Fiber, Fiber Everywhere…

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 7 Oct 2014

In a mountain state like Uttarakhand, rich in its vegetative diversity, maximum attention of development planners must always remain focused on a sustainable extraction of its renewable green-wealth. The attention of its scientists and younger minds must be directed to be oriented towards an approach which was titled as Conservation, Development and Harvesting ( CDH ). Best conservation strategy is ‘how to produce more’ rather than preserve one’s assets in a mindless rush to ban use of natural resources. However, what one sees in actual practice is more of ritualistic tokenism – sloganeering, ‘havans’ and so on, rather than improving of strains, newer and innovative applications, technology-led productivity increments, exploration of new substitutes or changing working-plan time-lines.

Development -deficit                                                               

In our scientific institutions, one is told even at the highest or national level, what remains relatively neglected are subjects like ‘Economic Botany’, and in forestry, ‘Forest Economics’ ! In India, having brought up at least a basic justification for ‘compensating the heavily forested mountain states’ for what has now been well established as a ‘development deficit’ it is now for 34 plus mountain state Members of Parliament ( MPs ) and 11 Chief Ministers to singly and jointly seek this compensation, rising above their respective party-lines. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would also be advised to consider this minimum financial assistance to the Indian mountain states, in keeping with his early days promise of giving priority to the NE States and the Himalayan States. For sure this is one single biggest idea which must be made to smile on the eleven mountain states, sooner than later. Here we are talking of a sum not less than Rs 10,000 crores every year, at least for the next four years, for the eleven mountain states ( 2 %  of Gross Budgetary Support).


Ever since this recommendation for the above-mentioned ‘Green Bonus’ was made in November 2013, being one of the very last recommendations of the Planning Commission, more than two opportunities have come and gone by but there is no indication that the new Union Government has taken this recommendation on board, for early implementation. Now, the decision to substitute a new set up for the Planning Commission suggests that its implementation might be delayed further. However, be that as it may, the 34 plus MPs of the eleven mountain states and State Governments, have an agenda cut out for them and the mountain-people expect them to ensure that this financial resource-flow takes place at the earliest. While availability and eventual flow of these resources remain in abeyance and there are indications that the States would now be expected to mobilize their own resources, look inwards for harnessing and maximising additional resources, re-prioritize their inter-sectoral requirements and even raise public debts from markets. The states with forest and vegetative resources will necessarily be forced to re-visit their existing policies related to land, forests and water etc. A new phase of Centre –State relations have verily been announced and it is time that each state re-visit its natural and renewable resources, administrative and financial mechanisms. It is about time that makes a beginning with re-visiting the policies and administrative decisions that have been taken since 1980s till recent times. We first examine possibilities of a green-manufacturing base – does there exist one ?    

A Green-manufacture Base

Speaking of the green-manufacturing base of a state of Uttarakhand size, we could look up the inventory of the following species, and also plan an ambitious road-map for the entire state :

