Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Magic of Bamboo

Co-Author: Saumya Rastogi

Bamboo, one of the oldest plantations in India is not as well tapped in India as compared to the other countries. This is very strange as it’s a native of India, yet, we do not realize its importance and right usage. Prashant and Aruna set out to revive the bamboo usage in India. Prashant is a Post Graduate in Management from Osmania University and Aruna is a Post Graduate in Science from Nagpur University. During their search for furniture, they realized that the market was dominated by iron, steel, plastic and wooden furniture. Bamboo was nowhere to be seen. Their search for eco-friendly furniture led to the emergence of Bamboo House.

Here is the story of Bamboo House from its founders Prashant and Aruna.

Bamboo House is a social venture focused on incorporating bamboo to provide sustainable livelihood. Would you like to talk about your ‘green’ startup and its emergence?
Bamboo House is a “Social Enterprise” utilizing bamboo as an economic driver for providing sustainable livelihood opportunities through business models designed to work at the base of the economic pyramid and promote bamboo as an eco-friendly substitute to wood, steel, iron and plastic.

On a sunny evening we were shopping around to buy a sofa set for our home but noticed that market was inundated with routine wood, steel, iron and plastic furniture. We searched around and noticed that overseas markets offered numerous bamboo product opportunities but Indian markets offered no simple solution.

Our search for bamboo furniture landed us up in a small village called “Katlamara” in the state of Tripura on the India – Bangladesh International border. “Katlamara” is a sleepy little village, one of the many bamboo and skill rich locations of our country. Village “Katlamara” is politically India but geographically Bangladesh (during Independence, King of Katlamara decided to merge with India). We decided to understand Indian bamboo sector and went for a “study tour” as we sensed Triple bottom-line impact bamboo could create. We had no specific Entrepreneurial motive since we had no idea what bamboo was all about. 

Family and friends were surprised at our decision, we were less than a year into our marriage, and left our respective careers. I was in my established imports business and Aruna dropped her plans of pursuing her Ph.D. We knew it was a big risk but were prepared. I handled half of country's forest and Aruna handled the other half and finally in May 2008 our study tour led to the evolution of our Social Enterprise “Bamboo House” in Hyderabad.

Any particular reason for choosing “Bamboo”? Do you have any expert team for choosing the bamboo appropriate for product development?
We chose Bamboo for Triple Bottom-line Results:
  1. Social: Bamboo can help more than 5 million of our population cross the poverty line
  2. Environmental: Bamboo minimizes emission of CO2 gases and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stand of trees.
  3. Financial: Indian Bamboo Market is estimated at Rs. 26,000 Crores by the year 2015 which provides strong growth opportunities

What are the pricing strategy/ methodology adopted at Bamboo House for product pricing?
We have no defined strategy for pricing as we are not operating under fair market conditions.

Bamboo based products are eco-friendly but the fear of termites, pest attacks always prevail. How do you ensure effective monitoring to avoid damage?
Treatment and seasoning of bamboo is done over a period of 12 -15 months and all required technical precautions are taken to ensure products / projects lasts a lifetime, and in any case not less than 30 years.

What are the major challenges faced by you in developing this venture?
We did face several challenges in developing this venture. Bamboo is under Regulatory constraints as per the Forest Act 1927. Harvesting & Transportation of bamboo is not permitted under the Act. Another problem is that Forest Act does not provide any right to choose the bamboo. We have to buy what is sold but while making products we make the right selection from available stock. There are various other challenges like:
·         There is no benchmark to follow in this industry
·         Raw material available through forest auction is not suitable for commercial applications
·         Every state has its own laws on bamboo for forests being in the concurrent list of the constitution
·         Bamboo traps both air and moisture, making it a difficult raw material to work with
·         Most of the tribal forest areas are inhabited by Naxalites
·         Learning the concept and mapping Raw Material species and Resource base is a challenge as well
·         Development of Logistics, supply chain, distribution, operations and Business modeling
·         Scaling and building volumes in this business is not easy
·         Lack of communication and transportation facilities at the production level

All of these make the business quite difficult operationally.

What according to you is the unique selling proposition (USP) for Bamboo House?
Domain expertise, passion and our ability to play well in this sector. We have very high domain knowledge which helps us.

Has bamboo house received any funding in the past? Are you seeking more funds in the future?
We decided to fund/ support our social venture through borrowings from friends and family apart from very little personal savings we had. We knew that no bank/ financial institution would come forward to support us initially.

We raised our first bank loan from Bank of Baroda under PMEGP Scheme under Credit Guarantee Scheme and are now looking to raise funds again to scale our initiative.

What are your future plans? How do you see ‘green architect’ evolving in the future?
We will persist in our endeavor to create sustainable livelihood models and ensure larger involvement at the grass root level. We understood that our country cannot grow and develop if our villages don't grow and we believe that bamboo can serve as one of the growth engines for the country. Some of our new initiatives are: Bamboo Bicycle, Recycled Tyre Furniture, Recycled Tyre Planters, Recycled Tyre Bags, Recycled Tyre Footwear, Bio-Degradable Sanitary Pads, Incinerator for Disposal of Used Sanitary Pads, Recycled Drum Furniture, Street Dust Bins – With Scrap Drums, Low Cost Bamboo Based Toilets for Rural India.

What has been your Eureka! Moments in the journey so far?
Had it not been for the media support, we wouldn’t have travelled this far in our bamboo journey. Nearly 25 of country's leading news channels and 150 newspapers and magazines including BBC helped us in taking our work ahead, as we were very clear from the beginning that community model should be media supported and market driven only then livelihoods can be sustained at the base level.

2013 – March-April: Our Bamboo Initiative received further support, through “International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP)” - A 4 week programme of the US State Department.


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