An aspect of revamping bamboo sector for post COVID economic reconstruction of Manipur

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh
One of the most readily available and most wasted but readily utilisable and environment friendly resource is bamboo. Bamboo, if not harvested on maturity which is just four years at the most, are wasted. In all the states of NE, it is widely available on a large scale. In Manipur according to state NBM records, the area under bamboo is 1. Pure Bamboo Forest - 95 sqkm;  2. Bamboo Brake Forest- 2790 sqkm and 3. Bamboo Forest understory - 7676 sqkm and this works out to be a substantial area (SBSC, 2018-19). According to an estimate the bamboo of Manipur has potential of giving a revenue of 2134 million INR per year against the actual receipt of 0.43 million INR (2003). The current growing stock has been estimated at above 15 million MT. The state revenue apart, the importance of bamboo in the socio economy of the people of Manipur can never be underestimated. There are many virtues of bamboo such as its growth, strength, carbon sequestration and climate mitigation potential, our socio cultural association and so on, but let me focus only on bamboo for post covid economic reconstruction today.
Out of 80.428 million MT of bamboo in the country, 66% is in NE and in NE, any person of letters shall be able to speak for hours on bamboo and its uses, so common is this item here. Some speak passionately, some speak so technically but the problem of mainstreaming bamboo is far from overcoming. During the current lockdown, I was fortunate to have attended a few webinars during pandemic lockdowns, one by the IRDPR, NER Guwahati and another by IMI. More followed thereafter. I was quite sure that these bodies shall come up with something concrete to reshape the roadmap of the bamboo sector. There were beautiful ideas from national and international institutions such as INBAR, SABF etc.  on techniques and technology and policy issues. I was only an online participant away from home, but I had a few concerns which I am sharing in brief here with the readers:
1.    One important policy decision we need to take here is how to share the resource with bamboo based ethanol enterprises. A bio refinery has been set up at Assam for bamboo based ethanol production. The refinery has selected National Small Industries Corporation to facilitate the supply of bamboo from farmers to different chipping centres around the North East states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya (2019). The Assam Bio Refinery is going in to this venture in a big way. The developed countries are also heavily subsidising this sector as it is clean and green energy which is renewable and shall replace fossil fuel partly in the beginning and may be fully later and I am sure India will follow suit. Now the issue is within a year or two, certainly, there will be a boost in the bamboo based ethanol enterprises. So, successful bio ethanol production shall be certainly good for the bamboo growers’ economy as well as that of the states. Leaving out Manipur from the supply chain proposed by the Assam Bio Refinery is an important issue that needs to be tackled immediately and the State Forest Department may take note of that.
While, the multi crore big players like Refineries are entering the sector, the state’s responsibility is to protect the interest of both the bamboo growers and bamboo based artisans. I do not mean that we should not join the ethanol venture, it is a good venture for the bamboo sector as raw bamboo shall get a good market, even value addition up to the level of chipping will be possible. The future of bamboo lies here and the so far untapped/idle resource shall be playing a big role in rural economy. The problem here is while we are thinking of the economic reconstruction only, the MSMEs based on bamboo may be seriously handicapped. So, the impact of bamboo based ethanol production need to be viewed well in advance and a suitable demarcation in resource sharing is required. The bamboo growers, I am sure that will find the raw material demand of ethanol based plants less exacting and easier to handle and they are likely to be inclined more towards that. So, it shall be prudent to have a bamboo policy inclusive of this concern.
2. Majority of bamboo area in Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram are of Maubi/Muli (Melocanabaccifera (Roxb.) Kurz) which does not require any regeneration intervention but more of harvesting. It is like a monopodial bamboo and easier to harvest and manage. But the problem is remoteness of growing area which makes it difficult for extraction and transportation to roadsides. Personally I feel that the Maubi bamboos of two years old and more are suitable for extraction. Of course now, for ethanol production, the felling rules may have to be revised due to different requirements of carbohydrate and cellulose content. In Manipur, 94% of the bamboo growing stock is of Maubi bamboo.
In the post covid 19 scenario, it is in everybody’s knowledge that the bamboo sector has to play a vital role in economic reconstruction of the country particularly of the North East. But in spite of two decades of thrust in the sector, it still remains totally unorganised and there has not been much gain whatsoever. Perhaps, the investments have been too thinly spread to have any tangible benefit as is the case with many other schemes.  There is an immediate need to organise this sector in to clusters or cooperatives so that the harvesting is properly channelised. It is suggested that we may have the value chain system of AMUL model with interlocking of prices. This is in my opinion the most important step to be taken up at present.
3. The importance of the sector to the rural economy should not be seen from the point of  revenue accrued from the sector. There is huge potential in the sector for the MSMEs and the rich TKs we have were discussed in detail in the above-mentioned webinars. It may be pointed out here that the transit procedures have been eased out to a great extent all over the country with certain amendment of the laws at central and state levels but it can be observed that the desired change has not come yet or is not seen so far; so a relook is called for. As there has been quite a lot of exchange of ideas regarding bamboo based economic and industrial activities by the national and international experts, the same is not discussed in detail here. What can be added here is that the Forest Department need to work more closely with the Industries Dept., TD and other Departments for promotion of the bamboo based items. For the period of economic reconstruction in post covid 19 scenario it is proposed that there should be a waiver of any sort of royalty or tax for a period of four years to give a boost in mainstreaming the sector.
4. The bamboo of Manipur need government support, for example the bamboo from Nungba or Tipaimukh have to compete with the bamboo from NC hills and Mizoram which have much better terrain and shorter routes. The harvesting and transportation cost difference would be above ten rupees per hundred bamboo or more. Even for supplying Bamboo to HPC, Panchgram, the bamboo growers of Manipur had a great disadvantage. This could be the same problem why the Assam Bio Refinery has left out Manipur. If a support pricing mechanism is worked out, it would give a boost in revamping the sector. The state Forest Department may think of collection centres at certain convenient places with the price support system and from there a mechanism can be worked out for the factories such as the paper and pulp or the bio-ethanol units to lift that.
Manipur has second largest area under bamboo in the North East i.e. above 14% (Naithani 2010) and majority of the area falls within forest area. Hence, in spite of the recent revisions of the laws concerning bamboo, Forest Department has to take more responsibility and lead role in mainstreaming the bamboo sector in the post covid economic reconstruction of the state.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]