Posts Tagged Agroforestry

Aromatic Trails in Bamboo Agro-Forestry

With the change of guard, India has recently put bamboo related enterprise, including bamboo agro-forestry systems on the fast track. Rightly so, because Bamboo Plantations are some of the best CO2 sinks. With an exceptional growth rate, and very high timber strength- Bamboo Agroforestry systems offer a short cut to increasing our much needed Forest Cover.

It is needless to stress the importance of forest cover, and its implicit symbiotic relationship with existence of life on our planet. Only source of Oxygen- are green plants. Photosynthesis is a photo-sensitive mechanism where-in, plants consume CO2 to produce sugars, releasing oxygen as a bi-product, into the environment.

CO2 is one of the major green-house gases, responsible for heating the atmosphere and Global Warming. Forests, including bamboo-Agroforestry- thus offer one of the most reliable methods to mitigate, or even reverse this phenomenon.

Please refer to the following links on Global Warming and Role of Forests

I was recently in Talwara (Punjab), and Punjab Agriculture University (Ludhiana, Punjab), to study the gaps and bottle-necks, in the nascent Bamboo Industry in India. Nascent- because, Bamboo, having been recently de-regulated from the forest regime- is now easier to grow, transport and trade- thus offering the potential of developing enterprise to produce value added products of this wonderful resource/raw material.

We had the opportunity of visiting the Unati Cooperative in Talwara. Some wonderful work is being undertaken by Mr. Jyoti Swaroop and his Unati Team- a cooperative in true sense- with altruistic and holistic philosophy. Their work (value added products) on and is worthy of appreciation. Sadly though, their bamboo furniture project has been put on a temporary halt, due to lack of availability of proper raw material.

My second halt was at PAU, where I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gurvinder Cheema Sahib. Under his direction, many farmer clusters have been created who are undertaking value addition initiatives and direct marketing. His focus on judiciously selected Alternative crops (of which Medicinal and Aromatic Plants is a subset) -- is worthy of appreciation. He has spent probably 3 decades on development of MAP - his knowledge is encyclopedic - and his experiences are an ocean---we farmers can learn a lot from such a resource person. Indeed kind of Dr. Cheema Sahib to have invited me for a cup of tea-- sweetened with his love, and a bit of his beautifully crafted stevia.

Having travelled in various parts of the country, in relation to bamboo- I notice many bottlenecks and road blocks, that need to be evened out to make this a successful enterprise. Some of the issues (elite planting material, rhizome nursery, 2 year old plants, domestication and hardening issues etc.) I had discussed in one of my previous blogs. Besides above, a farmer needs suitable inter-cropping options, to sustain the first three years, while the bamboo plantation is in the process of establishment.

I have been experimenting with Aromatic Grasses as an inter-crop with Bamboo. Depending on the location, soil, water availability and soil type, a suitable site-specific grass could be judiciously selected, amongst Lemongrass, Gingergrass, Citronella, Palmarosa and Vetiver etc.

For River Protection and Soil-rehabilitation of  effluent inflicted/polluted soils, Vetiver and Bamboo Combination is indeed very successful.

See

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National Bamboo Mission Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand, the land of temples, abode of Lord Shiva and Guru Gobind Singh alike, is now all set to pioneer bamboo agroforestry, due to its unique geographical location, stretches of well drained alluvial soil in the Terai belt and abundance of water- both, ground and rain.

The recently revised bamboo policy, with its de-classification as a timber (erstwhile) to its correct botanical classification of a"Grass", offers a window of opportunity for bamboo based enterprise. Government is thus focusing on developing bamboo based industry clusters, in areas endemic to bamboo, where, Uttarakhand fits the bill very well.

The task may seem Herculean, but it is surely possible to create Bamboo Based Clusters of Industry in the state of Uttarakhand, and to my mind we will need to focus on the following areas.

First, and the foremost is the task of Identification of suitable varieties/genotypes, endemic to our agro-climate, with a sound knowledge of its applications and industrial uses.

Annual Planting Targets and plant production- will need to be variety specific, and Nursery works will need to be synchronized with the planting targets. To my mind, Nursery works will need to precede plantation date, by at least 2 years- AND THAT TOO, within the same agro-climatic zone. Getting Plants from a distance is a messy and cost intensive affair, not to mention the transit damage, and the issue of acclimatization.  Survival rate of rhizomes is lot better than cuttings or TC. We need to ensure that a healthy plant, duly domesticated and hardened,  with good sized rhizome reaches the field. Planting Schedules will need to be optimized- and Nursery production geared up to provide plants at the RIGHT TIME. Many a times we find TC or even VP plants, with just a semblance of a root, brought from cross country ( from another agro-climatic zone, thus neither domesticated or acclimatized, nor hardened ) and planted out in the field, resulting in near total wipe out.

Target planting time should be early spring, where irrigation is available, or onset of monsoons, where it is rain-fed.

For enterprise based cultivation and extension, excellent clones have been developed by FRI and GBPUAT, amongst other regional Institutes. Farmers/growers/Nurserymen must try to procure these elite and young clones (flowering cycles) - namely, Balcooa, Nutaans, Oliverii and Stocksii for the plains and Hamiltonii for the hills. Each of the above elite clones has specific applications, so a judicious selection needs to be done, for choice of planting material.

