PM Modi’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan and the call for ‘Vocal for Local’ is not only about promoting ‘Brand India’ but also about staying motivated in times as challenging as these. It emphasises on employing problem-solving techniques in collaboration with others in the community to overcome adversity. Blessed with a unique topography and diverse agro-climatic conditions, Northeast India has an innate potential to stand out as a shining star in implementing the objectives and principles that define Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

Unique, handcrafted bamboo water-bottles from Tripura which are promoted under the Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana (PMVDY) and National Bamboo Mission (NBM) schemes of the Government of India, shot to the limelight after Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon placed an order from the Tripura Rehabilitation and Plantation Corporation (TRPC). This not only catapulted the product into its moment of much-deserved instant fame, but also started grabbing eyeballs on social media soon after. Assisted by the Forest Research Center for Livelihood Extension (FRCLE), it is a unique innovation by the Bamboo and Cane Development Institute (BCDI) based in Tripura.

Picture Credits: Twitter

These are organic, plastic-free, eco-friendly, handcrafted bamboo-made bottles produced by bamboo artisans from all locally sourced raw materials. Although they were developed way back in 2018, but it was formally launched by Biplab Kumar Deb, the current CM of Tripura, a few months back. In contrast to the widely available bamboo bottles from China which use cheap and light bamboo columns, these bottles from Tripura are layered with a barrier of glass, steel or copper, as per the consumer’s preference so as to prevent the water from coming in contact with the bamboo. This is also aimed at preventing fungal growth, bad odour and leakage, which are a few common problems with the China-made bamboo water-bottles. FRCLE and BCDI have also designed a large number of other household and handicraft items made of a particular species of bamboo available only in Tripura and other non-timber forest produces.

Besides these bottles meeting all the modern export standards, bamboo cultivation has today become a sustainable livelihood option for more than 5,000 tribal families in different parts of Tripura. Bamboo is a grass and can be vegetatively propagated through rhizome planting, branch cutting, culm cutting and even through tissue culture. It is popularly known as ‘Green Gold’ and ‘poor man’s timber; for it has an innate ability to adapt itself to a wide range of climatic and geographical conditions. Tripura houses around 28% of the country’s bamboo stock and has 2,397 sq. km of bamboo forests comprising about 23% geographical area of the state.

Picture Credits: NewsDaily24

Since bamboo is an inseparable part of the traditional cultural heritage of the people in the Northeast, it can become an invaluable asset for not only creating employability by means of an economically enduring value-chain, but also by way of ensuring ecological progress and sustainability to our society. Even today, in the Northeast, people in the rural areas manufacture several items of their day-to-day use from bamboo, e.g. fishing rods, bullock carts, plates and glasses, etc. From the home to the granary, bamboo is an integral part of their lives and cultures. Any definition and imagination of the Northeast is indeed incomplete without this versatile grass!

In fact, bamboo grass is blessed with a superior ability to regenerate itself rapidly and within a very short span of time, a fact which cannot be ignored in ensuring the overall economic development of the North-Eastern Region (NER) of India. At a time when a section of the educated youths are running after well-paid government jobs, a youth called Nipun Hazarika from Molaikumar Gaon at Missamara in Assam, around 7 kms from Dergaon town in Upper Assam, has set an outstanding example of self-employment through the manufacture of bamboo and cane-craft goods. Hazarika started off his own venture in 2010 in the form of a cottage industry, despite facing severe financial constraints in the beginning.

Despite financial hardships, he plans to diversify his activities in the near future by engaging more hands and employing more people under him with all the requisite machinery in place. It may be mentioned here that his products are widely popular among the customers of online shopping too. Hence, it is imperative on the part of the government to extend financial support under any welfare scheme to people like Hazarika, who can then not only increase the production of these goods which are eco-friendly in nature, but also provide employment to more and more village youths.

A variety of cane and bamboo products of Northeast India on display. Picture Credits: One India One People Foundation

Northeast India is an extremely culturally-rich region of the country and the North-easterners have a highly developed aesthetic taste for food, clothes and home décor. PM Narendra Modi has time and again laid special emphasis on the Northeast, and termed the region as the ‘New Engine’ of India’s growth and development. The new mantra of ‘Vocal for Local’ that has informed the entire idea of Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan holds immense untapped opportunities for the local artisans of the region to contribute in their own small ways towards building a truly self-reliant India/Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

Since bamboo and cane artefacts constitute an important part of its heritage and culture, any handloom and handicraft fairs and exhibitions organised not only in the Northeast but outside too, are incomplete without these items. However, shortage of manpower is an issue of concern that has come to afflict this industry in the recent times.

The Forest Survey of India (FSI) Report, 2017 clearly mentions that India houses 30% of the world’s bamboo resources, occupying the world’s largest growing area of 15.69 million hectares. The entire NER of India constitutes around two-thirds of the growing stock of bamboo in India. Mizoram occupies the largest forested area under different species of bamboo cultivation followed by Manipur and Meghalaya. Assam alone accounts for almost 23% of the total bamboo resources in the NER.

PM Modi had also lauded and appreciated the local bamboo artisans of Assam for producing essential eco-friendly bamboo products of daily use in one of his recently broadcast Man Ki Baat programmes. In fact, it is because of the vision of PM Modi that has resulted in the rejuvenation of the bamboo sector of the country, besides also restructuring the National Bamboo Mission with a view to tap into the inherent potentials of the bamboo grass.

Picture Credits: Global Landscapes Forum

Since COVID-19 has deeply impacted the economy and employment scenarios of almost every other country across the globe, including India too, it is more important now than ever before on the part of the governments of the Northeastern states to actively encourage and support the bamboo sector. This would surely go a long way in helping to revive the rural economy of these states, besides creating large-scale employment opportunities too, in this sector. Moreover, with the removal of bamboo from the category of trees in 2017 through an amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, the bamboo cultivators and bamboo-based entrepreneurs of the region have a good-enough scope to flourish and expand their businesses worldwide.

