The import of raw bamboo sticks saw an increase of 78 percent from 2009 to 2019, pushing hand-rolling artisans out of business.
Bengaluru: Despite several attempts from the state and central governments, the cottage industries manufacturing hand-rolled agarbattis (incense sticks) are slowly dying. Though India remains one of the top exporters of incense sticks, the unavailability of the right bamboo variety, less research and development, and high import of the raw incense sticks are pushing the hand-rolled agarbatti makers out of business.
“This hit the Indian agarbatti manufacturers hard and resulted in the closure of nearly 25 percent of the total units,” they said.
Thomas, Secretary of All India Agarbatti Association said the variety of bamboo grown in India has low productivity. No machines are available to make round sticks from them. The ones produced are square sticks and have a lower export value, he added.
“The round bamboo sticks were mostly hand-rolled by cottage industries. Now, the big players in the industry just import the sticks and scent them here. Except for a few places in rural areas, there are hardly any cottage industries left,” he added.
“We have been asking the government for developing technology to process the variety of bamboo found in India. We also demand schemes and subsidies to allow the cottage industry to survive,” he added.
Parameshwaram Krishna Iyer from the Karnataka State Bamboo Council said most of the bamboo species suitable for making high-quality incense sticks are mostly grown in the Northeast states. Dispatching them to different states involves high costs for the agarbatti sector. Almost every industry has started importing the raw sticks from Vietnam, he added.
“In making one-tonne incense sticks, three tonnes of bamboo is wasted. The northeastern states have adapted; they use the by-products to make several other products. But in south India, the facilities are not available. Weekly I bring one to two loads from Dimapur and other places. I pay more than Rs. One lakh due to a hike in the diesel price for transportation. The rest goes for labour costs,” he said.
Parameshwaram said the agarbatti and biomass sectors are sensitive to costs. Importing the raw materials helps major industries, pushing the smaller cottage industries out of the fray.
Experts say the government should invest in the sector, invite private-public partnerships and should encourage policies to revive Indian cottage industries.
The Central Government’s decision to increase import duty on bamboo sticks from 10 percent to 25 percent will open up new avenues of self-employment in the country, a report states.
Yesterday, Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) announced the creation of a unique business model to empower women Agarbatti artisans in Assam and strengthen the local Agarbatti industry in Assam.
They announced a scheme that would provide financial aid of Rs. 35 lakh—Rs. five lakh each for the 70 units of incense manufacturing machine. KVIC has given a subsidy of 35 percent, i.e. Rs. 12.25 lakhs to support these units, the report added.
Dr. Raghu H.B, assistant professor of forestry at Zonal Agriculture Research Station, said, “The issue here is not just raw material, but also manpower. In Karnataka, there are a few pockets in Mysore for example where this industry still exists.”
He added that just three years ago, bamboo got classified as grass, which means you don’t need permission to harvest it anymore. “While the cottage industries definitely need help, the government is coming up with programs to promote bamboo cultivation. There is a scheme by the Bamboo Society and forest department, where they give seedlings to the farmers. If the seedling survives for three years, the farmers get an incentive of Rs. 125. Many institutions are working on developing new species, tissue culture laboratories and evaluating the sustainability of these species in our climate,” he said.