Bamboo and rattan offer a unique suite of characteristics that place it at the forefront of natural resources that can develop lives and livelihoods. Rattan is a component of tropical forests and is rarely cultivated. Cultivation of bamboo is highly desirable as it increases yield and quality of the poles and shoots harvested:
- Bamboo should be harvested annually and non-destructively – clear cutting of bamboo is detrimental to growth, reduces productivity, and increases environmental degradation;
- Bamboo establishes rapidly after planting – the first harvest of culms comes within five years;
- Minimal investment is required to establish a plantation – propagules are cheap and easy to produce, and plants yield for many decades;
- Bamboos respond well to proper management – unmanaged stands in India yield 1 – 2 tonnes per hectare, managed stands yield over ten times that;
- Bamboos can be grown on peripheral or non-cropping land – growing bamboo need not interfere with food-cropping, and represents real increase in income and food security;
- Bamboos can be intercropped – shallow rooted food or cash crops are ideal, such as ginger, tumeric and mushrooms; and
- Growing bamboo builds on farmers’ inherent plant cultivation skills, and increases their capacity to absorb or adapt to livelihood changes and disruptions.
As raw materials
- Bamboo and rattan processing exists in many societies – processing of new products can build on existing skills and is more likely to be chosen by stakeholders than an entirely new technology;
- There are a multitude of different products that can be made from bamboo and rattan – giving producers a wide range of options, and increasing their flexibility in times of market stress;
- Bamboo and rattan lend themselves to community-based growing and processing – the range of different skills required to grow, process and market them and products made from them are often available, or can be developed, in a community;
- Many processing stages may be involved, depending on the product – this creates an opportunity for value addition at each point of transfer of ownership of the semi-finished products, forming a value chain from production to sale and end use;
- Products may require high or low levels of skill to produce, or a combination of both – some products are inherently skills dependent (such as woven articles) whereas others require skilled or semi-skilled inputs at only some stages of production. Consequently there are opportunities for people with different skills bases and motivations to earn money from the value chain;
- Bamboo and rattan can easily be processed by women – bamboo wood is light and easy to process by hand. All bamboo processing activities are equally suitable for men and women, but in some societies growing and harvesting bamboo is seen as man’s work. Harvesting rattan requires physical strength, and is also done by men; and
- Bamboo and rattan can be processed at home and in spare time – and thus money earned in this way is real additional income.
As a commodity
- Semi-processed bamboo and rattan are valuable commodities in the production chain – processing imparts value to bamboo, and intermediate products can command good prices within the production chain;
- Skilled inputs greatly increase the value of the raw material – activities such as colouring, fine splitting and weaving impart much value to the bamboo and can be treated as separate vocations in themselves. Less skills dependent processes such as preservation treatments also add value; and
- Bamboo and rattan products have low and high value markets – products may be low-volume, high-input, such as delicately woven baskets, or high volume, low input, such as incense sticks or floorboards. Combining production of both types of product in a community increases its resilience to market shocks.