Bamboo can largely replace wood and steel in construction and there is a need to highlight its features. This is what the International Bamboo Conclave and Expo will strive to do, says architect Neelam Manjunath in an interview

India is the second largest producer of bamboo in the world, next to China. There are 1,750 species grown in the world, as one-fifth of the world population uses bamboo as a construction material today. In India though, bamboo penetration into the construction industry is yet to be realised. Experts say that one has to understand bamboo for its 100 per cent green character, with self-motivated appreciation after perceiving the dynamic characteristics and chemical composition of the material.

This is the rationale and motive behind the Bamboo Society of India’s International Bamboo Conclave & Expo-2014 this weekend in the city, where bamboo for integrated development will be discussed by experts in the industry. The Conclave, arranged in association with the University of Agricultural Sciences and with support from the Karnataka Forest Department, Institute of Wood Science & Technology, National Bamboo Mission and the Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute, will bring to light why growing bamboo makes socio-economic sense to society, while right now it constitutes 12.8 per cent of the total forest area. “Modest bamboo has the potential to become the wood substitute in many ways, as modern industrial techniques enable its use to provide flooring, plywood, laminates and furniture,” says architect Neelam Manjunath, Executive Committee Member, Bamboo Society of India, deeply involved in bringing about an awareness for this “green gold.”

Excerpts from Neelam Manjunath’s interview with The Hindu-HABITAT on facts related to bamboo.

Why bamboo awareness is a necessity….

Simply put, bamboo can be the vehicle of development because of its sturdiness and green properties. With India having 175 varieties grown, we have the best bamboo artisans in the Medhar community, but they are the most marginalised. Madhya Pradesh accounts for 20 per cent of the bamboo grown in the country, while the North-east has 28 per cent. With so much of ‘value-housing buzz’ going on in the building community, housing for the poor should be seriously thought over, as bamboo can be the best substitute to concrete. It can replace 70 per cent of steel and wood used in construction, and bring down the costs by nearly 40 per cent. It is said, one culm of bamboo produces enough oxygen for one’s lifetime!

So, it is strong and sturdy enough to withstand nature’s seasonal changes?

Look at the contrasting wonder. Bamboo is light enough to be a safe material to build with in seismic zones, but is muscular and sturdy with the fibres of the bamboo being twice as strong as steel. Design handbooks for steel reinforced concrete are being replaced with those for bamboo reinforced concrete, and are becoming the norm in several countries across the globe. Bamboo is now used in walls, beams, columns, doors, windows, furnishings and furniture. It can be used as composites in various industries, apart from bamboo lumber being useful in partitions and the ply for floorings. Even the blades for wind energy make use of bamboo. There are 2,500 applications for the material today in the industry.

Why are we lagging behind in using bamboo?

It all started with the British calling it the ‘poor man’s timber.’ We had thousands of structures all over India in bamboo with abundant traditional knowledge going into it, but the British here changed them into wood. Those days Europe had only wood. In Assam most of the houses were built with bamboo from about a century ago. Even now, hundreds of houses in and around Devanahalli in Bangalore (beyond Tipu Sultan’s Fort) built with bamboo remain strong even after 75 years!

What are the changes required to bring the material back?

First of all, people’s mind-set. And, since it is bio-degradable, modern chemical treatment procedures need to be adopted on a large scale. Thankfully it needs minimum processing too. Policies need to intervene, as bamboo remains a forest produce, and the Central Government has to declare the material as a minor produce. This will allow farmers to grow it in farms without the need for permits to harvest. It would help the material be available in plenty, as it gets ready in four years for building purposes. The global market for bamboo stands at Rs. 50,000 crore, and it is projected to double in 2015. It’s time India realised that bamboo is hailed as the greenest material globally for the next generation.

(The International Bamboo Conclave on February 22 and 23 will be inaugurated by Governor H.R. Bharadwaj at 11 a.m., and Union Minister Veerappa Moily will formally open the Bamboo Product exhibition. Minister for Forest, Ecology and Environment B. Ramanatha Rai will release the Souvenir.

Venue: Kuvempu Auditorium, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK.)