Changing rainfall patterns are slashing bamboo production in northeast India, leading to losses of jobs and businesses.

Erratic rainfall and dry spells have led bamboo to flower more frequently, then die back afterward, local people say. That has hurt families who are dependent on the grass for their livelihoods and even for food.

Savita Datta, 37, a former bamboo artisan from Unakoti district in India’s Tripura state, once split bamboo into sticks to supply incense factories. She and her husband earned a profit of 15,000 to 20,000 rupees ($240 to $320) every month, she said.

But starting in 2007 bamboo growers began reporting a record drop in production. As the supply of raw material fell, prices began to rise, climbing from about 15 rupees ($0.25) per bamboo cane to as much as 50 rupees ($0.80).

After struggling for a year, Savita and Ramapada finally had to shut down their business. She now works as a domestic servant and he pulls a rickshaw for a living.

“Some farmers said that all their bamboo plants had died because of sudden flowering, while others said that their bamboo shoots were not growing well due to heat and excessive rain,” Savita recalls

Amol Dutta, a manager at People’s Cooperative Society, a state government initiative that promotes rural entrepreneurs, estimates that at least 18 bamboo-stick-making units have closed in the past five years in North Tripura district alone. Those still in business have either moved their base elsewhere or are planning to do so.

Anuj Chakravarty, a resident of Emrapasa village in North Tripura, has been selling bamboo furniture for the past 20 years.  Last year he relocated his business to Mumbai.

“A thousand bamboos (bought at bulk rate) now cost over 4,000 rupees, which is more than triple the price we paid even five or six years ago. At this rate, we can’t run a business. So we decided to move out,” he said.

Besides offering a bigger clientele, Mumbai has another attraction, says Chakravarty: cheaper bamboo imported from China.

“Local suppliers gave us more varieties in raw material and design,” he admits. “With Chinese bamboos, you don’t get that. But they are two or three times cheaper.” Read more