  1. Oil Seeds : Brassica nigra ( seeds used for poultices and in veterinary practice, leaves used as cress, oil for medicinal practices);  Brassica campestris ( dichotoma, glauca and jariya..used to be grown in turai. lai variety grown all over the hill upto 11,000 ft); Brassica juncea ( rai sarson, several varieties ); Linum usitatissimum ( Flax, linseed  ); Sesamum indicum ( til, mitha tel ); Ricinus communis ( castor beans ); Bassia butyracea ( Chiura, chiura ka pina and phulel ), etc
  2. Dyes and Tans : there can be two classes, first those produced from plants and species  cultivated for the purpose; and next, those obtained from plants and trees growing wild or which are cultivated on account of some other products; few years back as many as 42  species were identified in Uttarakhand and many of them could have been cultivated and multiplied on a large scale; this aspect has not received the attention that was due; with the synthetic dyes no more allowed even in products like woollen carpets, there stands a scope for their cultivation on a very large scale through the 12,000 plus Van Panchayats and other lands available to the forest sector  Dyes : ( i ) extracted from the root -Rubia cordifolia ( manjistha), Curcuma longa ( Haldi ), Berberis aristata( kingora-ka-jar/darhald), Mariscus cyperinus ( panmotha), Datisca cannabina ( Akalbir ), Heydychium spcatum ( kapur kachri ); ( ii ) extracted from the bark or stem-Acasia Catechu ( katha), Taxus baccata ( thuner), Simplocos crataegoides ( Lodh ), Alnus nepalensis ( Udis ), ( iii ) extracted from the leaves –Justicia Adhatoda ( Arusa ), Cinnamommum Tamala ( Dalchini ), ( iv ) extracted from fruit-rinds- Acacia Arabica ( Babul), Mallotus phillipinensis ( roli ), Punica Granatum ( darim ), Terminalia Chebula ( harara ), Terminalia belerica ( Bahera ), Phyllanthus Embilica ( Aonla ), Aegle Marmelos ( Bel), ( v ) extracted from flowers – Nyctanthes Arbor-tristis ( harsingar ), Butea frondosa ( palas ), Cedrela Toona( Tun), Tagetas erecta ( genda), Woodfordia floribunda ( Dhai ), Parmelia kamtschadalis ( Charila ). Tans: ( i ) Tanning agents derived from the bark –Acacia Arabica ( Babul ), Cassia Fistula ( Amaltas ),Shorea robusta ( Sal), Burea fondosa ( Dhak), Myrica sapida ( Kaphal), Bauhania pupurea ( kachnar ), Buchannia latifolia ( Kath-bhilwa ), Garuga pinna ( Kharpat ), Zizyphus Jujuba ( Ber ), ( ii ) Tanning agents derived from fruits- Terminalia Chebula ( Haraira );
  3. Gums and Gum Resins. Out of the six gums known to commerce, each of which admits of numerous varieties, representatives of ( i ) gum-arabic, ( ii ) cherry gum and gum of other stone-fruit trees, ( iii ) gum-tagacanth and and gum of certain seeds and roots, are known to exist in Uttarakhand, as are olio-resin bhilawa and tar and turpentine. Gums have also been classified as, ( a ) True gums, ( i ) Arabic kind as babul, and ( ii )Cherry kind, as padam, ( b ) Pseudo-gums, ( i ) Tragacath , as kulu, and ( ii ) Dar or Moringa, as sahjna, and ( c ) Astringent gums, as dhak. Gum-Resins, are of three kinds, ( i ) Emulsive, as gota-ganbaga, ( ii )Foetid, as heeng or asafoetida, and ( iii ) Fragrant- ( i ) Bdellium kind as guggal, and ( ii ) Benzoin kind, as luban. Resins are of two kinds, ( a ) Hard or Copaline, (i ) oale resins, as safed dammar, (ii) Dark Resins, as kala dammar, and ( b ) Soft or elemi, as jangali-badam. Finally, we have Oleo-resins, of three kinds – ( i ) Balsams, as balsan-ki-tel, ( ii ) Varnishes, as bhilawa, and ( iii ) Turpentine and tar. Under the true gum, babul, with allied species of  khair, wilayati babul, khain, kharanji, siras, bel, padam/paya, piyal, kachnar, amaltas, tun etc allow us a wide range.

Story of Indifference & Neglect

It is but natural to wonder and ask what use has been made by the new state of this god-gifted bounty ? As the new state emerged and joined the comity of Indian states the Union Government also laid emphasis and encouraged promotion of the Indian system of Medicine or AYUSH, which stood for Ayurved, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. Uttarakhand responded by constituting the country’s first ( state ) Medicinal Plants Development Board, anchored under an umbrella FRDC Branch, firmly reflecting its intent of harnessing this major natural asset. Ayurved education received an unprecedented fillip, with its Colleges receiving the attention over-due to them, re-commissioning a closed Pharmacy after 9 years ! To cut a long story short the initial push which alone would have consolidated this “Green-base” of manufacturing fell prey to a battle of turf, between Co-operatives, Horticulture and Forests departments ! The latter especially not being able to realize that without a proportionate demand for vegetative-based medicinal products rising through an all-round promotion of the non-allopathic systems, especially Ayurved and Homeopathy there was no likelihood of consolidating the new manufacturing base, a green-one. Recently revived Ayurved sector lacked the kind of leadership which could have taken to the much-neglected system to new heights. The private sector, Patanjali and other set ups, unfortunately so, instead of concentrating on the job-at-hand were destined to stray from the track. Several institutions e.g. HRDI and HAPPRC became captive to their organisational problems and were not able to play any major role in consolidating this green-base, academically or research and extension –wise. Consequently, the State Medicinal Plants Development Board, now unfortunately anchored in the Secretariat, is like a cart being pulled in different directions by untrained horses ! This Green-base calls for a co-ordination of a very high order, major involvement of private sector, R & D institutions and charting out of a multiple-sector development road map for each participating sector.

