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Archive for June, 2016

Planting Material for Bamboo Agro-Forestry

The selection and availability of the right genotype(s) of Bamboo, is one of the prime bottle-necks in establishing an Agro-Forestry plantation system.

It's a dilemma I am currently encountering.

I am considering bamboo as a plantation crop on my farm, and have been researching suitable genotypes. I have been in touch with many institutions- private, a well as government, NGO's, universities, traders, sellers, growers etc.

I have come to realize, with dismay, that most private institutions have their own sales agenda and specifically evolved sales pitch.  Thus, I have ruled out buying blindly from any of them.

Universities and Government bodies are safer. However, they can only offer to sell what exists in their bamboo- herbarium, which, at times is just a chronology of research trial plots, without extensive trials.

In light of above uncertainties,  I have decided to stagger the plantation endeavor.

Instead of buying outright, I am now establishing a small trial plot, where I am planting all shortlisted varieties that I have collected during my Pan-India travels.

I would rather wait for 3 years than waste the effort and the land, with a wrong choice of planting material.

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Bamboo may help stall global warming

Agro-forestry of Bamboo as a plantation crop offers a novel mechanism to reduce the impact of global warming and slowing down climate  change. As yet untapped, bamboo is a strategic resource that tropical countries can use  to manage climate change, while at the same time, provide beneficial ‘eco-friendly' sources of income for their agrarian/ rural populations.
However, two major hurdles to bamboo’s more rapid development are-

  • lack of appreciation of its significant benefits by the policy makers
  • its classification as a forest-produce, bringing bamboo under the ambit of forest laws/regulation.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is beginning to recognize the potential of bamboo agro-forestry systems (or plantation agriculture) in mitigating  climate  change. Bamboo plantations offer  an efficient carbon  sink, capable of significantly reducing the negative effects of greenhouse gases on the planet. Besides, it also creates considerable biomass, an energy/fuel source for rural households. As a substitute for wood-fuel, bamboo-fuel offers a successful mechanism to avoid deforestation, and save our precious forest wealth.  
Bamboo, belonging to the grass family, grows fast, thus an excellent resource for rapid creation of dense vegetation.

Further Research is necessary to exploit its full potential and gauge/estimate the global  bamboo  carbon  stock. However, recent research in China, The Red Dragon, now, also called The Bamboo Kingdom -has compared bamboo with the fast-growing fir tree. The results indicate that bamboo is comparable and in some cases superior in its ability to sequester carbon than most forest hardwood or softwood trees. Strategically, bamboo plantations, offer a new 'ecological infrastructure’ to combat climate change in a cost-effective way.

Besides its green foot-print, Bamboo Agro-forestry systems also help in regulating erosion, control of water pollution ( the root system helps to remove pollutants), as wind breaks and at times partial shade for the under-crop in a two-tier cropping system.

Vetiver Systems ( see detailed below) have been tried and tested for restoration of degraded soils by mitigating and controlling the effect of industrial effluents discharged into the water resources.

To my mind, coupling bamboo plantation ( agro-forestry system)  with an under-story crop of Vetiver- should be a good cropping system to mitigate climate change, as well as water pollution, while at the same time an aid to soil-restoration. 


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Bamboo Agroforestry

As a farmer, I have been studying the prospects of bamboo as a plantation crop ( agro-forestry), to substitute Poplars and Eucalyptus. Few bottle-necks exist, for bamboo agro-forestry systems to be successful in India.

To my mind, bamboo can be a very lucrative plantation crop, PROVIDED that

  • Farmers are educated with the technical skills- both, for growing and primary processing.
  • Primary Processing and some value addition is done at the farm- by the farmer himself. In other words, the farmer has to evolve into an agro-entrepreneur. Necessary knowledge-systems, infrastructure and Capital Expenditure would be required by the farmer, for the said evolution.
  • Market linkages are established between the growers and the processors and a cluster model is developed (see below).
  • Good planting material is made available. Different genotypes of bamboo have different mechanical properties. Thus, choice of planting material, has to be market oriented, besides its suitability to the local agro-climate. Thus Bambusa Balcooa is a good choice where fiber and pulp industries exist. Likewise, Bambusa Nutans is more suitable for the handicraft industry. A self sufficient cluster model, where the raw material is grown in the vicinity of the industry consuming it- would go a long way in promoting the bamboo agro-forestry system.
  • Bamboo is de-classified as Forest produce and it is allowed to be transported, un-hindered, without any interference from the forest department.
  • Market oriented novel applications for bamboo need to be explored and related processing capabilities/facilities developed.


Bamboo for Handicrafts Market

Bamboo, especially if it is fully solid, is an excellent raw material for various kinds of handicrafts. Though most bamboos are hollow, there are a few rare genotypes, which are not hollow, thus, being suitable for wood working and even turning on the lathe.

