ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF BAMBOO
FOR THE TRADITIONAL BAMBOO USERS IN THE MODERN ECONOMY
Bamboo has had a very historical and cultural association in Nepal, it is used in almost all aspects of life from construction, marriage, death to livelihood. The use of bamboo however, has been only subsistence, and the modern market for it is not well developed. With the growing bamboo demand in the world, abundant availability of the resources, vast traditional knowledgebase and cultural affinity of this material in Nepal, there is a tremendous potential for it to contribute to the people’s livelihood. This paper focuses on how traditional bamboo users, who amount to around 3.3 in Nepal alone, can be integrated in to the modern market.
Bamboo’s prominent role in the traditional life of Nepal is well acknowledged. (Poudyal 2006, Bista 2004, Das 2001, Karki et. at 1998, Storey 1990) From the “untouchable” Dalits castes to the “high caste” Brahmins: bamboo is used in all aspects of life. (Bista, 2004 Das 2006) Eighty one species (5.2% of the world species) belonging to 23 genera (24% of the world genera) are found in Nepal. (Poudyal 2006) Nepal has both tropical bamboos found in the South-East Asia and temperate bamboos found in Tibet and Bhutan. (Karki, et. at 1998)
Bamboo can be called the backbone of Nepal’s rural culture. It are eaten when they are young, while mature bamboo are used for building houses. Since bamboos are lightweight, pliable yet very strong, they can be brought into multiple uses. Most of the components of the houses like walls, floors, roofs, furniture, scaffolding, ladders, fencing are made of bamboo. In the remote villages footbridges are made using with bamboo poles tied with bamboo lashings. Most of the utilitarian objects like milk jars, beer mugs, baskets, tools, fishing rods, raincoats, pots, rattraps, pipes for irrigation, cradles yokes, winnows are made of bamboo. (Das, 2006) When the babies are born they are put in kokro (bamboo hammocks) and the deads are carried away in bamboo stretchers. Bamboo are necessary, because of their symbolic meaning during birth, wedding and death rituals. Bamboo also provides entertainment for the young and the old, as they sit in the village homes singing the folk songs in the tunes of bamboo flute. Bamboo is ubiquitous in the Nepali culture and is used by men and women of all social groups.
Bamboo uses at different ages
<30 days it is good for eating tama
6-9 months for weaving baskets (doko, dalo, kokro, namlo, nanglo)
2-3 years for bamboo boards or laminations
3-6 years for construction of houses and bridges
>6 years bamboo gradually loses strength up to 12 years old
Bamboo in the political psyche.
Bamboo is classified under Non timber forest products (NTFP). 93 percent of the Nepali labor force are rural based and they practice subsistence agriculture, (sharma 1989, Amatya and Newman 1993), these people deal with NTFP in one or the other. In the Forestry Master Plan a need to develop NTFP especially lokta paper and bamboo was recognized. Most of the users of NTFPs tend to be the vulnerable sector of the community like women and the marginalized group, since they are deprived of other sources of livelihood. It is estimated that about 3.3 million farming families are somehow involved with the bamboo sub sector either as producers or users of bamboo based products (Pant 2006). If the bamboo and other NTFPS are developed it can contribute much more to the regional and national economy.
However, the government has not considered bamboo and other NTFPs as important as other sectors, because they were considered easily accessible, cheap and their potential to the regional and national economy is not well understood. Their importance is put in periphery in order to give priority to development of physical infrastructure supporting agriculture, tourism and industry and hydropower industry. (Interim Plan 2007). Despite Nepal’s geographical and cultural richness of bamboo, due to governments indifference, lack of support for subsistence farmers, disorganized market, limited skills, bamboo based economy only contributes 1-2% to the national GDP. (Karki et. at 1998)
There are many actors in the bamboo sector, like small scale producers, large landowners, intermediaries, craftspeople, urban entrepreneurs and urban costumers, NGOs, Government. This paper will focus on how much small scale producers and craftspeople and can potentially contribute to the burgeoning bamboo trade of Nepal and the world, which is estimated to be 14 billion dollars.
