Bamboo (In The Culture and Economy of Northeast India)

Item Code: NAJ380
Author: C. Barooah
Publisher: Vigyan Prasar
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788174801906
Pages: 190 (42 Color and 18 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 300 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


BAMBOO: In the Culture and Economy of Northeast India Bamboo is the most important forest produce used by the rural communities in several countries of the Asia-Pacific region. It is also an important source of income for the rural poor. In Asia, the history of bamboo is so inextricably interwoven with the history of man that it could be characterized as a bamboo civilization. Since this bio-resource is multipurpose and leads to the creation of new employment opportunities and income generation, especially in rural communities. The north eastern region of India is rich in diversity of bamboo. Bamboo popularly called, as poor man’s timber, is also integral to the life and culture of all the ethnic groups of this region. Its uses for house construction, cottage industry, household articles, agricultural implements and tools, fodder, medicine and even food has made it an indispensable commodity for the rural people. Continued technological advancement and researches have put bamboo into more and more ways of uses and as raw materials in several industries. The book briefly describes the importance of bamboo as a single commodity which is important source of raw material for varied end-uses and how bamboos are also used in a myriad ways by the rural people and are interwoven with their life style in many parts of India in particular and Asia in general.


About the Author


Dr. C. Barooah, M. Sc., Ph. D. is Junior Scientific Officer of Assam Science Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC), Guwahati and Officer-In-Charge of Assam Bio-Resource Centre, Madan Kamdev. He has been working for conservation of rare, endangered and endemic plant species of north-eastern India in ex situ and in situ conditions. Under his guidance the Centre has developed into an important centre for conservation and cultivation of medicinal plants, canes, bamboos and other plant resources of the region. He is also involved in implementing various projects of Department of Science & Technology and Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India. Prior to his joining in ASTEC, he served in State Forest Research Institute (SFRI), Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. Dr. Barooah has two books and a number of research papers to his credit. Worthy of special mention is his book- Diversity and Distribution of Bamboos in Assam, in which, he described 40 bamboo species with their distribution and uses.




Earth is the only planet we know of with life on it. Animals, Plants and microorganisms maintain a delicate balance with a variety of life forms we call Biodiversity. Each species depends on other species for its existence. When we talk of life on earth, we also talk about the human species. If we need to understand and preserve our environment, we shall need to understand the interdependence of the species on each other and the importance of natural resources like air, water and soil for living beings.


Life has continued to evolve on this earth over millions of years adapting to changing environment. Only those species have survived that have adapted to the changing environment. This change could be due to natural causes like earthquakes, eruption of volcanoes, cyclones, and so on. It even could be due to climate change. However, quite often this change is brought about by the species higher up in the ladder of evolution that tries to control environment to suit its needs and for development. This is precisely what human species has done to our fragile planet.


We need energy for development; which we traditionally obtain by burning natural resources like firewood, coal and petroleum. This is what we have been doing for centuries. Today there is consensus that human activities like burning of fossil fuels and consequent pumping of gases like carbon dioxide into atmosphere have been responsible for the earth getting hotter and hotter. Today, there are threats to our planet arising from climate change, degrading environment, the growing rate of extinction of species, declining availability of fresh water, rivers running dry before they can reach sea, loss of fertile land due to degradation, depleting energy sources, incidence of diseases, challenge of feeding an exponentially growing population, and so on. The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available. Humanity’s environmental demand is much more that the earth’s biological capacity. This implies that we are living way beyond our means, consuming much more than what the earth can sustain.


To draw the attention of the world to these aspects and in an attempt to establish that environment is where we live; and development is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot, within that abode, the United Nations has declared the year 2008 as “The Year of the Planet Earth”. It is hoped that with the cooperation of all we shall be able to save the biodiversity and the life on this planet. A host of activities and programmes are being organized all over the world for this purpose. One of the important aspects is to make people aware about the challenges we face and the possible solutions to save this planet from heading towards catastrophe. It is with such thoughts that Vigyan Prasar has initiated programmes with activities built around the theme “The Planet Earth”. The activities comprise of development and production of a series of informative booklets, radio and television programmes, and CD-ROMs; and training of resource persons in the country in collaboration with other agencies and organizations.


