Employment Generationfrom Bamboos in India

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Employment Generationfrom Bamboos in India

N.S. Adkoli
Bamboo Society of India, Bangalore, India.


Bamboos generate large-scale rural employment in the management ofbamboo forests, and harvesting, collection, transport, storage, process-ing and utilization of bamboo. On the basis of current production ofbamboo and its uses in India, it is estimated that a total of 432 millionworkdays and Rs.13 billion in wages is generated annually.Enough scope exists for increasing bamboo yields by two or three timesin a short period using higher inputs of labour and investments. Theincreased productivity can fill the gaps in the availability of this eco-friendly material to users both in rural and industrial sectors to generatelarge-scale employment, eliminate imports in pulp and panel industries,and improve the living conditions of the rural poor, many of whomdepend on bamboos for their livelihood. Policy changes with regard toland laws, investment, credit priorities, imports, taxation, etc. canstrengthen and hasten this process.

Distribution, Growing Stock and Annual Harvest


Bamboos are found in moist and dry deciduous forests in all Indian states. Seven North-East states account for the maximum number of species available and nearly 50% of the total harvest. Bamboos are scarce in Rajasthan and Jammuand Kashmir. In Haryana and Punjab, bamboos are now being raised under social and farm forestry practices. The big thorny bamboo, Bambusa bambos, is found in moist deciduous forests in association with important timber trees such as teak, laurel, benteak, yellow teak, kino sal, etc. Axlewood and terminalias are the main associates of bamboo in dry deciduous forests. Dendrocalamtu strictus is a major component of bamboo stands and harvests in India. Melocannu baccifma, growing mainly in the hills of North-East India, is a non-clump forming bamboo accounting for nearly 15% of growing stock.

Growing stock

In most states, there is no accurate assessment of the growing stock through systematic sampling. Estimates put the growing stock at about 150million tonnes. The incidence of bamboo clumps in the forests varies from sporadic occurrences along valleys to closed thickets all over the forests.

Assessments are generally made in three categories of low, medium and high occurrence based on number of clumps existing per unit area. Any assessment of the growing stock based on annual harvest is likely to be misleading because: (a) removals made by local residents for their own use are not counted; (b) the harvests are sub-optimal in silvi cultural terms since the removals are restricted to the top parts of clumps, since a large proportion of clumps are congested, thorny and unapproachable to the harvesters at their base; (c) bamboos in remote inaccessible forests are not harvested; and (d) bamboos in National Parks, wildlife sanctuaries and bio-sphere reserves are not exploited.


Bamboo harvests are made by unscientific methods using local bill-hooks, long-handled axes, etc. In most cases, the culms are cut at a height of 2-4m from the ground. Culms are ideally cut when two years old, but this rule is not followed because older culms are found deep in the middle of clumps and younger ones growing at the periphery are easier to extract. Decongestion of clumps and cultural operations like soil tilling and water conservation measures are not undertaken. Harvesting is mostly done by unskilled labour engaged by either forest departments or contractors who are entrusted the work by paper mills on the basis of lowest tenders. In this method of extraction, the easily accessible bamboo forests are overexploited, while the more difficult portions of forest are left untouched. The felling by privilege holders is even more unscientific as they cut only those culms that are the easiest to extract. Out of all the bamboo extracted in India annually, about one-third is utilized by pulp mills. The rest is mostly used for agricultural purposes as well as for weaving.



Bamboos occupy pride of place in the life of villagers in India literally from "cradle to coffin”. Bamboos are a readily available material for fencing of agricultural lands, compounds and homelots. Different kinds of fencing to protect fields from cattle are in use. Thorny bamboos, cut together with their long branches and twigs, are carefully laid or heaped along boundaries, or the culms are split and woven or tied to bamboo posts in different shapes and styles to make effective fencing. Bamboos are used for making agricultural implements, as tool handles, ladders, etc. Whole or split bamboos are used as posts, beams, rafters and scaffolding in housing. Bamboo splits or slivers are woven into baskets, and used for grain silos, walling, partitions, ceiling, bridges and railings. They are also used to make hand-fans, spears, bows, arrows, core of incense sticks, umbrellas, kites, toys and a large number of handicraft items. Woven bamboo, indifferent shapes and forms, is put to extensive use in sericulture. It is also employed in fishing, cages for poultry, packaging, transport, and drying of grains, fruits and seeds. Flutes and other musical instruments made from bamboos are quite common in India. The Hindus carry their dead for cremation on a bamboo bier. Soil and water conservation efforts also find in bamboo a useful ally. There are several other uses that bamboo is put to inIndia, and there is a wide range of literature describing these.

industrial uses

The bulk use of bamboos in industry is for the manufacture of paper pulp and rayon-grade pulp. Slivers of bamboos are woven into mats for use in the manufacture of bamboo mat boards. The woven bamboo is also employed as dunnage in storage of food grains, and drying of grains, sugar etc. in rice and sugar mills.

