Bamboo and Rattan/Rattan/Course-1 Unit-1

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Unit 1 Rattan: Global Overview and the Indian Scenario

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Aims and Objectives

After going through this unit, you will be able to:

  1. explain the economic significance of rattan;
  2. describe the distribution of rattan globally and domestically;
  3. talk knowledgeably about the utility of rattan;
  4. describe the ecology of rattan; and
  5. define various terms used to denote cane.

1.1 Introduction

Why this course?

This course is envisaged as course that would be useful for prospective entrepreneurs, who may or may not have worked with rattan earlier. The aim is to introduce Rattan, know the different species that are commercially important, learn about growing and harvesting rattan, and finally to appreciate how it can be put to economic use such that earning can be made.

Key terms

Key terms have been identified as terms that may not be understood by the target audience and need to be understood before studying the unit. Each of these terms will be defined at the beginning of each unit and explained with the help of photographs/illustrations.

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  1. Tropical: areas with a climate characterised by high temperature, humidity and rainfall all the year round.
  2. Subtropical: areas with a climate characterised by warm temperatures and meagre precipitation.
  3. Temperate: Characterized by moderate temperatures, weather, or climate; summers not very hot; pronounced winter.
  4. Evergreen forests: Forests with trees that retain green foliage all year round.
  5. Deciduous forests: Forests of seasonal, leafy trees; located in mountains farther from the equator. Rain mostly restricted to one season, and trees and bushes shed their leaves once a year – in the dry season
  6. Mangrove: Trees, shrubs, or forests that grow along riverbanks and ocean coastlines in tropical areas. Their roots provide a breeding ground for plant and animal biodiversity, and also aid in building up coastlines.
  7. Genus (plural: genera): Scientific names of plants have two parts: the generic name or Genus and the specific name (epithet). The Genus is the equivalent of our surnames. It is a group of closely related animals or plants which differ from one another in only slightly in some characteristics. For example, the genus Brassica, encompassing the yellow mustard, the brown mustard, the black mustard, cauliflower etc.
  8. Third world: countries with economies largely based on agriculture and characterized by low standards of living, high rates of population growth, and general economic and technological dependence upon the wealthier industrial nations.

1.1 Introduction: Rattans and Man

What does the word ‘CANE’ remind you of – the cane used by the police to control restive public gathering of people? The cane used by the elderly to walk? Or the beautiful cane furniture that you sit on? The commonly used Canes or ‘Rattans’ have played a significant role in human culture since time immemorial. It is believed that they have been in use since the fifth century BC., particularly in the making of household articles, furniture, tool handles, lifting heavy items and in bridge construction, etc.

The growth of handicrafts in society can be considered a sign of the development of artistic and aesthetic sensitivity. The Rattans became favourite material for artisans to express themselves, and a symbol of man’s endeavour to bring elegance and grace into an otherwise harsh and drab existence. The artistically designed furniture and such other articles made out of Rattans caught the attention of connoisseurs even two hundred years ago.
Rattan have properties that make them very popular as raw materials for furniture, construction, handicraft and other industries.- they are durable, elastic, lightweight, lustrous and flexible. This allows them to be bent and molded in different shapes and designs. In fact, even in modern times, cane furniture is appreciated for its aesthetic value and comfort, and has successfully withstood fierce competition from steel and plastic. It is not surprising that cane furniture is commonly found in luxury hotels the world over.
Rattans are used extensively for a variety of other purposes also. These include cordage, making of baskets and mats, construction of buildings and bridges, as palliatives in medicine, for religious rituals etc. Cane is also used for preparation of sports goods like javelins, cricket bats and hockey sticks. Their fruits and rhizomes are eaten by people in some countries. In India we would all easily recognise the cane walking stick that becomes an integral part of our life in old age as a support.

Check Your Progress Exercise 1

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  1. For what purposes have human beings used rattan since long? Have we found some relatively new uses? Which ones?
  2. Look around you and make a list of things that you see that you think are made of cane. You may need to sometimes ask to find out. (What would you easily confuse cane with?)
  3. Find out and write for your particular area whether there any religious or any other rituals where cane/cane product is/are necessary.
  4. What are the unique qualities of rattan which have allowed it to withstand competition from steel and plastic?
  5. How can rattan industry be of help to a Third World country like India?
  6. In your opinion why was there a need to substitute the use of cane with such materials. Do you think this change is useful? Discuss giving reasons.
  7. Find out and write for your particular area whether there any religious or any other rituals where cane/cane product is/are necessary.
  8. What are the unique qualities of rattan which have allowed it to withstand competition from steel and plastic?
  9. How can rattan industry be of help to a Third World country like India?
  10. List out a few things that you use that are made of other things but you think can be made of cane.
  11. Among the things listed find out which of these things can be made of cane : chair, whip, belt, mat, jar, jacket, wall, brick, pencil, agarbatti, picture frame, ladder, fence, curtain, bulb, kite, cycle, wheel, bag.
  • Can be made of cane :
  • Cannot be made of cane:

1.2 Geographical Distribution

1.2.1 Global Geographical Distribution

They are mainly distributed in tropical, subtropical and lower temperate belts. Rattans can be seen in evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous and subtropical evergreen type forests. They are rare in dry deciduous forests, and are absent in mangrove forests….