Small producers and gathers can be considered important player in the bamboo based activity. In an average farm in East Nepal, average farmer has one or two bamboo clumps. (Karki et. al 1998) However, they are scattered and they are not able to supply in bulk. Their uses are subsistence; their only sell in order to meet emergency cash needs and bamboo cultivation is not done at the cost of food production. (Karki, et. at 1998) The return period for bamboo is three years, and the there is not enough financial security for farmers to wait that long. Furthermore, with their small land holdings, it is not feasible to do intercropping with other major crops. Their bamboos are collected by the intermediaries, and most of the profits go to them. The small producers are not able to participate in secondary processing because of low level of education, low social status of bamboo craftsperson and traders, weak financial position, etc. – as well as the lack of necessary knowledge, expertise and organization. (Karki, et. at 1998)
According to a research done by Karki et. al the land size is directly proportional to the amount of bamboo plantation. It is usually the rich with large landholdings that that plant their bamboo in their farms. It has been noted that people because of burgeoning demand for the bamboo in urban market for scaffoldings and complicated land tenure policy, rich farmers are now planting bamboo or practicing other kinds of agro-forestry instead of regular major crops like rice and wheat. These harvesting techniques are however, unscientific and unsustainable, as they carried out by contract laborers who do not have proper harvesting knowledge. (Karki, et. at 1998)
Karki et. al, observe that a new type of growers has come up in recent years – the user group. Forest lands, which till recently belonged to the government, have now been handed over to these community-based groups with full use rights and privileges. These organized groups have the potential to become a major players in bamboo production since their holding sizes are fairly large.
It is also suggested that the small cultivator and crafts people be given degraded land as Leasehold Forestry so they can plant bamboo, which will have the dual benefit of land management and income generation.
Most of the marginalized people like magar, chepangs, tharus, dalits (esp. doms and dushads, mushahars) etc. are involved in bamboo crafts.
Doms usually make changera, chalani, dhakki, bhakari, fan and other decorative and utilitarian items. Usually a dom family has a “traditional right” to stay in a community, and this right can be even sold to another dom community, when they decide to leave. Furthermore, every year around the festive season of, October-November, they visit their client villages and make various products out of bamboo. These traditional craft workers are paid a daily wage of Rs. 50 plus three meals. They make storage bins (Bhakaris) for which the charges vary according to the sizes (approx. Rs. 2/kg.)These artisans usually stay for l0-15 days in a particular village before shifting operation to the next village. (Karki et. al 1998)
In the modern market, the influx of cheap plastic materials has taken away their source of income from them and it has pushed them further more into poverty. Since they are of “lower” caste, its hard for them to switch into another occupation. Furthermore, they do not have land. Only 5% of dome have about 1-10 kattha land. Due to lower education they are excluded from state mechanism. They are not allowed to open restaurants or sell milk products, because it is considered impure. They have forced to take up low paid unskilled labor jobs. (Marik 2003)
For the subsistence farmers or landless dalits, (and even fully dedicated bamboo craftspeople like domes, dushads, chepangs, magars etc.) due to insufficient land holding and seasonal cycles, bamboo craft is not a full-time activity; it is seasonal and need-driven. Bamboo craft gives them extra income during dry seasons and can provide considerable security in the event of any calamity (failure of monsoon, pest attack, storms, epidemics, etc.) According to a study done by Karki et. al, 1997 Suri tribe where a whole family, up to 5 members, are engaged in making bamboo products like bhakara, daliya etc. make about mere Rs. 30/day/person.
Bamboo and the modern market.
It has been shown that the uses and extraction of NTFPs in general, are pronounced among impoverished class and declines as the household income increases. Gunatilake, Senaratne and Abeygunawardena (1993) quoted in Daniggelis 1997) More so can be said of bamboo, as the influx of modern plastic and construction material are displacing bamboo from its historical uses. But as the modern market study shows, a new market is emerging in urban areas for handmade utilitarian and decorative objects. In housing sector, an interest is growing for low cost annexes, restaurants, weekend homes and even residential homes. In this burgeoning market, a transition for of traditional bamboo craftspeople to the modern bamboo sector can be relatively easy (and necessary), provided adequate organization, marketing skills, additional knowledgebase and proper policies are provided.
Furthermore, the interest in modern market does not require intensive technology, but it needs more design skills and new craftsmanship and institutional support. On the contrary In Nepal, the high technology intensive bamboo endeavors like plywood and parqueting industry suffered a setback, because it is unable to compete with cheap Chinese and Indian plywood and parquets and the price of bamboo lamination is more then wood products. Keeping historical uses of bamboo in mind, Nepal can make a swifter and more effective transition to crafts based bamboo industries than a technology based.
Bamboo products do not have to be limited to old objects like doko dalo, kokro, mandro, nanglo, many new expressions of the old material can be found for the modern users like- Hammocks, umbrella, furniture, wine bottles, folders, baskets, boxes, carpets, curtains, cushions, mousepads, lampsheds, cups, bags, jackets, key chains and housing. These materials are low technology intensive, so a transition for the traditional bamboo weavers can be swift and less expensive. Most importantly the economic benefit will be more equitable, and it is in sync with the historical and cultural practices.
