Cane mostly trailing or climbing palms with characteristic scaly fruits of the Arecaceae family (Palmae). The fruits are covered by vertical rows of reflexed overlapping scales. The scales are grooved along the midline. Cane, known in Bangla as bet, is also called rattan, an anglicised version of the Malay word rotan. Cane grows in humid equatorial Africa and in the areas extending from Indo-Bangladesh and South China to Queensland and Fiji, and from sea level to 300 m altitude.

Cane is one of the important natural resources of Bangladesh forests and homesteads. It is a raw material for cottage industries. Cane used to be exported from Bengal until the mid-nineteenth century. The pulp of the fruit is edible. There are 600 cane species comprising 13 genera in the world. Out of the 13 genera only two, Calamus and Daemonorops, grow in Bangladesh.

Daemonorops is represented by a single species D. jenkinsianus (vernacular name golla bet). Calamus is reported to be represented by 10 species, namely, C. erectus (kadam bet), C. flagellum, C. floribundus, C. gracilis, C. guruba (sundi bet), C. latifolius (kora bet), C. longisetus (udam bet), C. tenuis (jali bet), C. viminalis var. fasciculatus (bara bet) and C. quinquenervius. Out of the 11 species recorded in Bangladesh C. flagellum, C. floribundus, C. gracilis and C. quinquenervius are now not readily available.

They have either been greatly depleted or their habitats have been restricted. Generally, canes grow in the northeastern hill forests of chittagong, cox’s bazar, chittagong hill tracts and sylhet. Good quality cane is also produced in comilla, bogra, jessore and rajshahi. Sal forests do not produce canes. Only C. viminalis var. fasciculatus sometimes grow in forest outskirts. Generally canes do not grow in mangroves. C. tenuis grows along the edge of littoral forests towards the land side.

Canes propagate both by vegetative means and seeds. Suckers are planted for vegetative propagation. For seed propagation seedlings are raised in nurseries and then planted in fields. The fleshy pulp of the seed is first removed and then the seeds are sown in seedbeds where they germinate within a few weeks. When the seedlings attain a height of 0.75-1 m, they are planted in fields during the monsoon season. By 2-3 years seedlings grow to the size of a clump. Within 7-8 years the cane is ready for harvesting. Generally, no intensive management is required. Irrigation, if required, and fertilisation are done at an early stage of plantation.

The household life in Bangladesh is marked by diverse use of cane. Cane is useful in building traditional houses and is used to manufacture goods of utility and in making assorted fancy articles of house decoration. Women in some regions are better in canework. However, both men and women earn their living from making cane furniture and other cane products.

Cane products

Canes of different varieties are used in different purposes. In cane industry usually jali and golla canes are used. Cane is used chiefly for knitting and binding. Depending on the design, different kinds of thick and thin parts are pulled off from cane sticks. Jali cane is used to make chairs, tables, swings, baskets, ladies' bags and other articles of varied utility. Golla cane is utilised in making frames for furniture of daily use and for other items. Depending on the nature of work, golla cane is cut into pieces lengthwise.

Usually, cane takes good shape in 2 to 3 years when they become appropriate for use in high quality work. Moderately ripe canes have less water content in them and are flexible. Too ripe canes break while being worked on. Articles made with too young canes get cracked and shrunk and articles made of such cane are affected with wood-mites. Cane needs to be duly processed for protection against wood-mite and fungus. The quality of a cane product also depends on the quality of dye work on them. Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) has a design Centre, whose artists conduct research to develop new designs and models and to assist the craftsmen working in this industry. The centre supplies newly developed designs and models to them free of charge.

BSCIC was the first organisation to undertake a programme of preserving the indigenous tradition of handicrafts and revitalise some of those in cane. Under this programme BSCIC searches out traditional handicraft villages in remote areas of the country and offers different kinds of counseling for development and growth of handicrafts. It also assists artisans in marketing, product development and innovation, and technology. According to BSCIC sources, among 4,226 handicraft villages producing 29 selected commodities, the number of villages producing bamboo and cane goods is 1154. Bamboo and cane goods comprise the largest subsector of handicrafts. The subsector provided employment to about 135,000 persons in 2000.

Cane products are in great demand throughout the world, especially in Asia and Europe. Bangladesh exports considerable quantity of assorted cane commodities to Russia, Germany, Singapore and the Middle East. Bangladesh earned considerable goodwill in cane crafts through participation in a number of international fairs held in Germany, Canada, Japan and some other countries. In 1999-2000, Bangladesh earned Tk 258.6 million by exporting cane and bamboo products.

Cane is one of the most important forest products and its importance ranks next to timber and bamboo. Unfortunately, this resource has been depleting. Production of cane in Bangladesh is now much less than it used to be in the past. The country produced 3,938,000 feet of cane in 1985-86 and 2,938,000 feet in 1993-94. Recently, the forest department has started cane plantations in many forest areas. [MK Alam and Sadat Ullah Khan]