It is expected that the present series of publications on the theme “The Planet Earth” would be welcomed by science communicators, science clubs, resource persons, and individuals; and inspire them initiate actions to save this fragile abode of ours.




I started walking with a bamboo handled walker when I was nine-month old. Since then my learning with bamboo has been continuing till today. In 1993, I began my research career as Research Assistant with Dr. K. Haridasan a renowned Botanist of State Forest Research Institute, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh after completing my postgraduate studies. During that time we made extensive field visits to some biodiversity hotspot areas of the state which helped me to realise the depth of relationship between bamboo and ethnic tribes.


Bamboo is the most important forest produce used by the rural communities in several countries of the Asia-Pacific region. It is also an important source of cash income for the rural poor. In Asia, the history of bamboo is so inextricably interwoven with the history of man that it could be characterized as a bamboo civilization. Since the commodity is multipurpose and processing is labour-intensive, bamboo-based development leads to the creation of new employment opportunities and income generation, especially in rural communities and expansion of opportunities for women in the work force.


The north eastern region of India is rich in diversity of bamboo. Bamboo popularly called as poor man’s timber is also integral to the life and culture of all the ethnic groups of this region. Its uses for house construction, cottage industry, household articles, utensils, agricultural implements and tools, fodder, medicine and even food has made it an indispensable article for the rural people. Being interwoven with the daily life of the ethnic groups of this region, bamboo has also been incorporated in their folk songs, folklores and even in several festivals and social occasions. Continued technological advancement and researches on the other hand have put bamboo into more and more ways of uses and as raw materials in several industries. There is a need to propagate information to the people of various walks in bamboo sector.


I sincerely hope that this book will be useful to those people who are interested in bamboos. I will be happy to receive criticisms and suggestions from the readers of this book.


I wish to record my appreciation and thanks to Vigyan Prasar particularly Dr. B.K. Tyagi, Scientist-D for giving me the responsibility to bring out this book as part of the programme ‘Year of Planet Earth - 2008’. I grateful to Dr. A.K. Baruwa, Director of Assam Science Technology and Environment Council, Guwahati for providing necessary facilities and thankful to Sri Jaideep Baruah, Scientific Officer & Head i/c, Environment Division of the Council for his constant support. I am also thankful to Dr. R.N. Bhattacharjee, Retd. Prof. & Head, Dept. of Botany Cotton College for his valuable suggestions & encouragement.




The importance of bamboos has increased many-folds during the last few decades as an important source of raw material for varied end-uses. Besides being important as a raw material in a number of industries, bamboos are also used in a myriad ways by the rural people and are interwoven with their life style in many parts of India and in Asia also. India is reported to have a great variety of bamboos with perhaps the world’s largest reserves. North eastern India comprising the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura including Sikkim, West Bengal (North) has not only over 68% of bamboo species reported to occur in India but also considered to be the potential area in the country as far as bamboo resources are concerned.


The bamboo called “poor man’s timber”, is one of the most important forestry species having wide distribution throughout the country and has major contribution to the rural economy of India. Of about 1250 species under 75 genera distributed throughout the world, bamboo in India is represented by 129 species belonging to 18 genera while the north eastern India represents 89 species belonging to 16 genera. Bamboo forests in India occupy an extent of approximately 10.03 million hectares, which constitutes almost 12.8% of the total forest area of the country. About 28% of the total bamboo area of the country is located in North-east India. The bamboo genera occurring in North-East India are Arundinaria, Bambusa, Chimonobambusa, Dendrocalamus, Dinochloa, Gigantochloa, Melocanna, Oxytenanthera, Phyllostachys, Pleioblastus, Pseudosasa, Racemobambos, Schizostachyum, Sinarundinaria, Thamnocalamus and Thyrsostachys. The distribution of species and the quantity of bamboos, however, is uneven and more than 68% of the bamboo species and 66% of growing stock out of about 80.42 million tonnes occurs in North-east India. There are about 1500 documented applications of bamboos, of which major ones include use in building materials, agricultural implements, furniture, musical instruments, food items, handicrafts, large bamboo based industries for paper pulp, rayon etc. and packaging materials.


