Cycle Agarbathies pedals on NBM to source bamboo, meet raw materials demand

Subramani Ra Mancombu | Updated on: Apr 22, 2022

Gets bamboo, identifies FPOs, processors to increase output


Makers of Cycle Pure agarbathis (incense sticks), N Ranga Rao and Sons (NRRS), has embarked on a journey of sourcing bamboo from identified local processors and entrepreneurs and working with farmer producer organisations (FPOs) to expand the “grass” commodity output. 

This will not just cater to the firm’s own demand but that of the entire country. The development is on the heels of the deregulation of the bamboo industry in 2017 with grass being categoriesed as part of the National Bamboo Mission (NBM)

Providing tech, know-how

According to Arjun Ranga, Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathies, the incense stick maker follows two processes. “We source bamboo species from an already planted one or from a wild variety if allowed before identifying entrepreneurs and processors. We provide them the technology and know-how, provide minimal investments so that they take the responsibility for procurement and processing.

“We are also working with FPOs to identify farmers who can plant bamboo as an intercrop (with ginger and turmeric) or as a perimeter crop, picking the right bamboo species. Second, we are also working with governments in identifying bamboo clusters to source our needs. Farmers can take the entire plantation of the crop forward.” 

This has helped NRRS to expand its area of bamboo sourcing in the North-East, North Karnataka, and Adoni in Andhra Pradesh besides “many” other places where bamboo can be grown with the support of the local government. 

“It (cultivation of bamboo) depends on farmers’ ability. Our intention is to procure 100% from these sources,” Ranga said. 

13 ministries involved

For the incense-making industry, production of bamboo in the country will help saving the time and money it spends to source the raw material from China and Vietnam. Local farmers will have to start growing the crop on their lands so that imports can be cut from currently meeting 90 per cent of the annual demand, says the industry.  

As a measure of providing relief to the industry, the Centre on December 26, 2017, declassified bamboo as a tree and changed its status to grass. To make this viable, the government amended the 1927 Indian Forest Act and deregulated the bamboo trade, which was earlier regulated by State’s forest departments. 

Before the amendment, everything in the bamboo trade was regulated. According to the Centre for Civil Society, it had to move 13 ministries for the single development.

“Everything was regulated. You had to take permission to transport and even store. For tribals to harvest in the forest, the Forest Department had to give contract or permission to tribals, particularly the buffer zone,” said the Cycle Pure Agarbathies MD. 

For the incense-stick industry, the development is significant since five lakh people depend on it. “Local sources can now augment supply and thousands of small manufacturers will gain. Organisations will think about sustainability,” Ranga said. 

Lack of investments 

With a single stroke of the pen, the Centre changed the entire scenario of the bamboo industry. 

“Before we couldn’t invest aggressively as everything was regulated. We needed approval. There was no privatisation and farmers were not involved due to these regulation. By making bamboo a plantation from a wild crop, a conscious effort has been made to localise its cultivation.  After NBM, our procurement of bamboo has changed,”  said the 75-year-old firm’s MD. 

The classification of bamboo as grass was part of the NBM. In turn, the mission was its special focus to develop the North-East. 

“We needed to build infrastructure since we cannot move materials easily. Over the last five years, we have seen infrastructure being built, power being given for bamboo processing, logistics development for movement as investments are being made in the region,” Ranga said.

Growing as plantation crop

With so much of bamboo, India does not even figure in the global map. One reason is that it was never treated as a plantation crop until the Centre termed bamboo as grass.

The deregulation of the sector has helped identify some of the good wild-harvested bamboo, which is available in abundance. “One of the NMB’s efforts is to grow bamboo as plantation crop and make it sustainable in the long-term. The farmer needs to be given the right species, the correct terrain identified, the soil conditions examined and the water availability mapped,” he said. 

As part of this, Cycle Pure Agarbathies has begun a step-by-step approach by trying to identify the firm that can localise bamboo. “We are one of the companies spearheading the efforts. We have signed memorandum of understandings (MoUs) with local entrepreneurs. We provide the technical know-how on managing plantations,” Ranga said. 

Farmers identified by his firm need not invest anything. It is working with agricultural universities and College of Forestry, Ponnampet, Karnataka, to get saplings for distribution among farmers.

Planting on barren lands 

Working with FPOs ensures that they will procure the saplings on the farmers’ behalf and distribute them. “We go after six years and do business with entrepreneurs who we have identified,” he said,

The incense-sticks makers first objective is to make bamboo a plantation crop first through existing farmers. It would like to identify wild harvest bamboo and grown them on barren lands, which are vast in many States ideal for growing bamboo. 

“The vast lands can be taken on contract from States, but they are yet to be identified. We are talking to the government, which prefers to grow it as a mono crop,” Ranga said.

But his firm does not support growing bamboo as mono crop on vast lands since the area needs to be covered massively. Till now, NRRS has been getting its raw material demand met from locally available sources, though a part of its bamboo requirement comes from Vietnam.

New lease of life 

“We have locally identified multiple sources 3-4 years ago. The only issue is you have to wait 6-7 years for the first crop to grow. A huge team from our company is travelling and meeting large number of FPOs,” he said 

When the need arises, the team talks to the local panchayat and begins working with farmers. 

The NBM has actually given a new lease of life for the bamboo industry in view of the huge opportunity for various products, including cutlery. “Once bamboo establishes itself as a plantation crop, new businesses will flourish. Farmers are getting good prices, though still dependant on supply-demand. Paper industry is using a lot of bamboo and planting a lot,” he said. 

On its part, Cycle Agarbathies employes 7,000 directly and indirectly helps 25,000 families benefits. “About 80 per cent of our employees are women.  Our units making agarbathis are spread across multi-locations such as in Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and North-East closer to the market and wherever women are available,” he said.

NRRS, a closely held family business,  also has another brand Om Shanthi to sell lamp oil and pooja items. It has also expanded into homecare and AirCare — fragrances, room fresheners, car fresheners under the Lia brand name — and aromatherapy under the Iris brand.  

Published on April 22, 2022
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