Employment Generation


There is great scope to increase the productivity from existing bam-boo forests in India by simple and regular silvicultural practices, such as water conservation, soil working and maintenance of health and hygiene of clumps. There is very good potential to raise bamboo plantations as a business venture both in forests and farms. Hence, it is unfortunate that bamboo production has not received adequate attention either in the for-estry or the farm sector, in spite of increasing shortages in its availability. Most processing activities of bamboos can employ a low-skilled rural labour force.

Workforce for silviculture

The process of thinning of existing clumps, soil working and some water conservation measures require about 10to 25 unskilled workdays per-hectare, depending on the number and nature of clumps. Even if 75% of the existing bamboo forests are considered accessible and available for such tending, the workforce requirement at 10 workdays per hectare totals to75 million workdays. The required investment will become economically acceptable since it leads to a two-fold bamboo output and also to improvement in the quality of harvested culms.

Bamboo plantations

Raising bamboo plantations to increase the output to bridge the yawning gap between the demand and supply has not received adequate attention. From available figures, it is seen that hardly 5 000 ha per annum of bamboo plantations are established against the need and potential of about two million ha to be planted in a period of about eight years. The combined annual bamboo plantation targets in farm and forestry sectors for all states should aim at 250 000 ha per annum. It is estimated that raising one hectare of bamboo plantation, including raising nursery seedlings, generates about 120 workdays. Plantation maintenance from the second to fifth year takes about 40 workdays. Thus, every hectare of bamboo plantation generates about 160 workdays, and so 250000 ha of plantation raised annually can create 40 million workdays of rural employment over five years.

Bamboo harvesting

Harvesting of bamboo is carried out mainly by (a) tribals, (b) landless rural labour, (c) marginal fanners during lean agricultural seasons, and (d) migratory, landless forest labourers. This workforce constitutes the lower and lowest income groups in rural India. The entire operation of cleaning the branches around the clumps, cutting of intertwining branches, cutting the culm, dragging the culm free of the clump, cutting the branches flush to the culm, smoothening at the nodes, etc. are all done manually with a bill-hook, before sorting and stacking the culms. An average of 8-10 workdays is needed to harvest one tonne of bamboo. In India, on an average, six million tonnes of bamboo are harvested for commercial use, which means that 60 million workdays are generated by commercial harvesting. The balance four million tonnes are harvested by users during their spare time, either for use by themselves or for conversion into saleable products during their spare time.

Transport and handling

Loading, unloading, stacking and handling generate downstream employment after harvest. Two workdays per-tonne are generated by this kind of work. Thus the employment generation for six million tonnes comes to 12 million work days.

Weaving into usable products

There are several thousand families all over India whose children learn, from a very early age, the art of splitting, taking out slivers or strips, and weaving them into mats and other products like baskets or fans as traditional means of livelihood. Most tribals and landless labourers know the art of weaving and use this art to supplement their income by making saleable products. Bam-boos either brought from nearby forest areas or brought from the local market are generally stored in water, split and slivered using a sharp knife. The slivers themselves, or bamboo splits and slivers together, are used for weaving into finished products. There are large seasonal demands for certain items like fruit baskets, sericulture trays and so on. The slivers or splits are not treated and the life of these products depends on usage and method of storage. It is seen from experience that one weaver can split, clean, silver and weave an average of three bamboos per day. On the basis of an average of 120 bamboos per tonne, 40 workdays are required for processing one tonne of bamboo. Considering that an average of three million tonnes of bamboo are used for weaving and other forms of end-use, the employment generation in bamboo processing is roughly 120 million workdays per annum. In addition, many poor agriculturists and workers engaged in part-time bamboo processing account for an equal number of workdays for putting bamboos to housing, fencing, other domestic and agricultural uses.

Industrial labour

Two major industrial uses of bamboos as of now are the manufacture of pulp and mat boards. The installed capacity of all pulp mills together is approximately 3.5 million tonnes. The average utilization of bamboos in pulp making is 33.5%, the other raw materials being wood, recycled wastepaper, rags, kenaf, grass and straw. Pulp mills, which utilize an average of two workdays per tonne of pulp, account for about seven million work-days. The share of bamboos (at 33.5% utilization) in this is 2.33 million work days. There are three factories engaged in the manufacture of bam-boo mat boards. Other panel wood industrial units also manufacture bamboo mat boards. The total average consumption of bamboos for mat boards is about 10 000 tonnes. At an average of five workdays per tonne of bamboo, the annual employment potential of the industry is 50 000 workdays (down-stream workforce requirement for marketing of boards, support services, etc. are not taken into account here).

