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Can bamboo bring income to
millions of rural women?

Stories
20Nov

Hundreds, likely thousands, of communities in the Global South have enterprises and collectives owned by women, earning income from bamboo and rattan – bamboo value chains that have been put in place and tested by INBAR, and its partners in China, South Asia, Africa and beyond. And much more is possible for countries and development partners to bring these solutions to more people.

Current approaches need further validation so they can be scaled up to benefit many more communities. Socio –economic studies are need; case studies will be developed, value chain models and business models are being created so that project work can be made easily replicable across countries and regions.

Approaches seeded by INBAR and a range of development partners and are operating today include a collective of women’s self-help group in India that produces higher value added incense stick products that has created 150,000 jobs, and an initiative in Tanzania that has created 100 bamboo nurseries, the creation of micro-enterprises, and training opportunities for some 1000 people in a specially-created Bamboo Training Center.

These activities created new income streams in several rural areas, where communities today produce crafts and desks for local schools. Charcoal briquette production and selling that generate income and slow deforestation employ 5,000 women, many of them single mothers, who now have stable incomes.

Women have always been partners in income generating activities based on bamboo and rattan. As sources of wood, bamboo and rattan are very suitable for women to process, in many ways much more so than timber. Both bamboo and rattan are light and easy to handle and process, often with just hand tools, and in many cases hand-skills add the bulk of the value in the processing system – such as the weaving – work easily done by women. They are very versatile, and because they split linearly they are easy to process.

Traditional bamboo-working communities have a distinct segregation of roles in the production process of utilitarian bamboo products. In the past, harvesting, splitting and marketing has been done by men, whereas more intricate work, such as finishing and coloring the products have been done by women. Processes such as sliver-making and interlacing are done by both men and women.

Some bamboo and rattan products are particularly good for women to produce, and build upon women’s inherent skills. Products that involve interlacing in the weaving of textiles and the forming of mats and baskets can be taken as starting points to design new products which capitalize on existing skills.

The production of bamboo textiles builds on women’s traditional skills such as weaving and sewing, as well as related techniques such as dyeing where women can draw upon and use their knowledge of natural plant dyes and herbs. Bamboo could also be used in a reconstituted form as interlaced mat ‘yardage’ which can be used as surfaces similar to paper and fabric, and value added by textile applications such as coloring/dyeing etc needs to be considered.

A long term project run by INBAR and the NGO TRIBAC in Tripura, India has engaged over 3000 women to develop an incense stick production chain, some of whom have set up their own incense stick businesses within the chain. The increasing restructuring of traditional production systems and greater involvement of women producers in the bamboo production cycle lies in part in the shift of demand of bamboo products from rural to urban markets, due to a range of factors, particularly the greater awareness of “green”, environmentally-friendly products by consumers.

Larger global markets are opening up for bamboo and rattan and traditional markets are shrinking as they are being saturated with cheaper products made from materials such as plastic. This is an excellent opportunity to offer women more involvement in production and income generation from bamboo and rattan. And it has often been found in other sectors that money earned by women is more effectively invested in the long term future of the household than money earned by men.

Share your expertise:

-Do you have expertise and information to share about how bamboo and rattan can improve women’s livelihoods?
-Do you have examples of successful women-run bamboo and rattan businesses and value chains?
-Share your comments here, or contact the INBAR team.