It is said Nepali culture demands bamboo from birth to death and everything in between. We use bamboo as scaffolding material, as food, for music, to carry things and to write with.
Nepal has over 80 species of bamboo. In fact, for just 0.1% of the planet’s land area, Nepal has 5% of the world’s bamboo, further signifying the Himalayan nation’s rich biodiversity.
Most Nepali bamboo types are found in the wetter middle and eastern regions of the country from 50m-4,000m, with Ilam, Dhankuta, Bhojpur and Taplejung having the sturdiest stems.
Global bamboo market is worth $72.10 billion and Nepal can be a key player in the international bamboo and cane trade. Bamboo also has a huge potential for rural enterprise and poverty alleviation.
Bamboo promotes sustainable, integrated farming systems and is also an excellent resource for income and employment generation. One hectare of bamboo can earn a farmer at least Rs400,000 per year.
The beauty of bamboo is that it is fast-growing, needs little maintenance, can grow on forest margins and requires only modest investment.
Some communities in Nepal, like the Dom Dalits in the Tarai, are completely dependant on the bamboo, making their living from weaving mats from nigalo. Many Rai and Limbu communities in the east also rely on bamboo, and are expert weavers of doko and dalo for the local market.
Bamboo has been recognised as an ‘international commodity’ and the plant has been used widely to build homes, resorts and galleries. The 12th World Bamboo Congress to be held in Taiwan this September has been postponed once again due to the on-going global Covid-19 pandemic. But events like the World Bamboo Day on 18 September every year highlights the economic and ecological significance of the plant.
In terms of quality, Nepali bamboo is as good as, if not better than most. And we are still finding new uses for this versatile plant. For instance, bamboo is the best ‘carbon sink’ for greenhouse gases putting out 35% more oxygen than other trees and every hectare of bamboo soaks up 12 tons of carbon dioxide every year.
For the Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Thai, and Nepalis, bamboo shoots are a staple diet. Nepal produces at least 102 tons of tama and each household consumes about 46 stems a year. It is a good source of fibre, carbohydrate, vegetable fat, protein and vitamin B.
Strong but flexible and incredibly versatile, bamboo is an excellent alternative to wood. With a tensile strength of 28,000 per square inch, it’s even a stronger building material than steel. Bamboo homes only need an eighth of the energy concrete requires to create building material with the same capacity. To top it off, it is also the quickest growing plant in the world and can be harvested in three years for building. This capacity to regenerate and its yields, which can be up to 25 times more than timber when well managed, makes bamboo an environmentally sound choice. Bamboo homes, light and elastic, are also earthquake resistant.
In a country as vertical as Nepal, bamboo is also great for soil conservation. Growing in mixed cultures, it is naturally less likely to cause soil erosion than monocultural farming. Bamboo creates a mat-like structure underground, effectively stitching the soil together, it is perfect for fragile river banks, deforested areas, earthquake zones and preventing mud slides.
Bamboo has been used for making paper since the second century. At one point, this renewable resource was used to make 70% of India’s paper.
Ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions have used the medicinal properties of bamboo. In acupuncture, bamboo secretion is powdered and hardened and used internally to treat asthma, coughs and as an aphrodisiac. Black bamboo root is used to treat kidney disease. In Ayurveda, bamboo manna is a rejuvenating herb for sore throats.
Based on an original article in Nepali Times by Sraddha Basnyat.