Rhythm Of Nature

Bamboo – An Overview of its Significance and Benefits

Since ancient times, humans have been clearing natural forest lands to meet various needs. Initially, it was for farming and agriculture.

But as time passed on, the population grew, needs increased, and so is greed.

And that led to the increase in over-exploitation of natural resources.

According to Forest Resource Assessment, 3.9m ha of forest land is lost annually in Africa alone, during the period from 2011-2020.

The figures from South America are also not good at all.

However, due to the various measures taken by the governments and people, forest cover is increasing lately in many parts of Asia, including in India.

According to an article, the forest cover in India has increased by 1% from 2015 to 2017. While these changes do give a lot of hope, our forest lands are still facing several threats and disturbances.

These clearing activities are not just for farming, but to meet industrial needs as well.

The inevitable results of all such human activities are climate change, increased atmospheric CO2, degrading soil quality, and a host of other problems, which eventually affect humans.

That’s where Bamboo gives a lot of hope. Its unique qualities can reduce the burden on natural forests if utilized properly.

Bamboo products have been a trend in recent decades. But as far as I have understood, it is not just hype. Bamboo has quite a few unique properties that make it significant.

That’s what we are discussing in this post.

What is Bamboo?

Despite being a tall plant with thick foliage, Bamboo is not a tree. It actually belongs to the grass family Poaceae. Bambusoideae is a sub-family of Poaceae, commonly known as Bamboos.

Bamboo grove in Kerala, India
Bamboo grove in Kerala, India

Bamboo Varieties

There are more than a thousand species of Bamboos in the world. They occur in varying heights, primarily with green, yellow, or brown shoots.

Distribution & Habitat

Bamboo has a large area of distribution, spreading across most of the tropical and sub-tropical regions. It is native to all continents except Europe and Antarctica, where the climate is cold compared to tropical areas.

That being said, it is possible to grow bamboo in Europe although it is may not be the preferred habitat.

Overall, more than 130 species of Bamboos are found in India. Madhya Pradesh has the largest distribution in recorded forest area, followed by regions in northeast India and Western Ghats [ref2].

About 25 species of Bamboos are found in Kerala, out of which Bambusa bambos is the most common [ref1].

another bamboo variety with yellow culms
Another bamboo variety with yellow culms

Bamboo as a Building Material

Bamboo has a bunch of properties that makes it a good choice as a building material.

The most important property is its high tensile strength, which makes bamboo a potential replacement for steel in construction.

Also, bamboo has a high strength to weight ratio. So it can be ideal for buildings in earthquake-prone areas.

Due to its lightweight property combined with flexibility, bamboo can be used for roofing large areas.

Not just that, bamboo’s smooth surface makes it a good flooring material too.

However, there are also some challenges in using bamboo as a building material.

The main problem is durability. When used naturally without any treatments, bamboo starts rotting in a few years, especially outdoors where it is exposed to rain and moisture. This non-durability might be the reason why people associate bamboo houses with weak structures.

One way to counter it is to treat bamboo shoots in chemicals before being used. But again, such chemical treatments can have environmental impacts, which negates the bamboo’s eco-friendliness.

Treating bamboo with Borax salt solution is now a common practice, which is comparatively less harmful while increasing durability.

So, bamboo may not be able to completely replace concrete and hardwood, at least for now. But if we start using it wherever possible, such as indoors, furniture, flooring, and lightweight structures, it will be a great move towards reducing the dependency on natural forest wood.

Other Uses

In fact, when thinking of bamboo, the first thing that comes to my mind is bamboo groves.

Nowadays, many ecotourism locations in tropical areas offer bamboo cottages and lodgings, which gives the visitor a natural experience. Periyar Tiger Reserve, near Thekkady, has such a bamboo grove.

That remembers me another thing. Some benefits are not tangible. The aesthetic experience and the happiness provided by thick green canopies are priceless.

Compared to a normal shade, the temperature is much cooler under bamboo foliage, which attracts birds and animals too, even snakes.

Apart from recreation, other uses of bamboo include:

  • paper manufacturing
  • handicrafts & household utensils
  • clothing & fabric

Governments are also taking active measures to promote the use of bamboos.

India has a National Bamboo Mission, which aims to promote the bamboo sector and bamboo-based activities. Similarly, on the state level, in Kerala, there is Kerala Bamboo Mission, which conducts regular workshops for interested people.

Environmental Benefits of Bamboo

When utilized in the right way, bamboo cultivation can provide several environmental benefits.

The most important factor is its oxygen releasing capability. Compared to trees, bamboos are believed to release 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere.

Above, we have mentioned that bamboo is grass. And it grows fast compared to trees of similar height. So a newly planted bamboo will be ready for harvesting much earlier than other timber, making it highly sustainable.

Also, bamboo needs no re-cultivation. The roots stay there even after harvesting and new shoots grow from them.

It protects the soil too. The extensive root system of bamboos holds the soil together, preventing erosion.

Planting bamboos along steep slopes is an effective way to prevent soil erosion.

Harmful Impacts: Are There Any?

So far, we have discussed several benefits of bamboo. But are there any disadvantages?

Too much of anything is bad. That’s applicable to bamboo as well. Most of these negative effects occur due to ignorance.

For example, when bamboo became a trend, in some areas, farmers started clearing natural forests to cultivate bamboo. And that completely nullifies all the benefits.

Also, some people use pesticides and chemicals in bamboo plantations, because that’s what they had been practicing so far. It is totally unnecessary as bamboo can easily grow without much care.

Another disadvantage is not related to bamboo, but with the way, it is treated to manufacture bamboo-based products. For example, in the fabric industry, bamboo is treated with chemicals before arriving at the final product. Many of these chemicals are not eco-friendly.

Also, some researchers question bamboo’s oxygen-releasing capacity. They say bamboo releases more CO2 than the oxygen it produces. This finding is in stark contrast to the popular belief that bamboo gives out 35% more oxygen than trees. However, it seems most of the scientific community does not agree with this argument.

Conclusion

Overall, I feel that the benefits of bamboo far outweigh the few disadvantages. If we can use it effectively, it can reduce the burden on the forest ecosystem.

Here the key is to cultivate and use bamboo in the right manner. That means we should also think about how it is processed, and how it gets transported, and make sure each step is eco-friendly.

Also, what is the impact of bamboo monocultures? What are the possibilities and scope of growing bamboo as part of agroforestry? These are some things that need to be learned in detail.

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