In a market study done by Shrestha et. al in the markets of kathmandu it had been noticed that the maximum number of bamboo are handcrafted household items. The handcrafted bamboo accounted for about 75 % of the current market need. The study showed that most of the products that were purchased did not require extensive bamboo processing, and the costumers were more interested in final “finishing” and followed by design, raw material, product design and durability in the second place. Prices seem to have only moderate consideration for the buyers.
On the supply study done among the urban entrepreneur by Pant of GTZ, its was found that there are lots of request for new products and their demand could not be adequately addressed. Many of the entrepreneurs are working in isolation and there is no collaboration between them. The industry is experiencing inertia due to lack of inventiveness, technology and research and development. On the supply side the raw materials are not delivered on time.
Therefore, a broader alliance is required that can bring modern and traditional users, producers and craftspeople, policy makers and researchers to start a broader dialogue so that it can a new modern, efficient market can be established in Nepal that can compete in the global market. Bamboo has a historical and cultural signification, and with a small development in the existing knowledge base, proper management, financial incentives, and appropriate government policies bamboo sector can boom very well in Nepal
Habitat for Humanity recently launched 100,000 houses (mostly bamboo) by 2016 in Nepaa (Habitat Nepal). Their low cost houses made with round pole bamboo with cement plaster on woven mat is definitely an improvement on shanty shacks. Their simple yet effective intervention of having a good foundation and roof provides a new value to bamboo because of increased durability and a modern look. Their policy of engaging the owners in the construction process not only empowers them but also creates employment and imparts them with skills to maintain the houses in future.
In Nepal, the forest debate has centered around commercial versus the subsitence value of the forests. It is however suggested that the forest products and policies have to be considered in the following framework. Appasamy (1993) and Daniggelis 1997
1. Ecological Functions of forests, watersheds and preservation of biodiversity.
2. Subsistence Functions: NTFP used by rural and tribal communities.
3. Development Functions: supplying timber and wood products for the the industrial sector and medicinal plants for the industrial seccotr and medicinal plants for export.
4. Cultural function including religious (Daniggelis 1997)
With my experience as an entrepreneur and an architect working with bamboo I believe, NTFP, especially bamboo can provide further two more functions.
Bamboo market in Nepal is estimated at around NPR 1 Billion where 25,000 plus families from excluded/ethnic groups are involved in bamboo related livelihood activities in Eastern Nepal alone. Additionally, 3.3 million farming families are somehow involved with the bamboo sub sector either as producers or users of bamboo based products. Bamboo has various advantages such as it has potential to create rural employment; it is environmentally friendly, cheap and abundant. Global bamboo economy is also estimated to be 14 billion dollars. With rich variety of bamboo species (from the tropical species of South-east asia to the temperate species of Tibet) bamboo sector in Nepal can play a very prominent role in eradicating poverty.
In the traditional Nepali houses, almost all the components (like walls, floors, roof, doors, windows, stairs) were built with bamboo. Bamboo is lighter in density then steel, but it can be as strong as mild steel in terms of strength. In the last 10 years, there has been emerging interest in the field of bamboo housing in many parts of the globe. Nepal can enhance its existing skill so that it can materialize on the growing global material for this versatile material.
The above study shows a detailed overview of bamboo policies, producers craftspeople and current situation of the urban entrepreneurs in Nepal. It is shown that bamboo has a very strong cultural association in Nepali culture, but these traditional users of bamboo have not been able to make a smooth transition to the modern economy and furthermore, urban entrepreneurs are working in isolation and they lack proper co-ordination between each other. Furthermore, the entrepreneurs are facing inertia due to lack of new design ideas, skills, market and raw material supply.
From the study, it is recommended that urgently a larger association of bamboo users needs to be formed that
1. incorporates both rural producers and craftsmen as well as urban entrepreneur, so that a synergy is created between the various actors including policy makers, NGOs and financial institutions.
2. organizes mechanism to update new skills and technology so that it can compete in the national and the international market.
3. lobbies for better government policies that safeguard traditional bamboo and other NTFP users against influx of new materials and provide financial and legal protection so that the fair share of profit reaches the appropriate person rather then the intermediaries.
4. lobbies for acquition of degraded land for the small or landless producers, so they can manage the degraded land and generate income from it.
5. advocate use of bamboo for construction as it is economical, ecological, durable and it supports local labor, material and the regional economy.
The bamboo world trade is estimated to be $14 billion and estimated 3.3 million in Nepal alone are known to be using bamboo. The bamboo users are usually from excluded groups, who are facing difficult time moving into the modern economy. With appropriate government policy and private initiative, bamboo sector can be developed as a mechanism to end the rural poverty. Furthermore, its development will be in sync with historical and cultural practices, and it seems very advisable that proactive measures are taken to develop this sector.
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