We will, simultaneously need to set up a pilot unit( s )-  ( both, for agro-forestry as well as value addition endeavors )-Under the helmsman-ship of Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, with regional centers at various state agricultural universities, including GBPUAT- so that farmers get acquainted with bamboo as a crop. Some farmers, who pioneered undertaking bamboo agroforestry earlier, did not have a pleasant experience because of lack of proper markets at that point of time, when bamboo was still a regulated commodity. In light of the de-regulation, and prospects of bamboo industry coming up- we would have to do the confidence building exercise- where FRI, GBPUAT and other Universities/Institutions will need to show the way and bear the Olympian torch- for both aspects of Industry development- agriculture/agro-forestry (the source of raw material) and value-addition (product development and marketing). FRI, GBPUAT and other Universities, will perhaps, need to liaise with lead institutions like NID, IPRITI etc. to evolve suitable products and suitable markets.

Package of Practices - Farmers will need to be educated to produce marketable bamboo- in terms of quality. Thus, training and cultivation of requisite skill sets amongst farmers is of imminence. Color Coding, Pruning, Fire Protection etc. are some of the ethics that will need to be included in any protocol of package of practices for bamboo agro-forestry 

Maybe, a buy-back rate could also be fixed to build up confidence of the farmers.

Identification of Target Industries- Identification of variety specific applications, will need to be done. Dialogue with target industries will need to be initiated, inviting them to set up shop close to the source, once critical mass in terms of acreage is created.

We will need to research bamboo utilization in paper industry, and work on developing linkages between farmers and the paper units ( for example Century in Lal Kuan). I believe, bamboo requires a different production line, so Century will only do so, if it is assured of sustainable supply of bamboo.

There are pockets of Bengali and Bihari immigrants /migrants in Uttarakhand, where weaving clusters could be developed. The native art of weaving existed, but died a natural death because of paucity of bamboo, due to forest restrictions. In light of the revision of Bamboo Policy, there is every likelihood of bamboo being available. We will probably need to establish weavers clusters and nurture them, till they can sustain themselves. Nutaans is specifically suited for basketry and mat making.

Construction industry- Fully solid or thick walled species have a great utilization in the construction industry- may it be the scaffolding, or cheap housing. Balcooa and Lower part of Nutaans fit the bill.

Hand Made Paper could also be made.

Furniture- Industry- requires specialty bamboo- and Uttarakhand could follow suit. Oliverii and stocksii are very suitable for this application.

Energy and Charcoal- I have been following this topic but I gather bamboo based ethanol or bamboo based briquettes are not economical, as compared to other sources of fuel. Hopefully I am wrong !!!!!

Stick making for Agarbatti (  Incense Sticks) Industry - This avenue needs to be researched deeply. Nutaans and Tulda are very suitable for this segment.

Logistics-paperwork for Inter-state movement of bamboo- There is still a lot of confusion amongst farmers, with regards to inter-state transportation of bamboo. Though, its been reiterated , post de-regulation, that the "permit-regime" has been archived, but there are still loop-holes, probably because of lack of understanding of the ordinance, or else, lack of will for proper implementation.

Farmers undertaking bamboo as a crop- would need to have it duly registered in their land records (khasra). This document is said to be a valid proof of origin of bamboo on private land.

To encourage extension and emergence of bamboo based enterprise, the Government could relax the Land Ceiling Slabs for bamboo agroforestry. It could be on the lines of the Tea Industry- where land is attached to the production Unit, and the ceiling is lifted. Its classified as an Industry. A similar scheme could be devised to encourage bamboo entrepreneurship.  

A collective effort is imminent to make this Bamboo Mission a reality.

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Curing Bamboo

Our attempts to switch over to agroforestry of bamboo to substitute wood for our handicrafts took me to , and Bangalore, where I had the pleasure of meeting some rare breed of "bamboo connoisseurs". The 5 day seminar offered insights into novel methods of bamboo preservation and product development.

To a layman, bamboo epitomizes "a poor mans timber"- an ambivalent "pole"- being utilized in almost all rural activities- may it be construction, fencing, fishing or agriculture.

Why preserve bamboos?
Natural Untreated Bamboos are classified as GRADE 3 timber material. However, when properly treated it turns out be a very fine timber, in ways, stronger than steel and ALL HARDWOODS. In its treated state- Bamboo is classified as GRADE 1 Timber- along with Sagwan and Sal. Thus, treating bamboo becomes a necessity. 

These techniques include non-chemical and chemical methods, some of which I have already discussed in one of my earlier blogs.

Sap Displacement, smoking, white-washing, storage in water.
Chemical treatment methods (CCA), Boric acid / Borax

Treatment in heated oil / oleo-heat-
I am intrigued by the simplicity and functionality of this process. Where-as, other processes may involve a time span of at least a few months, from the time of harvest to a fully dried and treated bamboo, the oil process renders a ready/treated and duly de-hydrated and de-starched bamboo, in a matter of hours!!! I am trying out various combinations- to study the costs involved, as well as to minimize chemical deterioration and the associated fire hazards
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Would appreciate comments/observations on this method . 

Outer/Exterior Protection

Lacquer vs Varnish- Both lacquer and varnish are used to provide a finish to wooden furniture, but they are different in ingredients and how they are made.
Varnish is made from resins that are mixed with thinners or other solvents to remain liquid. On the other hand, lacquer is made by dissolving cotton and nitrocellulose in solvents.
• Varnish is always transparent, whereas lacquer can be made to give tinted finishes.
• No flattening agent is added in lacquer, whereas varnish can produce semi glossy and even satin finishes because of the presence of flattening agents.
• Lacquer being quick drying, it is applied mostly by spraying whereas varnish is applied using a brush.

Varnish is a resin(natural or synthetic) dissolved in oil and does not contain pigments. It produces hard film. Where as lacquers are quick drying coatings made of nitrocellulose dissolved in solvent with pigment added for color.

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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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