Fibers  &  Fibers                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Fibers, speaking of all possible efforts that have hitherto gone to harness them for various economic uses, seem to have suffered from what this writer calls ‘ the last mile fatigue ’. The earliest among them Sisal ( Rambans ) conceived by Anil Joshi, promoted by Women Development Organisation ( WDO) and Dr BP Nautiyal, Kandwal and other NGOs like Hope etc, was followed by Manipuri Oak based silk –worm, named ‘Van Silk’, promoted by the Silk Board and the Appropriate Technology Institute ( India ). Mulberry-silk had the Silk Board for its support and now with its Auction Yard this fiber grows at its own pace. Real fillip to the fiber-based potential came through the Bamboo & Fiber Development Board. Unlike the Medicinal Plants Development Board this Board now seems to be on the thresh-hold of providing a major platform for a fiber-based manufacturing regime.

Available literature records, ‘forests and wastes of the lower hills and the submontane tract yield and immense quantity of material for ropes, cordage, twine, basket-making and matting, but little of which has yet received the attention due to it.’ Today, easily the fibers of Uttarakhand, in so far the manufacturing process in the various rural regions of Uttarakhand are concerned, are proving to be a base on which a maximum range of off-farm incoming generating activities are being mounted. In the mountain regions, it is the Manipuri –oak leaves ( Van silk ), submontane and mid-hills the mulberry-leaves ( silk ), sisal in mid-hills and turai-bhabar, babur grass for cordage, ropes and twine. Bamboo fiber goes into making of various products and paper-making, Bhimal-fiber for basket-making and twine. In Turai-bhabar various grasses are being today used for making many handicraft products which finds way into various exhibitions held within and outside Uttarakhand.         

Industrial  Hemp: Wonder-fiber

The hemp of Garhwal, according to literature, has ‘ had more than a local reputation and ( it ) for a long time  furnished a portion of “the annual investment” of the East India Company. The pulp manufactured from the Daphne pappyracca yielded materials for a paper that gave the engraver finer impressions than any English made paper and nearly as good as the fine Chinese paper that was employed for what was called  India paper-proofs. The paper made from this shrub in Kumaon was found as strong and durable as leather and was largely used for village records and court proceedings. It was exported to Tibet on the north and the plains on the south for manuscripts and account-books.’ This description dating back to 1881 ( ET Atkinson, 1881, Vol I ), not surprisingly  remarks that ‘ with this wealth of raw material in existence it is remarkable that so little has been done to render the fibre resources of our hills available to European enterprise.’ The inventory of fibre-yielding plants includes, Abutilon indicum ( a cordage), Hibiscus ficulneus ( fiber of white colour), Hibiscus cannabinus ( san ), Kydia calcycina ( pattiya ), Bombax malabaricum ( semal ), Sterculia villoss ( udiyal), Sterculia colorata (bodala), Abroma augusta ( strong fiber fit for cordage ), Grewia asiatica (  phalsa ), Grewia oppositifolia ( bhimal), Odina Wodier ( jinghan ), Butea frondosa ( palas, dhak), Desmodium tiliaefolium ( chamara ), Bauhinia racemosa ( kachnal ), Bauhinia Vahilii ( malu ), Gerbara lanuginose ( tinder-plant or kapasiya ), Careya arborea ( Kumbhi ), Colotropis gigantean ( safed-ak ), Marsdenia tenacissima ( used for bow-strings ), Marsdenia Roylei (  murkula ), Orthanthera viminea (chapkiya ) and Cordia mixa ( bairala, baurala ), Daphne papyracea ( satpura, set-baruwa –used for making strong hill-paper ), Wikstroemia virgata ( chamliya), Boehmeria nivea ( Chinese grass, Rheea ), Boehmeria macrophylla ( gargella ), Giradinia hetrophylla ( awa –bishu and babar ), Villebrunea frutescens ( phusar-patta, kagshi ), Maoutia Puya ( puya ), Debregeasia bicolour ( tushiyara ), Memorialis pentaandra ( jaiphal-jari, considered better fibre than hemp ), Artocarpus integrifolia ( a cordage fiber ), Champaeropa Martiana ( jhangra ),Calamas Rotang (  rattan, bet ), Typha angustifolia (elephantine, pateri ), Arudo Karka ( kurka and nal ), Sacchrum maunja ( munja ), sirki-munja ), Saccharum spontaneum ( kash, jhansh), Sacchrum fuscum ( tat, neja, mora ), Saccharum Sara ( sarhar ), Eriophorum comosum (  babar, babar grass ), Cyperus tegetum ( papyrus pangorie, motha ), Imperata arundinacea (  shiro, used like munja ), Anthistiria arundinacea ( ulu, ullah, kangur ), Anatherium muricatum ( kas, gandar ), Spodiopogon angustifolius ( babar ) and  Cymbopogon laniger ( ban, miriya, dab )

Cannabis sativa ( gur-bhang, phul-bhnag )

It is rather a surprising fact that when the new state came into existence neither the bamboo nor the vast repertoire of fibrous plants constituted any place of priority. It is just coincidental that during the International Year of Mountains, 2002, the potential of bamboo as a substitute of wood was recognized, simultaneously with the launching of the National Bamboo Mission by the Government of India, resulting in establishment of the Bamboo & Fiber Development Board. While efforts to mainstream bamboo gathered momentum, some other fibers like hill-nettle ( bichhu ghas ), sisal and hemp also received some attention.  Cannabis sativa was found growing abundantly in the Himalayan districts and the wild hemp was known as ganara-bhang, ban-bhang or jungali bhang, but it was of little use for fibre.

