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Scientific efforts to understand Bamboo better underway

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14Jul

Bamboo generally known as “poor man’s timber” is a group of perennial evergreen plants. There are a total of 75 genera and 1250 species of bamboo mostly occurring in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. The growing habits and physical characteristics of different bamboo species are different: dwarf varieties can grow only few inches, mid-size bamboo can grow few meters and giant bamboo species can grow to about 30 meters in height and 30 centimetres in diameter. Different bamboo species grows in agro-climatic conditions ranging from sea level to about 4000 meters above sea level. Thus, growth rate and biomass production to the hydrological behaviour, of each bamboo is unique.

Bamboo is known to provide a wide range of ecosystem services. Bamboo is effective for soil conservation and in rehabilitation of degraded lands. The extensive underground interconnected rhizome and roots system with net structure effectively binds top soil and prevents sheet and gully erosion. It is effective tool to mitigate soil erosion, improve soil qualities and hydrological functions.

International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) along with Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation (ICAR-IISWC) and Uttarakhand Forest Department (UFD) is collaborating on a research study to evaluate the behavioural patterns related to growth and biomass, hydrological behaviour, and soil health and intangible benefits of different species.

During an interview, Dr. P K Mishra, Director, ICAR-IISWC, shares his thoughts on how and what this research study can contribute to, in the development of bamboo sector, nationally as well as internationally.

Can you throw some light on this research study that has been jointly undertaken by INBAR, IISWC and UFD?

IISWC’s main focus is to conserve natural resource, especially soil and water. Our mandate is to conduct research and develop strategies for controlling land degradation, provide extension, training, education on soil and water conservation. We have a nationwide presence and are working in different agro climatic regions and agro climatic settings.

Our experience with Bamboo has yielded extraordinary results. IISWC has extensively used bamboo in reclaiming ravine and degraded lands in the Indian states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It is during this exercise that we recognised the potential of bamboo particularly in soil and water conservation. We have delineated over 1 million hectares of ravine and degraded areas where bamboo has enormous potential towards re-greening and to improve productivity, thereby contribute to livelihoods and environment. Bamboo is a fast growing plant and its wide network of roots and rhizomes is highly effective in keeping a check on soil erosion by holding/binding the soil firmly, thereby preventing soil loss from ravines. We also observed that planting bamboo alongside the ravines tremendously helped in improving the soil health. It further helps not only in reclamation of ravine lands but also in providing livelihood support and in natural resource conservation and carbon sequestration in the long run.

What are the benefits this research will bring to the local communities?

The research is designed in such a way that it starts with community and ends with community. We have adopted a bottom up approach. Bamboo provides countless benefits to the environment and also to the people. It is essential to inform and make the communities aware of the benefits they can derive by planting bamboo.

Through this research we will be able to quantify the various intangible benefits like improvement in soil health, maintaining hydrological balance, increasing soil fertility, nutrient cycling, arresting soil erosion etc. Post research completion, our scientists will be better placed to provide package of practices to the local communities when planting bamboo under watershed development, farm boundary plantation, using bamboo for wind breaks, slope stabilisation and river bank protection. And this will be very effective and helpful for the locals/growers to develop a better understanding about bamboo while also harnessing its full potential.

How can this partnership help in developing the bamboo sector nationally as well as internationally?

This is an innovative project. The tri-partite partnership between the institute, forest department and the international organisation, can address some cross cutting issues and can help bring positive synergies. Bamboo in context of resource conservation will be evaluated from different angles. So far, whatever work has been done on Bamboo is all about calculating economics, while other intangible benefits that bamboo brings along have rarely been documented. The research results of measuring those benefits and related knowledge once ready, will be shared by our scientists with the partner countries too. As part of the knowledge transfer, this partnership will allow our scientists to travel to African countries and get some real world experience while they conduct capacity building training of their African counterparts. We will provide the know-how to collect data on soil properties, growth, biomass, hydrological behaviour and intangible benefits.

We are hopeful that this partnership with its great body of scientific knowledge as well as practical applicability will help in filling the research void which exists and will help in strengthening the bamboo sector.