As you wind your way through Thattekkadu to Manikandanchal bridge, the swollen Pooyamkutty river roars on your left and you have an overwhelming feeling that the imposing mountains on your right are about to tip over.
The time is late July and heavy rain in the Pooyamkutty’s upper reaches has turned the river into a furious creature which swallows swathes of earth on its course.
A sharp turn to the left and you come face-to-face with the river close to the Manikandanchal bridge. In the distance you will be astonished to find a man on a bamboo draft, floating as if from another world into your field of vision. He is unmindful of the quick waters and appears carefree and happy.
Aaniyappan, from the Adivasi village of Pinavoorkkudy, quickly jumps into the water, struggles to halt the free-flowing bundle of bamboo reeds and drags it close to the bank. Quickly two others, waiting on the bank, join him. An officer from the Kerala Bamboo Corporation stands by.
As they place the bundle on the bank, other drafts with people come flowing by. They too get into the waters as the drafts reach a cluster of trees that act as a wall against the swift current. The bundles are soon stacked up on the bank.
Rain or shine, this is routine for hundreds of Adivasi families who live on the upper reaches of the Pooyamkutty river. They make little of the heavy rain and the river in spate. Collecting bamboos is their only means of earning an income. At a time when the rains have cut off even supply of bare necessities from government agencies, the humble bamboo meets their daily needs.
T. Sukumaran Nair, managing director of the Bamboo Corporation, says thousands of Adivasis are engaged in collection of bamboo in different parts of the State such as Neryamangalam, Edamalayar, Pooyamkutty, Kuttampuzha, Chalakudy, Athirappally Koodarikkal, Konni and Nangamuzha.
Bamboo is the raw material for manufacturing a variety of products, including bamboo ply, which has recently turned into a popular product from the corporation’s stables.
Though the market has been flooded with new wood substitutes, bamboo ply continues to be rule the roost. The corporation had turnover of Rs.16 crore in the last financial year. The successful business has translated into higher wages for the Adivasis.
Mr. Nair says the minimum wage for bamboo workers went up by 40 per cent since November 2012.
About 6,500 to 7,000 families depend partially or fully on the collection of bamboo, weaving and other related activities for their livelihood.
One of the issues confronting the industry is the age profile of people working in the traditional sector. Young people are no longer taking to collection of bamboo or weaving. Partial mechanisation has been introduced to reduce manual labour and attract more workers.
Diversification of the use of bamboo has helped the industry in a big way.
The recent introduction of Chinese technology for production of bamboo flooring tiles and furniture has raised hopes of a bright future for the sector.