E.g. Assam recently initiated the Assam Agarbatti Project which aims to strengthen the supply chain and boost the production of bamboo sticks and raw agarbattis. As a matter of fact, after the Government of India enhanced the tariff on the import duty of bamboo sticks from 10% to 25%, Assam has emerged as one of the front-runners in creating thousands of jobs in the agarbatti sector, with some major corporate houses showing their interest in investing in the state. In order to ensure the success of the project, the state government is also trying to involve the major manufacturers, and the department is facilitating these leading brands to set up their production facilities in Assam.

In another recent initiative, the Assam Industries and Commerce Department, under the vision and guidance of CM Sarbananda Sonowal, has taken up a slew of initiatives to make the maximum utilisation of bamboo in the state and also develop the entire bamboo value-chain scenario. A proper roadmap has been designed, taking into consideration its plantation, processing and marketing together in a cluster-based approach. In this respect, the department has unveiled the ‘Assam Bamboo and Cane Policy, 2019-20’ which provides incentives like 50% capital investment and subsidy of upto Rs. 5 crore, a bamboo start-up grant of Rs. 5 lakh, free sapling distribution, etc. It is through this Policy that the department aims to achieve an inclusive and holistic development of the bamboo sector in Assam.

Picture Credits: Tripura Bamboo Mission, December 2017

Assam has also set up the State Bamboo Development Agency and the department concerned has formulated plans, programmes and policy measures in tune with the National Mission. It envisages all-round growth and development of the bamboo sector in the state by increasing cultivated areas through organised farming, ensuring the supply of Quality Planting Material (QPM) through nurseries, encouraging bamboo entrepreneurs through various incentives, skill development of bamboo artisans and establishing linkages for the marketing of bamboo products and bamboo-based handicrafts at both the national and international levels. The department has also undertaken the initiative to facilitate bamboo farming through the involvement of Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs). Presently, in Dimoria Developmental Block under Kamrup (M) district, bamboo plantation has been done on almost 585 hectares of land area involving 520 farmers of Ampri Orange Producer Pvt. Ltd.

Picture Credits: Facebook

Further, the department aims to empower women by imparting training in areas as diverse as bamboo shoot processing, pickle-making, manufacture of bamboo jewellery, etc. Plans are also afoot to set up similar clusters for the benefit of the farmers, enabling the ease of doing business for prospective entrepreneurs, ensuring the employment of rural youth and also for reducing the transportation costs to a large extent possible. Moreover, after India’s first bio-fuel refinery – Assam Bio-Refinery Private Limited (ABRPL) – begins its production, for which the annual requirement of raw bamboo is expected to be around 5 lakh metric tonnes, the state’s farmers can see a bright future ahead in the field of commercial bamboo cultivation. Not only the export market, the farmers can derive handsome returns for their investments by supplying bamboo to this first bio-fuel refinery of the country situated in Numaligarh, Assam.

Picture Credits: Business Standard

The department has collaborated with the Rain Forest Research Institute (RFRI), Jorhat for the establishment of a hi-tech nursery in Sivasagar district of Upper Assam. It has also tied up with several Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) for the multiplication of QPMs. Similarly, land of around 1.5 ha has been given to the State Forest Department for an exclusive bamboo nursery in Nagaon (South) division. Besides, the department has conducted skill development programmes for the state’s bamboo artisans at the BCDI based in Tripura, and the training of nursery workers from KVKs at RFRI, Jorhat. Entrepreneurs have been given 60% credit-linked back-ended subsidy as per the National Bamboo Mission guidelines for establishing their own units. In joint collaboration with the Indian Federation of Green Energy (IFGE), the department has provided online training courses on bamboo cultivation as a commercial crop to 50 farmers and plantation managers from Assam.

Thus, the abundant bamboo reserve of the NER, if scientifically exploited, has the potential to boost the economy of the region, significantly. It is because, as mentioned earlier, bamboo has several unique advantages to its credit such as the ability to grow fast with a high yield, and it also matures quickly. Moreover, bamboo can be grown abundantly at a lower cost which boosts its economic potential further. However, the true potential of bamboo for achieving the goals of sustainable development can only be made possible if its appropriate uses are identified by adopting modern methods of science and technology to process it for various purposes.

Freshly-cut bamboo shoots – A Delicacy in all the Northeastern states. Picture Credits: Curly Tales

For long, the bamboo craft which is a popular cottage industry in the Northeast, has been running at its own pace, without much active government intervention. But, it is a vital part of the region’s economy, and the skill-sets of the artisans get reflected in the diverse range of bamboo products being manufactured by them. Along with crafts, bamboo has now emerged as a major utility construction material with multi-purpose usage.

For the development of bamboo as a primary resource, the respective state governments of the region and all the other stakeholders must synergise their activities. Only then, the full market potential of bamboo can be adequately harnessed, through the adoption of innovative and scientific approaches. It is in this way that the states of the NER can earn substantial revenue by exporting locally-made bamboo products. Unfortunately, bamboo crafts have not been promoted the way they actually should have been. In this direction, the steps that have been taken by the Government of Assam are quite laudable in themselves, and it is also quite appreciated that the state government seems to have finally woken up from its slumber by taking some strong initiatives to promote the bamboo sector. Commercial cultivation of bamboo will definitely bring about rich dividends to the farmers of the Northeast.


  1. Role of bamboo in Atmanirbhar Assam. The Assam Tribune. September 19, 2020. p.6
  2. Educated bamboo craftsman sets example in self-employment. The Assam Tribune. October 5, 2020. p.9

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.