Bamboos are specific as far as their properties and uses are concerned. Although taken as a whole, they are a versatile material, not many of them could be classified as multipurpose bamboos and also a majority of them cannot be specifically used for a given single purpose. The selection of bamboos for specific needs, therefore, is of paramount importance for their better and efficient utilisation for sustainable development, which in turn necessitates better knowledge of bamboos before they could be subjected to experimentation or fed to the industry.


History of bamboo study-The first mention of bamboo is found in works of Ctesius, in a letter from Alexander the Great to Aristotle and in the Natural History of Pliny. However, the earliest attempts at describing bamboos appear to be by Rumphius who described and named some bamboos in his publication entitled Herbarium Amboinense. In the first edition of Species Plantarum by Linnaeus, only one species is mentioned under the name Arundo bambos, now referable to Bambusa bambos. It was in the year 1789 that the first bamboo genus was scientifically described under the name Bambos on the basis of a single species Bambos arundinacea, now known as Bambusa bambos. Later on in the same year Schreber (1789) proposed the generic name Bambusa without citation of any species representing the type of the genus but with the generic name Bambos published by Retzius (1789) as its synonym. More than four decades later Blanco (1837) briefly described some bamboos of Philippines under the name Bambusa. Based on studies of herbarium specimens Ruprecht (1839) published a monograph on bamboos where he described altogether 18 species from the Indo-Malayan region.


Kurz (1876) who worked on living specimens from botanical gardens of Bogor (Indonesia) and Calcutta realised the importance of vegetative characters like culm-sheath in the taxonomic study of bamboos and pointed out the usefulness of vegetative characters of bamboos in their identification. Later on researches in different countries took up studies on different aspects of bamboos to find out a solution to the identification of bamboos. These include vascular anatomy of leaf-sheath (Porterfield 1923), culm-sheath (Chatterji & Raizada 1963), morphology and anatomy of culms (Pattanath 1965), anatomy of the culms (Shingenmatsu 1958; Ghosh & Negi 1960, Pattanath & Rao 1969; Grosser & Liese 1971, 1973; Grosser & Zamuco 1971; Kitamura et al 1974; Wen Taihui & Chou Wen Wai 1987), leaf characteristics (Metcalfe 1956; Fujimoto 1966), culm-bud and bud-sheath (Bahadur 1979), epidermal features (Sharma et a/1986, 1987; Chauhan et a11988; Bissen et a11988; Agrawal & Chauhan 1991, 1992) and cytological studies (Richaria & Kotwal1940; Parthasarathy 1946; Janaki Amal 1959; Zhang Guang-Zhu 1987).


McClure (1966) made an extensive coverage of vegetative and reproductive characteristics of the bamboo plant, including description of elite species with their propagation methods, flowering and fruiting behaviour and taxonomic keys to various genera and species. Ohrnberger & Goerrings (1985) have made a tentative list of bamboos known in different parts of the world along with their geographical distribution and published literature on each species. The work is not a taxonomic revision but a bibliographic treatment without herbarium and field research.


In India the first systematic study on bamboos was initiated by Von Rheede, Dutch Governor of Malabar, who in his Hortus Malabaricus in 1678 described and illustrated two kinds of bamboos, which are now known as Bambusa bambos and Ochlandra scriptoria (Chatterji & Raizada 1963; Bahadur 1979). In 1814, Willium Roxburgh, the father of Indian Botany, in his Hortus Bengalensis enumerated seven species under the name Bambusa arundinacea, B. striata, B. tulda, B. balcooa, B. baccifera, B. spinosa and B. nana. Munro’s Monograph of Bambusaceae (1868) is the foundation of our modern knowledge of bamboos where he enumerated 220 species with description of 170 species under 20 genera of bamboos of the world and classified them under three divisions. Munro’s (1868) work includes 70 species of bamboo from Indo-Malayan region. Beddome’s Flora Sylvatica (1873) dealt with 18 South Indian bamboos. Many of the species of bamboos found in India are also dealt with by Kurz (1877) in his Forest Flora of British Burma where he described 30 species.