Cottage industries

Bamboos are used in the manufacture of incense sticks, and to meet the requirements of sericulture, handicrafts, etc. Being labour-intensive, the employment potential of these industries is quite high. About 60 workdays are required per tonne of bamboo in the primary processing. The average consumption of bamboos in the incense stick industry is 15 000 tonnes per annum, and another 25 000 tonnes goes for other cottage industrial uses. The employment potential of this sector is 2.4 million workdays. Although there is very good scope for use of bamboos in furniture, nothing much is done so far in this direction. But the potential is large because of the scarcity in rattan supply and the high costs of wood in India.

Summary of Employment Potential of Bamboos

The employment potential of bamboo-based industries in India in its management, harvest and primary processing is summarized below:

Use Quantity (per annum) Workdays (million)
Silviculture 25.000 ha75
Bamboo plantations 6.000.000 tonnes 40
Harvesting 6.000.000 tonnes 60
Transport/ storage/ handling 6.000.000 tonnes 12
Weaving into products 3.000.000 tonnes 240
Industrial labour 3.300.000 tonnes 2.38
Cottage industries 40.000 tonnes 2.4
TOTAL 341.78 = 342

In terms of income generation, at an average wage of US $l per day, the annual wage bill will come to US$432 million (approximately Rs.13 billion).

Profile of Bamboo Workers

Silviculture, management, harvest, collection, handling and storage are normally carried out by rural, landless, unskilled labour consisting of all ages (including children) and both sexes from the poorest section of the society. In most Indian states, weaving is undertaken by traditional weaver families, including tribals and other socially and economically backward classes. In the North-East, a large section of cutters and weavers are settlers from neigh bouring Bangladesh or backward class members of village com-munities who do not own land, Some tribal households engage in bamboo weaving or use bamboo in cottage industries during their spare time between seasonal agricultural operations. In Kerala and the North-East states, the weavers settle in hutments on either side of perennial rivers and streams through which bamboos harvested from the slopes are sent down as rafts to these settlements. The bamboos are kept in water till they are removed for weaving. Such water transport and storage leach out the sap from bam-boos to make them more durable and less liable to insect attacks. The weaver families are mostly under the control of bamboo contractors or societies formed by contractors and traders. These contractors or societies invest in the purchase of bamboos, supply them to the weavers and buy back the woven products, keeping a substantial margin of profit. Payment is made on a piece basis. Since the bamboos are untreated except for water leaching, storage for long periods would involve hire of bulk storage spaces, and possible discolouration and deterioration in the quality of the products. Long storages are therefore avoided.

Socio-economic conditions

Most bamboo workers and weavers are illiterate and live in small hutments under conditions of perpetual poverty and ill health. Many bam-boo weavers (including women and young adults) are addicted to liquor, which, in turn, adversely affects their health and economic conditions. Only a few tribals, who take up weaving in their spare time to supplement their income from seasonal agriculture, are economically strong and have the capacity to organize themselves into cooperatives or aided institutions to benefit from schemes funded and aided by government agencies.

Case Study of Kerala State

Kerala state is situated in the tropical belt along the Arabian Sea coast in South-West India. The Western Ghats traverse the state parallel to the sea coast, north to south, and result in the state receiving heavy precipitation from the south-west monsoons during June-October. The main bamboo species are: Ochhndra travancorica, popularly called reed bamboo, and Bambusa bambos, the thorny big bamboo. Small pockets of Dendro-calamus sttictus are found in the deciduous forests on shallow soils of slopes. The bamboos are spread over about 57.000 ha of forest area in the state. Bamboo clumps can also be seen on private lands around house-holds. The estimated yield of reed bamboo is 300.000 tonnes per annum, of which 187.000 tonnes is allotted for extraction by Hindustan News paper Limited (HNL) for use as pulp wood. Another 30.000 tonnes are allotted to the Kerala State Bamboo Corporation, which owns a bamboo mat board factory. Another public sector pulp mill is allotted 83.000 tonnes of bamboos per annum, but the factory is closed and therefore, no extraction is done against this allotment. One private sector rayon-grade pulp industryh as been allotted 100.000 tonnes of big bamboos from the forests of the northern districts.

HNL manages to procure about 80.000 tonnes reed bamboos per annum against its allotment of 187.000 tonnes. The Kerala State Bamboo Corporation is also unable to extract its full allotted quota. The government and the Corporation reckon 21.6 million reed bamboos as equivalent to the 30.000 tonnes allotted to the latter. Against this, the Corporation extracts only an average of 16.5 million bamboos per annum, which is about 79% of its quota. The representatives of the Corporation and the pulp mill say that the yield estimates are high and the availability from accessible forests is nearly half the estimated annual yield.