The female plant yields seed for oil and the drugs ganja, charas also. The male plant yields only fibre from which the bhangela cloth was manufactured; also called kothla, bora, and gaji and the ropes for bridges. The possibility of attaining success in the cultivation of hemp in these mountain parts was pointed out by Dr Roxburg as early as 1800, and when British Kumaon was accessed to the Company after 1801, skilled Europeans were sent to carry on experiments in Moradabad and Gorakhpur districts. In garhwal and Kumaon its cultivation was encouraged and for many years the East India Company procured a portion of its annual investment from the Kumaon hills in the shape of hemp. With the abolition of the Company’s trade ( 1833 ) the cultivation languished and by 1991 it was entirely dependent on the local demand, which by any standard was still not so small ( ET Atkinson, Vol I, 1881, p 798 ).

Cultivation of Industrial Hemp

Huddlestone and Batten, Senor Assistant Commissioners ( SACs ) of Garhwal have left accounts of its cultivation in Garhwal…the plant does not flourish below 3,000 feet, as the heat of the vally is prejudicial to its growth, and it seems to thrive best at elevations of 4- 7,000 feet…the mountainous regions occupied in Garhwal by the Budhan, Lobha, Chaundkot, Chandpur, Dhanpur and Dewalgarh parganahs, ( had ) the greatest area under hemp…the accounts provide a very detailed and graphic account of cultivation, agronomic practice…In Kumaon , hemp ( was ) cultivated chiefly in Chaugarkha, in parties Lakhanpur, Darun, Rangor, Salam. There was also a considerable quantity grown in patti Baraun of Gangoli parganahs, and in few villages of pattis Assi-Chalisi, Uchyur, Mahyuri, Gumdes, Dhaniyarau and Malla Chaukote….there was reported to be some prejudice against growing the plant…all tribes, however, could traffic in the seed and rope, and even in the charas, without prejudice to their social position..the bhangela of hemp-cloth was made up into sheets for weaving or into kotlas or sacks, and the finer sorts into thailis or bags for carrying flour or lime..a large sack cloth bag cost but six annas in Almora in 1840 and in 1881 it was worth twelve annas. Bags  of a smaller size cost about two rupees per dozen in 1840 and now proportionately more expensive…JH Batten and Sir Henry Ramsay were quite sanguine about hemp cultivation prospects in Kumaon and Garhwal.

Innovation Centre for Natural Fibres

Revival of hemp cultivation in Uttarakhand during recent times has taken a far more open, systematic and scientifically and commercially viable manner. Uttarakhand Bamboo & Fiber Development Board ( UB&FDB ) has actively participated in the crafting of the National Policy of the Other Fibre, which includes fibres like Sisal, Hill-Nettle and Industrial Hemp. Uttarakhand has now been identified for promoting Hill-Nettle and Industrial Hemp. Readers would be happy to know that now Uttarakhand Bamboo & Fibre Development Board ( UBFDB) is now an important player in the innovations that are taking place nation-wide as also a major partner in the network, Institutes & Industries Consortium for Collaboration and R&D in Natural Fibre, anchored at the National Institute of Design ( NID ), Ahmedabad. Recently, it also participated in a National Workshop held to take the development of natural fibers foward.

Two Boards: Two Directions

To conclude, Uttarakhand Medicinal Plants Development Board ( UMPDB ), which by now should have been instrumental in triggering manufacturing in a sun-rise sector like the pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, aromatics, particularly Ayurvedic drugs, and enable massive export of finished products besides grounding a very sound education-base of our traditional system of medicine ( AYUSH ) by way of exporting Ayurved practitioners the world over, seems to have lost its plot, hiding in deep recesses of the state Secretariat; the other Commodity Board, however, Uttarakhand Bamboo & Fibre Development Board ( UBFDB) has silently created a niche for itself, become a partner and a leader in Industry & Institutes Consortium, contributed significantly in development of a New National Policy for the Other Fibres. The latter is also on the thresh-hold of triggering a production-base, which has an illustrious history in the state, though a systematic process of networking and collaboration with institutions and private sector players. 

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