Responsibly-sourced raw material will lend credibility to bamboo products in international markets. By M.A. Siraj

Certification of bamboo products under FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification scheme emerged as the highlight of the discussion that took place at the two-day International Conference on Bamboo Composites in Bengaluru earlier this week. Several speakers spoke of the need for setting up a mechanism for the same, if India were to emerge as a competitor to China in the world market.

FSC logo

FSC certification ensures that the raw material for products has been sourced from responsibly managed forests, both environmentally and socially. An FSC logo on the products carries the assurance for consumers that forests remain thriving environments for the sourced material for future generations and do no harm to indigenous people for whom the forests serve as natural habitats and the wildlife.

‘Valourise bamboo’

The need for FSC certification for bamboo products is felt nowhere more urgently than in the eight North-eastern states which together produce two-thirds of India’s bamboo but have not witnessed progress of the material in the value chain. Maharaj K. Muthoo, a former Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer who now heads the Roman Forum, Italy, said though certification was initiated by certifying bamboo baskets and some items of bamboo furniture 15 years ago, the pace had slackened and no headway has been made during the first National Bamboo Mission.

Giving a call for ‘valourising bamboo’, Mr. Muthoo said China annually exports bamboo products worth $25 billion. He said bamboo has traditionally been the mainstay of as many as 1,500 items of use, from a cultural product like flute to items from cradle to coffin. He said bamboo-growing areas could be given funds under poverty eradication schemes and urged the need for certification for its functions in construction, cultural and ecological services.

Replying to the posers raised by Mr. Muthoo, Avani Kumar Verma, Co-Chairman, Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF), said that the Central and State governments were working to put in place a certification process for large-scale domestic buyers of bamboo and exporters of bamboo products.

Naveen Verma, Secretary for North East Development Council, said that the Council, with a budget of ₹55,000 crore, allocates nearly 10% of the budget to conserve forests and development of forest products. He said proposals to make it mandatory for government buildings to use bamboo tiles and mat or board for roofing were under consideration.

He said it has been found that bamboo houses in rural areas in Tripura cost just half of what an RCC structure would cost while in urban centres the costs exceeds that of RCC structures. There were also suggestions to build bamboo houses for Chief Ministers or some government edifices in some prominent squares. The Ministry for Environment and Forest and Climate Change has approached Bureau of Indian Standards for providing standards for various bamboo products.

‘Rich man’s fancy’

A.K. Bansal, former Director of Indian Plywood Industries and Research and Training Institute (also former Additional Director General of Ministry of Environment and Forests), said that efforts must be undertaken to turn bamboo from ‘poor man’s timber’ to ‘rich man’s fancy’. “It can help regenerate rural economy as it was irretrievably entwined with rural livelihood.” He said bamboo was also the stuff of nutrition chain as its shoots were part of popular cuisines in the North-eastern States.

Prem Chand Gupta, Proprietor, Pragatisheel Engineering, an industry based in Dewas in Madhya Pradesh, producing bamboo-processing machines, says certain bamboo products outlast similar products from timber. Mr. Gupta, who has devised and developed as many as 30 machines for slicing, knot-removing, splicing, stick-making, planing, bamboo fibre-extracting etc, says that bamboo propagation in Madhya Pradesh under National Bamboo Mission has yielded positive results.

He expects that the State may emerge as the major manufacturer of bamboo products as several plants were being set up to turn out bamboo mats, window-blinder, mat-boards, particle boards, etc.

Grass, not tree

It was also pointed out that classification of bamboo as a ‘tree’ for 90 years prevented its commercial exploitation, although it was merely a ‘woody grass’. It was only in 2016 that this miracle plant was recognised as a ‘grass’, facilitating its frequent harvesting.

An exhibition organised at the IPIRTI venue synchronising with the International Conference, brought over two dozen manufacturers and NGOs working among bamboo-growers, showcasing products ranging from sofa-sets to dining tables, flower vases, cradles, rocking chair, wall hangings, hand fans, baskets and plethora of other items.

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