Budget brings hope to bamboo-rich northeast

February 01, 2018 08:15 pm | Updated February 02, 2018 01:53 am IST - GUWAHATI

KARBI ANGLONG—09-10-2014
A Tiwa tribal woman carrying firewood and enters through the “Langara” (the entrance gate) of a traditional Tiwa house in Tharakunji village in Karbi Anglong district of Assam on Thursday, 9 October 2014. “Langara” is made out of bamboo and is used by every Tiwa house hold. Its works like an indigenous calling bell -once someone enters through the Langara it makes a sound and the house owner comes to know that someone has come. Tiwa is one of the major tribe of Assam inhabited in the Karbi Anglong and Morigaon districts of Assam state. Traditionally, the community is expert in use of bamboo which is grown abundantly in the hills. The Tiwa womenfolk are good weavers. 
PHOTO: RITU_RAJ_KONWAR

KARBI ANGLONG—09-10-2014
A Tiwa tribal woman carrying firewood and enters through the “Langara” (the entrance gate) of a traditional Tiwa house in Tharakunji village in Karbi Anglong district of Assam on Thursday, 9 October 2014. “Langara” is made out of bamboo and is used by every Tiwa house hold. Its works like an indigenous calling bell -once someone enters through the Langara it makes a sound and the house owner comes to know that someone has come. Tiwa is one of the major tribe of Assam inhabited in the Karbi Anglong and Morigaon districts of Assam state. Traditionally, the community is expert in use of bamboo which is grown abundantly in the hills. The Tiwa womenfolk are good weavers. 
PHOTO: RITU_RAJ_KONWAR

What’s in a name? A lot, if we are talking about bamboo.

Bamboo is essentially a type of grass, but its classification as a tree for 90 years prevented the northeast, which grows 67% of India’s bamboo, from exploiting it commercially unlike China, the only country with richer bamboo genetic resources.

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Now Budget 2018 has ignited farm hope for this tree-turned-grass which once fuelled insurgency in the northeastern states. The allocation of ₹1,290 crore for a restructured National Bamboo Mission (NBM) has raised hopes for a range of bamboo-based industries – from food professing to construction.

“Bamboo is a wonder, multi-utility grass that more than 300 ethnic groups in the northeast have traditionally been using in every stages of life, from birth to death, besides it being a delicacy. Bamboo’s commercial journey began when it was struck off the list of trees by amending the Indian Forest Act last year,” said Chandra Mohan Patowary, Assam’s industry and commerce minister.

If the ‘tree’ tag prevented tribal people from using bamboos in forestland – the Northeast has 25% of India’s forests – the lack of policy support never allowed commercial use of non-forest bamboo, experts said.

“The Budget provision is one of the best initiatives to promote holistic development of bamboo. But the restructured NBM needs to be more focussed on value-chain management and value-addition of bamboo at community level which will bring more income to the bamboo farmers and bamboo processors,” Kamesh Salam, a former member of NBM, told The Hindu .

Called the green gold, the bamboo has often been in focus for the wrong reasons in the northeast. A rat famine triggered by flowering of this grass had in 1966 led to the creation of the Mizo National Front that metamorphosed into a political party two decades later.

The flowering of bamboo every 50-55 years leads to dramatic increase in the population of rats that destroy crops triggering famine, locally called mautam.

There have also been instances of bamboo cartels shedding blood while competing for limited commercial opportunities such as two paper plants in Assam that have been struggling to survive.

But things for the grass began looking up last year when the Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur governments signed an agreement for supplying bamboo to the Assam-based Numaligarh Refinery’s upcoming bio-refinery.

“Such initiatives will offer a permanent source of revenue generation to bamboo growers and communities owning bamboo groves,” Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu said.

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