In comparison to other engineering materials, bamboo fiber has a tensile strength (650MPa) similar to steel (500-1000Mpa) and much higher flexibility (~50Gpa) than steel (~200Gpa). The bending strength of bamboo increases with age, the top of the culm being more flexible than the bottom. The compressive strength of bamboo increases with age, 3-5 year bamboo being the strongest. As a biological material, mechanical properties of bamboo  is subject to variability, within and between each species (Leake et al., 2010)

India has around 24 genera and approx138 species of bamboos (Subramaniam, 1998. About 58 species belonging to 16 genera are represented in the North Eastern states.

Dendrocalamus strictus is the most widely distributed species and predominantly found in the dry deciduous forests all over India. D. sikkimensis, D. hamiltonii occur in Eastern parts of the country.

Bamboos show diversity in stature and form, some are an undershrub, while others are climbers (such as Dinochloa andamanica). However, most of them have woody stems, which is the item of commerce.

The woody stems are called culms, which arise from underground rhizomes (monopodial, as in Melocanna and Phyllostachys, or  sympodial, as in Bambusa and Dendrocalamus). Most bamboos have hollow internodes.

The fiber strength of bamboo, its straightness, light weight, combined with toughness / hardness, lustrous, shiny/waxy finish, a multitude range of available sizes, abundance, easy establishment and short-crop cycle, make them useful for numerous purposes.

Bamboo is indeed a useful, multi-purpose resource, its application largely dependent on the age of the culm. Bamboo harvested within 30 days is suitable source of food; When harvested at 6-9 months of age, it is suitable for basket weaving, when harvested at 3-6 years cycle, it is ideal for building construction and floorboards. In addition, bamboo can be used to make clothes, furniture and bicycle frames.

The World Bamboo Handicraft market was around  3000 Million Dollars in 2007, and is projected to touch 4200 Million Dollars by 2017. Comparing the figures for ALL BAMBOO APPLICATIONS (handicrafts, shoots, furniture, flooring, panels, blinds, chopsticks, charcoal and carbon) the total market in 2007 was about 6825  Million Dollars, and is projected to touch 16830 Million Dollars by 2017.

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Bambusa Nutans Bamboo

My interest in Bambusa Nutans and Dendrocalamus Strictus has been as a result of my quest for solid (not hollow) bamboos. I am very fascinated by this species of grass-which grows faster than any other hardwood species and has a better wood-fiber  quality, in some parameters, matching steel. But alas! Most bamboos are hollow, thereby limiting its spectrum of applications.

Having travelled and communicated with many institutions, organizations, scientists, growers and traders across India, I was, till recently, given to believe that the only genotype devoid of an inter-nodal cavity (solid, not hollow) is D. Strictus. Unfortunately, this species has many limitations- its stunted growth, small diameter and low yield, to cite a few. From a farmer's perspective, yield and per acre economics is an important consideration. During the course of this exchange of information, I learnt about  B. Nutans, another thick walled species (with an inter-nodal cavity), with much higher bio-mass production (wood), growing to about 15 m- about twice as high as D. Strictus.

I was still in a dilemma. A bamboo without an inter-nodal cavity, was still a mirage.

Imagine my surprise, when I accidentally discovered a few culms of B. Nutans, WITHOUT ANY INTERNODAL CAVITY - in a neglected corner of my farm, right under my bonnet !!!!! Wow !!! B. Nutans that is that are fully solid- with an excellent growth rate and straight bamboo culms. When I spoke to my father, he casually mentioned that he came across this rare bamboo, many years ago, on one of his travels. He further mentioned that he brought back a few root cuttings and planted them on the periphery, and subsequently forgot about !!!

I am now in the process of developing a nursery for this particular stain of B. Nutans. I plan to establish a small bamboo plantation. A legacy my father started.

Bambusa Nutans, bamboo species is cultivated/naturalized in the Northern, Central and Eastern parts of India, occurring naturally in tropical India and Indo-China in the sub-Himalayan tracts, between 600 to 1500m altitude. It requires well drained sandy loams with tropical / sub tropical climate.

b_nutansbambusa nutans2

Local/Indigenous Indian names-

  • In Arunachal Pradesh it is called Mokal / Mallo / Kali
  • In Assam it is called  Deobanh / Jatie makal
  • In manipur- it is called  Utang
  • In Sikkim, it is called Mal Bans
  • In Nagaland it is called Rungazumi
  • In Orissa it is called Badi.

Agro- Forestry Uses- Nutans is used as shade for Tea.

Other Uses- Mainly as poles, and  as a source of Fibre for the paper mills.