The Kerala State Bamboo Corporation

This is an old government agency set up to provide proper amenities and benefits to bamboo workers to prevent exploitation by contractors, and to undertake rational utilization and sale of bamboo products. The Corporation has an annual turnover of Rs. 85 million of which Rs. 25 million is from its mat board factory. The Corporation engages about 1.500 bamboo harvesters for an average of 200 days per year for extraction of 1.6 million bamboo culms, which works out to 300.000 workdays. Mat weaving consumes nine million bamboo culms, and about seven million culms are sold to weaver families for conversion to other saleable products, of which baskets form the bulk. There are about 15.000 weaver families with a total of about 50.000 members who get full time work for about 300 working days. The average earning per person is Rs. 25/- per day. The bamboo workers are provided with some welfare benefits like education allowance, medical benefits, housing loans, and educational grants for children to an extent of 11% of their wages. All this put together works out to approximately US $l per day per worker. The bamboo harvesters earn roughly 10%more than the weavers. One reed bamboo culm gives 1 m2 of woven mat. Mats are normally woven in sizes of 6x 4 feet or 5 x 3 feet, rolled into bundles of ten and sold in the market. The mat board factory uses 8 x 4 feet mats which have to be woven specially. The biggest buyer of mats is the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which takes 45% of the mat production, and about 30% is sold in the open market. The Spices Board uses 12 x 6 feet mats for drying spices like pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc. The current sale prices of mats per piece are:

Rs. 10.75 for 5 x 3 feet

Rs. 17.20 for 6x 4 feet

Rs. 66.00 for 12 x 6 feet

Specially woven 8 x 4 feet mats of 1 mm thickness are sold for Rs. 60.00each to the mat board factory.

Mat board factory

The factory, working on one shift of eight hours per day, produces about 9000 m2 per day of boards of 4 mm thickness. Its annual turnover isRs.25million. The annual average production is 2.4 million m2 of 4 mm boards.

The factory engages about 53 workers per day. Most of the bambooply is sold within the state. There is a ready demand for the product for partitions, doors, windows, furniture, ceiling, etc. The factory has plans to start a second shift, but the constraint is the lack of good weavers who can supply closely woven special mats used in the manufacture of boards.

Analysis and Comments

Kerala is the only Indian state, where natural bamboo is regularly used by a state-owned corporation. Yet, it can be seen that the Corporation has made no special efforts to (a) improve the availability of bamboos by tending clumps or raising bamboo plantation, (b) take up treatment of bamboos or its products against decay by fungi or insects, and (c) improve the living standards of bamboo harvesters, weavers, etc. The achievements of the Corporation are limited to (a) providing a steady income and some welfare measures to the workers, (b) establishing a factory for conversion of woven mats to panel boards, and (c) providing a marketing mechanism for the woven mats (such market support is not extended to baskets and other products). The state is not charging any royalty to the Corporation for supply of bamboos. It would have been better if the Corporation could undertake measures to increase bamboo production, increase life of bamboo products by treatment, provide complete market support for all bamboo products, and extend benefits to all bamboo workers in the state instead of servicing limited number of families in chosen areas.

Other States

The condition of natural bamboo clumps, their productivity, harvest and utilization in all other states is largely neglected. Bamboo workers’ cooperatives have been registered in many states to provide raw material, training and marketing services. But the societies are used by traders and merchants only to get allotment of bamboos at concessional rates to inflate their profits. The bamboo harvesters and weavers remain an illiterate, ignorant, exploited labour class living in miserable condition. There is vast scope to improve the availability of bamboos to the workers by tending the natural stock, increasing the area under bamboo through plantations, applying scientific methods of harvest and utilization to provide quality raw material to users and better durable products to consumers, and above all, improving the living conditions of several thousands of families of disadvantaged people who depend on bamboo for their livelihood.


Investments in forestry sector, under both social and production forestry, should aim at improving natural bamboo stock and increasing area under bamboo, in order to improve the quality and quantity of harvestable bamboo by two to four times in a period of three to seven years. The in-crease in bamboo output can meet the shortages of bamboos to weavers and industries. The pulp and paper industry is working at only 60-65% of installed capacity because of the shortage of raw material. The panel wood industry, which largely depends on imported logs for wood veneer, can easily switch over to bamboo mats and thereby save valuable foreign exchange.

The increase in production of bamboo and its increased use in panel boards, chip boards and particle boards can double the employment potential for harvesters, handling labour and weavers, and improve their wage earnings and thereby their living conditions. It is time that these eco-friendly woody grasses, which have annual incremental harvests, are made use of by planners to increase rural employment, generate raw materials, reduce imports, and ensure the socio-economic improvement of rural communities. The policies on licensing, imports, investments, credits, taxation and land laws need to be suitably modified to achieve self-sufficiency in production and use of bamboos, and to increase its utility for the creation of better economic and environmental conditions in the country.

sumber: bamboo, people and development. Proceeding of the 5th International Bamboo Workshop and teh 4th International Bamboo Congress in Ubud, Bali Indonesia, 19-22 June 1995pp 45-55