIRTI) says that bamboo is very important for India:

1)      It can play a big role in arresting global warming through increased carbon sequestering

2)      It fulfills material needs such as housing and household articles

3)      As a substitute for coal, it caters to almost 20% of the energy needs in some countries

According to Dr. Sulochana of the Institute for Societal Advancement, bamboo’s usage in partitions and furniture is huge, and it can help realize huge savings in the construction of houses and office spaces.

India’s untapped bamboo potential


Bamboo products

Products created at the workshops held during the World Bamboo Day in NID, Bangalore

Bamboo is mostly grown and used without systematic processes in India, and that limits its use greatly.

Dr. S.C. Joshi of the Institute of Wood Science Technology requests a paradigm shift in the way bamboo is seen in India. Bamboo is still wrongly classified as a ‘tree’ in the Indian Forest Act which makes harvesting and transit of bamboo difficult. He suggested that declaring bamboo as a commodity at par with tea, coffee, spices, etc. would facilitate easier production and transportation.

Dr. Sujatha of IPIRTI – India is native to 125 species of bamboo over 18 genera. The North East produces 66% of all the bamboo grown in India, with Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka producing the rest. Soans farm in Moodbidri, Karnataka is home to about 65 species of bamboo.

Dr. Jagdish of IPIRTI – A 2-storeyed house can be built at a cost of Rs. 5-6 lakhs. However, the absence of a standard building code for bamboo in the National Building Code makes it vulnerable to quality and safety concerns. He dismissed these concerns by showing how a house that was built in 1973 in the North East, still has its bamboo ceiling intact.

Gaurav Sharma of vdesign.purple talked about his project in the Jungle Lodges and Resorts, an elevated bamboo cottage at Bheemeshwari, that costs about Rs. 14 lakh. At that cost, bamboo can no longer be called the poor man’s timber.

Mr. Nilesh Misal from the National Institute of Design, explained the process of creating affordable joint systems for bamboo sticks. As simple as it many sound, the biggest challenge for him was to create a way of joining pieces of bamboo with minimal welding, nuts and screws which ensures that the cost of joints does not exceed the cost of the bamboo itself. The result being simple joinery that lets create beautiful structures out of bamboo sticks.

Bamboo bookshelf

A bamboo bookshelf

World Bamboo Day

World Bamboo Day is celebrated every year on the 18th of September as an effort to increase awareness about bamboo globally. The World Bamboo organization wants to bring out the potential of bamboo as a means for sustainable community economic development and thus protect natural resources and the environment. Thailand celebrates Rural Forest Day on the same day.

The above insights were captured from discussions at the seminar and series – The World Bamboo Day seminar at NID, which saw participation from the South Asia Bamboo Foundation, Institute of Wood Science Technology, Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute and VDesign Purple.

The workshop attracted not only artisans interested in upgrading their skills, but also people who wanted to get in touch with their artistic side and learn a new skill and promote the same back home in Assam.

Dr. Anasuya Kulkarni entertained the gathering by playing Carnatic music on the Angklung. The Angklung is made of bamboo and is Indonesia’s national instrument. Dr. Anasuya Kulkarni is the only person in the world to play Indian classical music on this instrument. The only thing that was probably missing at the event was some delicacy prepared from bamboo shoots!

Bamboo picture courtesy Flick user odonata98. All other pics courtesy: Lavanya Keshavamurthy

Lavanya Keshavamurthy is a freelancer. When she is not wandering and is at base camp in Bengaluru, she spends most of her time in her small, urban garden and wonders at the amount of unlearning to be done in the world we live in. She aspires to be a farmer one day. more


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Lavanya Keshavamurthy is a freelancer. When she is not wandering and is at base camp in Bengaluru, she spends most of her time in her small, urban garden and wonders at the amount of unlearning to be done in the world we live in. She aspires to be a farmer one day. more

Discuss this article on Facebook

  • blaise

    I have a small patch of land around my house and would like to grow bamboo.
    I request for a few seeds of the bamboo tree.

  • Shruti Sane

    Bamboo products are on high demand because it is like a tradition. These products are attractive as well as long lasting. For the most of the wood furniture bamboo is used. Here is the list of Bamboo dealers in Nagpur where you will find the number of bamboo product with elegant designs.