Primarily  root and stem cuttings

HABIT - Nutans is a Perennial bamboo. Rhizomes are short; pachymorph. Culms are erect; 6 to 12 metres long; 4 to 7 cm in diameter, woody; with some aerial roots at the nodes. Culm-internodes are about 12 to 18 inches, are terete; with relatively small lumen and mid-green to shiny green in colour. Culm-nodes are glabrous, or pubescent. Lateral branches are dendroid. Culm-sheaths are about 6 to 12 inches long; pubescent; with appressed hair or/and black hair, which truncate at apex and auriculate; setose on shoulders. Culm-sheath is ligule 2.5–5 mm high and dentate. Culm-sheath blade is triangular; 6 to 12 inches long; pubescent; acute. Leaves are cauline. Leaf-sheaths are striately veined and pubescent. Leaf-sheath oral hair are setose. Leaf-sheath auricles are falcate. Ligule, an eciliate membrane is obtuse. Collar has an external ligule. Leaf-blade base has a brief petiole-like connection to sheath; petiole is about 0.3–0.5 cm long. Leaf-blades are lanceolate; glandular. Leaf-blade midrib conspicuous. Leaf-blade venation with 14–20 secondary veins. Leaf-blade surface glabrous, or puberulous; hairy abaxially. Leaf-blade margins scabrous. Leaf-blade apex acuminate; antrorsely scabrous.
INFLORESCENCE Synflorescence bractiferous; clustered at the nodes; in untidy tufts; with spathaceous subtending bracts; with axillary buds at base of spikelet; prophyllate below lateral spikelets.
FERTILE SPIKELETS Spikelets comprising 3–5 fertile florets; with diminished florets at the apex. Spikelets lanceolate; subterete; 17–25 mm long; breaking up at maturity; disarticulating below each fertile floret. Rhachilla internodes definite; clavate; pilose; hairy at tip.
GLUMES Glumes several; 2–3 empty glumes.
FLORETS Fertile lemma ovate; 10 mm long; without keel. Lemma inner surface pubescent. Lemma apex acute; mucronate. Palea keels ciliate. Apical sterile florets resembling fertile though underdeveloped.
FLOWER Lodicules 3; membranous; veined; ciliate. Anthers 6–7; anther tip apiculate. Stigmas 2–3; sparsely hairy. Ovary umbonate; pubescent on apex.
FRUIT Caryopsis with adherent pericarp; oblong; hairy at apex.
DISTRIBUTION Asia-tropical: India and Indo-China.



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Dendrocalamus Strictus-Calcutta Bamboo

Dendrocalamus Strictus, also called the Calcutta Bamboo or the Male Bamboo is one of the few species ( or probably the only one), which is almost solid (not hollow), unlike most other bamboos, which have a hollow internode. This characteristic of Dendrocalamus Strictus makes it rather special material of choice for walking sticks (bamboo canes), also called the "lathi" in the local vernacular. The bamboo cane is much stronger than rattan-cane and has a longer shelf life. This species of bamboo also works wonderfully well for manufacture of implement handles, baseball bats, Billy Clubs and other handcrafted impact weapons.


Bamboo belongs to the "GRASS" family of plants-Poaceae. The anatomy of the bamboo plant is a complex system, comprising of two sets of structured vegetative axes: one above ground (the areal part) and the other below the ground (rhizome). The primary areal axis consists of jointed, tall, cylindrical stems, called culms, with branches, extending outward from the culms, developing laterally, constituting secondary aboveground axis. The rhizomes make up the underground axis (roots and buds).


The areal part or the stem is the item of commerce, when harvested on maturity.  it is usually straight and cylinder-like, and has nodes (diaphragms) and internodes, which are normally hollow. 
Each node has two closely positioned rings, the lower one called sheath ring, and the upper, the stem ring. The sheath ring is a scar left behind after the sheath leaf falls off. The stem ring is a scar formed after the inter-nodal growth ceases. The part between the rings is the node itself.
Bamboo internodes are usually hollow inside, barring some rare species, e.g. Dendrocalamus Strictus. Depending on the bamboo species, wall thickness of the stem can vary greatly from thin walled to totally solid.

Bamboo resource in India
India is the second richest, next only to China, in terms of bamboo genetic resources, both collectively, accounting for more than half of the global bamboo resources. More than 136 species of bamboos are said to be occurring in India, out of which, 58 species of bamboo belonging to 10 genera are distributed in the northeastern states. The annual production of bamboo in India is around 4.6 million tonnes.

Bamboo in the Global Context
An evergreen, of the family Poaceae (GRASSES), bamboo is the one of the fastest growing woody perennial on the planet. Most bamboo species/genotypes grow in the tropics; however, some varieties occur naturally in subtropical and temperate zones of all continents except Europe.

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