1.2.2 Geographical Distribution in India

In India 57 species of rattans have been reported. These species hail from four genera, viz., Calamus, Daemonorops, Plectocomia and Korthalsia. They are concentrated in three major centers of distribution - the Western Ghats, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Northeastern region. We find Calamus in all the three regions, Daemonorops in Andamans and North-east India. But, Korthalsia is found only in the Andamans, and Plectocomia is found only in the Northeast. The highest species diversity is in the northeastern Indian states. (Density distribution map to be inserted here )

1.3 Rattans and Economic Activity

1.3.1 Global Economic Scene

Rattan products play an important role in the economic activity of many countries. In South East Asia, it is estimated that over five million people are involved directly or indirectly in Rattan industry. Indonesia accounts for about 90 per cent of trade in raw Rattan with an estimated value of US $ 50 million. By the time the manufactured products reach consumers, their value is increased to about US $ 1.2 billion (Menon 1980). The annual global market is considered to be divided into three divisions. The top tier belongs to the Japanese market; the middle to Europe, especially Italy, Germany and France; and the bottom to USA and Australia. The contribution from India and South Asian countries is very limited – we have to work towards improving this since there is a very large market in the world for rattan products and we have to find means of encashing on this opportunity. India is very well placed to exploit the situation since we have a rich collection of naturally growing canes – what we need to do is identify species that can be commercially grown and exploited, identify and manufacture marketable products and develop a network for selling our products.

1.3.2.Indian economic scene:

Rattans provide diverse employment opportunities and value-added products. Rattan products are made exclusively through cottage industries and hence acts as a good employment generator Therefore Rattan industry can play a major role in Third World countries like India, where there is widespread unemployment. It can go a long way in alleviating poverty and bring prosperity through enterprise development based on cane resource utilisation at local and regional level. This highly labour intensive industry could help to arrest migration from rural areas by providing employment locally to the needy.
It is estimated that the Indian cane-furniture industry produces goods worth Rs.50 million per year (H has to check). About 2,00,000 people are employed in furniture manufacturing industries situated mostly in Bangalore. Bombay, Calcutta. Delhi, Jalandhar, Madras Rathnagiri and many parts in Assam like Tezpur. Many more are employed for extraction, transportation. etc. What is important to understand is that cane furniture and other products are also made in places very far from where cane is found growing – the canes are transported to these areas. There are over 200 big and 1000 medium and small furniture manufacturers in the country – this number is rapidly growing due to the much larger demand for cane furniture world over. There exists a huge gap between demand and supply – a gap that begs to be filled by people with enterprise and who love a challenge. A conventional/conservative/rough estimate reveals that a person engaged in cane furniture-making can earn about Rs. 3500 or more per month.
Description and Figure of pie chart for distribution of income from various rattan activities

Check Your Progress Exercise 2

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  1. Identify the reasons why we should promote rattan cultivation in India
  2. Why is the cane furniture industry good for our rural development – give atleast three reasons.
  3. Why is rattan furniture made in places where rattan is not grown? How do you think it will affect the economy of either place?
  4. Why do some countries export raw cane when their products generate much more income? Write the possible reasons.
  5. What can be done to improve income generation from cane in our country?
  6. Look around you – find out how many people you know work with cane in any way. What proportion of people you know/asked work with cane?
  7. Do they grow cane or do they collect it from the forest? Why?


Traditionally Rattans have been collected from the wild for use by human beings. Continuous use has resulted in them being overexploited leading to their extermination in some places. The rattans constitute an integral part of the tropical forest ecosystem. They play a vital role in enriching the soil by their leaf litter, which adds to the organic content of the soil. Such soils help in germination of seeds which fall on to the forest ground. Furthermore, the thorny rattan plants act as tree guards to the young seedlings growing from the forest floor. The arrangement of the leaves also intercepts the rain and prevents soil run-off which might get triggered by direct fall of rain water.
Rattans are versatile in the sense that they can be grown in a variety of ecological conditions. Commercial cultivation of Rattan can yield attractive returns apart from improving the ecology of the forests. Other countries have experimented by growing canes in both abandoned and thriving rubber plantations and also in areas under shifting cultivation. Encouraged by such results cane is being extended to other plantations as a subsidiary crop.
In India, the sagging agricultural income will be reinforced if we succeed in identifying some Rattan species suitable for farm-forestry conditions. For this we need to collect and collate information on the various species of Rattan growing in our vast country. This task is not simple considering the geographical and ecological diversity under which these are found growing in nature. In case we have to identify species for specific areas in the country we need to identify specific species for each after considering their growth and management pratices required and also their possible commercial importance. The information available about Rattans is scarce, may be also because of their spiny character, inaccessibility and the difficulties in collecting fruits and seeds. Of course, another reason, may be aversion induced by its liberal use or abuse by school teacher and policemen for disciplinary purposes!
India is a vast country of rich diversity in vegetation and phytogeographical locations. The Rattans are characterized by their very wide distribution across various forest types. They are mainly distributed in tropical, sub tropical and lower temperate belts in the rattan growing regions of our country. Rattans are seen in evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous or subtropical evergreen type forests. They are rare in dry deciduous forests and are absent in mangrove forests. In many instances they are indicative of good forest vegetation. Sometimes, they even extend to areas outside forests such as river, tank beds and edges of paddy fields. Occurrence of rattans in private home gardens either natural or cultivated is very less.

