Agartala: Tripura, which grows 25 varieties of bamboo, is about to make the most of this natural wealth by developing India's first bamboo park. The idea is to help expand industries based on this produce, also known as 'green gold'.

Industries, Commerce and Forest Minister Jitendra Chowdhury said the bamboo park would produce hundreds of value-added items and also facilitate export of bamboo products."The thrust of the bamboo park would be to give a fillip to growers who are forced to sell raw bamboo and its products at a cheap rate.

Bamboo growers and artisans would gain enormously if value addition is ensured," Chowdhury told.

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar on Friday kicked off the work for setting up the bamboo park, to be created at a cost of Rs.30 crore (about USD 6 million), at Radhakishore Nagar, near Bodhjunjnagar industrial growth centre in western Tripura, 15 km north of state capital Agartala.

Being created over an area of 70 acres, the bamboo park would be ready by March next year.

Bamboo flooring, bamboo-laminated boards, mat board, corrugated roofing sheets, incense sticks, mechanised Venetian blinds, home accessories and utility products, furniture made of laminated bamboo, round bamboo would be among the hundreds of items to be produced in the park and create skilled artisans."Besides trade and business facilitation to bamboo splitting and slivering, all kinds of modern facilities and latest techniques would be available in the proposed park," said Chowdhury adding that more than 40 bamboo species are available in the northeastern region with 25 species in Tripura alone.

Of the 1,250 bamboo species throughout the world, India has 145. Bamboo forests in India occupy approximately 10.03 million hectares, which constitutes almost 12.8 percent of the total forest area of the country.

About 28 percent of these bamboo forests are located in northeast India.

Tripura is one of the major bamboo producing states, harvesting 1.5 million tonnes of the total 13.67 million tonnes of bamboo harvested in the country per annum."Tripura is best positioned to lead the export-oriented bamboo sector in the country on account of the rich bamboo resources available in the state and the large skill base of people who are adept in the various aspects of handling bamboo," the minister said.

The bamboo park is expected to lead to direct employment generation for 1,730 people within the project site and the indirect employment generated is estimated to be five times the direct employment at 10,000 people located in the rural areas.

The project has strong linkages with the bamboo clusters in the state and with the preliminary processing facilities in the bamboo growing areas.

The Tripura government has been demanding that the central government create a bamboo board like rubber or coconut boards for coordinated harvesting, value addition and export of bamboo-made items and goods.

Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (ILFS), India's leading infrastructure development and finance company, is the project management agency of the park, which is also expected to attract tourists, researchers and ecologists.

Chowdhury, who visited China in 2007 to personally see the value addition process in that country, said: "China is the number one country in the world in the production of thousands of value-added bamboo items."China's Nanjing Forestry University has provided some technology to Tripura Forest Development and Plantation Corporation (TFDPC) for value addition to bamboo.

The Bamboo Engineering Research Centre at the Nanjing University has signed a memorandum of understanding with the TFDPC in 2007 for transfer of technology."There are about 1,500 documented applications of bamboos, also known as 'green gold'. The major ones are used in building material, agricultural implements, furniture, musical instruments, food items, handicrafts, large bamboo-based industries (paper pulp, rayon etc) and packaging," an official document said