Myriad Uses of Bamboo:
Economic: Bamboo based development can provide a wide-range of livelihood opportunities to the rural poor at all levels of skill from plantation and handicrafts, to industrial and semi-industrial ventures. In addition to direct employment, self-employment is generated through the management and transportation of bamboo and in bamboo- based cottage industries. Apart from creating jobs, bamboo based industries enhance the incomes and living standards of the people employed. Also bamboo consumes less energy in processing, thereby lowering the production cost and being more economically advantageous.
Social: Bamboo plantations on private and common lands can be a source of social security to rural households, especially given the rising market price of bamboo. In addition a variety of household utility and craft articles, baskets, boats, carts, fishing rods, nets and traps, water pipes, medicine and food can be made out of bamboo.
Edible: Edible bamboo has been a part of human diet for centuries. Bamboo shoots are consumed as pickle or vegetable and more recently have become an international delicacy. Rich in fiber, protein and minerals, processed bamboo shoots can be a source of nutritional security to an estimated 2 billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America (7th World Bamboo Congress report, March 2004). Bamboo shoot processing units are also poised to become lucrative ventures given the growing demand. Bamboo oil and bamboo vinegar are some of the other edible products that can be extracted from this green gold.
Ecological: Research has shown that bamboo has an extensive underground root and rhizome system that effectively binds the top one-foot of soil which is critical for soil health. A study estimated that a single bamboo plant can bind up to 6 m3 of soil, thereby saving top-soil, preventing land-slides, averting floods and also preventing surface run offs while recharging springs (Oberoi and Lepcha,2004). This makes bamboo an important resource in water-shed management through soil and water conservation. Bamboo’s ability to grow in a wide variety of soils from marginal to semi-arid, under low rainfall make it perfect for rehabilitation of degraded lands. Also while conserving the soil, it manages sub-terrainian water flows. Further because bamboos can yield more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees it is very effective in sequestering carbon and thereby offering protection against the ultra violet rays of the sun and working as a natural environmental cleansing system. New ways to apply bamboo for environment repair are constantly being discovered, the most recent being its use in cleaning up sewage (Oberoi and Lepcha, 2004). Finally, bamboo provides shelter and food to pandas, elephants and a host of other wild animals and birds.
Infrastructural/Physical: Use of bamboo and bamboo composites for building of bridges; houses, sheds, furniture and other infrastructural uses is also in practice. Due to its high tensile strength and flexibility bamboo structures have been found to be earth-quake resistant and so their use is particularly advocated for building houses and community shelters in high seismic zones. More recently, high strength fiber composites and several more new generation bamboo products have been developed. In many parts of India, mature bamboo reinforced concrete is also being used for construction after its proper seasoning and treatment. Bamboo can also be moulded into beautiful furniture which is ecological and low cost though less durable.
Medicinal: Wild species used in traditional medicine form the basis of primary health care for 80% people in developing countries. Silicic acid, found in the culms of some bamboo species have been used to make concoctions to treat dysentery for centuries. Now silicic acid is produced synthetically and being used world-wide for stomach ailments. The sap of some bamboos is a potential health drink and skin moisturizer.
Wood substitute: Bamboo is not just an ideal wood substitute but in many ways as an alternative material it transcends wood. It comes pre-finished by nature and can be used without much processing. Tests on bamboo panel boards have revealed that bamboo is stronger than hardwood such as oak or beach (Oberoi and Lepcha, 2004). It is also known to be a good insulator.
Energy/Fuel: Bamboo charcoal is not uncommon in several countries including China and Japan. Bamboo biomass is a potential alternative source of bio-energy and opportunity to pioneer industrial usage through gasification to produce electricity. Even bamboo processing ‘waste’ is an excellent source material for high grade charcoal and activated carbon.
Agricultural: The leaves of several bamboo species are used as fodder for cattle and also in farm yard manure. Moreover several agricultural implements for tilling and managing fields, winnowing trays for cleaning grains and baskets for storage and transport of food grains are all made from bamboo.
Textiles/ Fabric: Bamboo fabric is completely biodegradable and has been praised in the textile world as a fabric that will overtake cotton in just a short while. Bamboo also has many antibacterial qualities, which the bamboo fabric is able to retain, even through multiple washings. This helps to reduce bacteria that thrive on clothing and cause unpleasant odors. Today any fabric that claims to be anti-microbial has most definitely had a chemical treatment applied to the textile or into the fiber itself. Bamboo fiber based fabrics are naturally anti-microbial and requires no harmful chemicals. In addition, bamboo fabric has insulating properties and will keep the wearer cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The versatility of bamboo fabric makes it an excellent choice for clothing designers exploring alternative textiles, and in addition, the fabric is able to take bright dye colors well, drape smoothly, and star in a variety of roles from knit shirts to woven skirts.