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Thornless bamboo varieties stand tall as alternative crops

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LESS LABOUR: With the introduction of several new thornless varieties, bamboo cultivation has become economically viable.
LESS LABOUR: With the introduction of several new thornless varieties, bamboo cultivation has become economically viable.

M.J. PRABU

Non-availability of good planting material is a major limiting factor

GROWING BAMBOO can be a solution to several problems that the agricultural sector is facing - such as crop infestations and water shortage. Being the tallest grass variety and resembling a tree in appearance, bamboo has the ability to survive in drylands and wastelands and is a good alternative to farmers in drought prone regions.

Extensive root system

Its extensive root system holds the soil particles together and prevents soil erosion and its shoots are consumed as food and for making pickles, handicrafts and fibres.One of the major limiting factors for increasing the area under bamboo cultivation is the non-availability of planting material. With the introduction of several new thornless varieties, bamboo cultivation has become economically viable and environmentally beneficial, especially for small-scale farmers, according to Dr. N. Barathi, Director, Growmore Biotech, Hosur, Tamil Nadu. Several bamboo species can grow 30 cm (about one foot) per day with some species growing even up to 90 cm (about three feet) in a day.A single clump (stem) of bamboo reaches full height in about 30 days after planting. Though it can be harvested after three years of planting, it is advisable for farmers to harvest the crop during the 5th year and maximum yield can be expected from 7th or 8th year of planting. Bamboo cultivation requires less labour when compared with vegetables or fruit crops. "Thornless bamboo varieties cultivated under drip irrigation system require an investment of Rs.40,000 to Rs.50,000 per acre for the first 4 years. Under well-managed conditions, a bamboo bush will have 40 to 50 poles of varying ages out of which 3 to 4 year-old poles of about 10 numbers can be harvested every year.

Cultivation costs

The cultivation costs during the first year of planting 200 clumps in an acre along with drip irrigation comes to about Rs.22,000 and in subsequent years the cost would scale down to Rs.9,000 and Rs.10,000 annually, according to Dr. Barathi.In about 15 years one can expect a net income of about Rs.4.0 lakhs from an acre, he explained. Giving details on the planting technique Barathi said, "the soil should be well drained as bamboo does not grow in waterlogged soils. Pits of 2 x 2 x 2 feet should be dug at a spacing of 13 x 17 feet (that is 13 feet between the clumps and 17 feet between rows)."It is better if the pits are exposed to sunlight for at least three months, according to Barathi. About 200 bamboo clumps are required for planting in one acre. Before planting, about one fourth of the pit should be filled with topsoil mixed with farmyard manure (FYM) and the pits should be watered once so that the soil settles. The plants should then be carefully planted in the centre of the pit at ground level. "Bamboo roots are extremely sensitive to environmental changes. Planting the clumps deep inside the pits below the ground level would delay their growth," said Barathi. It is advisable to stake (tying the planted crops to casuarina or plastic poles) the clumps in places having high wind, as the stakes will prevent the clumps from falling and getting uprooted from the soil, he explained.

Water requirement

The crop requires about five litres of water everyday for the first two months after planting. Irrigation should then be gradually increased to 25 litres a day in a year's time. About 50 to 100 litres of water is required per plant from the 4th year onwards. About 4 kg of urea, 1 kg of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and 4.5 kg of muriate of potash (MOP) per plant are required every year. The fertilizer application should be made in ten equal doses spread over 5-8 years. Care should be taken to see that chemical fertilizers are not applied directly to the roots.

Deep soaking

Deep irrigation where water soaks down 8 to 12 inches into the soil is recommended. "Care should be taken to irrigate in such a way that the soil gets deep soaking, but only once in 3 days," he said. The clumps at present fetch a price of about Rs.1,000 per tonne, and farmers can expect a net return of about Rs.50,000 per acre a year, according to him.For more information on thornless bamboo varieties and their availability readers can contact Dr. N. Barathi, Director, Growmore Biotech Ltd., 41b Sipcot phase II, Hosur 635 109, Tamil Nadu, Phone: 04344- 260564 and 260565, email: growmore@vsnl.com


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