Check Your Progress Exercise 3

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  1. Would you like to grow Rattan in your garden? Why? Why do you think it is not a popular garden plant though nowadays the Bamboo is found in many gardens?
  2. With the help of a middle school geography book list out the various forest types in India (you could use the atlas or the internet to get this information). Then using the information given in the paragraphs above tick off those forest types in which Rattan can be grown/found.
  3. Look at the atlas again and write down in which states you think Rattan can be grown and those in which you think Rattan cannot be grown. Give reasons why you think so. You will have to look at the political map of India along with the map that gives the forest types.
  • States in India that are suitable for growing Rattan:
  • States in India that are not suitable for growing Rattan:
  1. Traditionally we have been cutting cane from the forests for our use – why do we use the term ‘overexploitation’ now?
  2. What will happen if we continue cutting cane from the forest? What other products do we use from the forest that may become extinct?
  3. Since we have so many different species of canes how does it matter if we ‘lose’ a few species?
  4. Look around you – find out if the people working with cane grow their own cane or cut it from the forest. Who does the forest belong to? Do you think the forest area in your area is overexploited? Why do you think so?


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Self Assessment

1. Where is the highest species diversity of rattans found in India?
2. What are the unique qualities of rattan which have allowed it to withstand competition from steel and plastic?
3. The no. of species found in India is---------
4. Total value of finished rattan products is------
5. How can rattan industry be of help to a Third World country like India?


1.5.1 Global Overview

Rattans are largely concentrated in South East Asia, in 10 genera with 574 species. India has about 60 species of which 30 species are endemic to India. The term ‘endemic’ means that the species – plant – is only found in that particular area. Hence when we say that a specie that is endemic to India we mean that its distribution is restricted to India.

Dr. haridasan – numbers DO NOT MATCH – what should we say????

A look at where the maximum Rattan is produced for commercial use we see that the Indonesia is the world’s largest supplier of raw Rattan. About 300 species belonging to seven genera are reported from Indonesia alone. For the past several years about 1,20,000 tonnes of Rattan has been harvested annually - it is estimated that the production could be increased to nearly 5,75,000 tonnes. The Malay Peninsula, which is considered to be the center of diversity of Rattans, has 104 species belonging to nine genera. The Centres of diversity of a particular plant are those areas on earth where those particular plants were found in abundance a very long time back and where there was ………..(need to define this!!! Pl help!!) Both Thailand and China have about 50 species of Rattans. As compared to this India has reported 57 species.

Maybe at this point we need to understand, that when we commonly say ‘plant’ we generally mean a particular species. This means that when we use the term ‘Rattan’ it is not as if we are saying ‘rice’ or mango’ or ‘teak’ – in these cases the common name rice or mango o teak are names of only one particular species : Rice is Oryza sativa, Mango is Mangifera indica and Teak is Tectona grandis. Of course when we say cotton we include more than one species: Gossypium xxxxxxx and G xxxxxxxx, but in that case they belong to the same genus Gossypium. What is different with Rattan (and also Bamboo and very few other commercial products) is that there is no one species for Rattan – not even one genus. Several totally different plants (different genus and species) but sharing a common habit and some common characterstics constitute the ‘Rattan’. We will now look at the various Rattans present in our country and try and understand their distribution.

In India 57 species of Rattans are reported. These species hail from four separate genera namely - Calamus, Daemonorops, Korthalsia, and Plectcomia. Rattan species are concentrated in Western Ghats, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and North Eastern regions They are found in union territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and in the states of Uttar pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam and Tripura.

(insert map pic for density distribution of rattan species throughout india, possibly on political matrix with legend)

Out of the three major centres of rattan distribution in India, western ghats has only one genus Calamus with 21 species. Andaman & Nicobar Islands is represented by 3 genera with 18 species. The genera here are Calamus (11 species), Daemonorops (5 species) and Korthalsia (2 speceis) Remarkably Korthalsia is naturally found only in Andaman & Nicobar islands in our country. Northeast region of India comprises 24 species under 3 genera (excluding Zalacca) viz., Calamus(15 species with two varieties, Daemonorops (1 species) and Plectocomia (4 species) . In India the genus Plectocomia is restricted to northeast India. Thus we find Calamus in all the regions, Daemonorops in Andamans and Northeast India. But Korthalsia only in Andamans and Plectocomia only in Northeast.