The monumental work of Gamble-Bambuseae of British India (1896) enumerates 15 genera and 115 species occurring in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaya. This was followed by Camus (1913), who described the bamboos of India and China. A systematic analysis of species was attempted by Parker (1929) and Blatter (1929). Blatter (1929) has tried to stabilise the systematic position of some of the Indian bamboos and has discussed the confusion between some closely related species, besides providing amplified descriptions of species, where necessary. The work of Blatter (1929) includes 24 new species recorded from India since the publication of Gamble (1896). Other important publication on bamboo taxonomy are that of McClure (1936, 1954, 1966), Dransfield (1980, 1982), Soderstrom (1985), Widjaja (1987), Soderstrom & Ellis (1988),Chao & Renvoize (1989), Bennet & Caur (1990b), Tewari (1992), Kumar (1990, 1995), Negi & Naithani (1994), Dransfield & Widjaja (1995) and Seethalakshmi & Kumar (1998).


The work of Bennet & Gaur (1990b) includes description of vegetative characters, habit and habitat, distribution, flowering and uses of 37 bamboos growing in India. The coloured illustrations provided by Bennet & Gaur (1990b) are an additional feature, which are helpful for field identification. The work of Tewari (1992) is the first comprehensive work on Indian bamboos after independence. He described 128 species under 23 genera with illustrations of 55 species. For each species a systematic description, distribution, flowering and uses are provided separately and information on other aspects like genetics, silviculture, growth, economics, pests and diseases, properties and utilisation are compiled under various chapters. The work of Negi & Naithani (1994) includes useful information on the vernacular names, description, distribution, phenology, silviculture, management and utilisation of important bamboos of India in a concise form. There is also a write up on the rare and threatened bamboos of India. The latest comprehensive work on Indian bamboos is by Seethalakshmi & Kumar (1998). This is a compilation work primarily based on literature survey and includes information on 128 bamboo species belonging to 18 genera. It also includes illustrations of 113 species, which are either prepared from live and herbarium specimens or redrawn from earlier publications. For each species nomenclature, description, flowering and fruiting, distribution and ecology, anatomy, morphology and fibre characteristics, chemistry, silviculture and management, pests and diseases, physical and mechanical properties, natural durability and preservation and uses are provided.


The publications of Varmah & Bahadur (1980), Gaur (1987), Thomas et al (1987) and Sharma (1987) on bamboo resources and researches have helped to arrive at an overall picture of bamboos in India and met the major information gaps that existed. A lucid historical account on bamboo taxonomy has been dealt with by Bedell (1997) while Bahadur & [ain (1981, 1983) dealt with rare and endangered bamboos of India.


There is no work on systematic study of bamboos of north eastern India as such. Bor (1940) described 50 species under 16 genera in his work on Grasses of Assam. Haridasan et al (1987) recorded the occurrence of 42 species with their distribution from Arunachal Pradesh. Biswas (1988) discussed in detail about the distributional pattern of bamboos in northeastern India. Shukla (1996) described 84 species under 15 genera of bamboos from this region. Majumdar (1989) has provided an enumeration of Indian bamboos while nomenclatural aspect have been studied by a number of researchers (Bahadur & Naithani 1976,1983; Naithani 1986, 1990a, 1990b, 1991, 1993,1994; Bennet 1988, 1989; Bennet & Caur 1990a, 1990b; Naithani & Bennet 1991 and Soderstrom & Ellis 1988).


C. Barooah and S.K. Borthakur (2003) carried out an extensive study on bamboos in Assam and recorded 40 species including one variety and one forma belonging to 10 genera of indigenous and exotic bamboos. The book Diversity and Distribution of Bamboos in Assam deals detail accounts of systematic circumscription of bamboos, historical perspective, global distributional pattern and uses of bamboos have dealt with. The book is profusely illustrated with three maps, 42 line drawings and 47 coloured photographs.












Bamboo as a Part of Culture in the Northeast



Bamboo in the Economy of Northeast India



Bamboo and Its Impact on the Environment



Special Initiatives and Efforts on Part of in North-Eastern Region Govt. of India



Bamboos Having Industrial Application and Their Uses



Cultivation of Bamboo



Some Institutes, Agencies Working on Bamboos









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