Harnessing bamboo’s potential: Longmi briquettes shine at Hornbill Bamboo Carnival
DIMAPUR — At the Hornbill Bamboo Carnival 2023, hosted at the Nagaland Bamboo Resource Centre in Chümoukedima, a unique stall caught the attention of Eastern Mirror.
In the midst of a somewhat quiet evening at the sales and exhibition pavilion, a young man was showcasing bamboo charcoal briquettes, an innovative offering that stood out among the array of stalls.
The story behind this distinctive product, branded as ‘Longmi,’ unfolded two and a half years ago in Tuli town of Mokokchung district, when Imlionen Longkumer and his family discovered an unused paper-processing unit lying dormant for the last seven to eight years.
Recognising the untapped potential, the family visited the Nagaland Bamboo Development Agency, seeking advice from experts and eventually secured a 10-year lease from the agency. They then repaired the machines and started a journey of trial and error to master the art of bamboo charcoal production.
According to Longkumer, the family’s interest in the dormant machine stemmed from a vision to utilise the abundant bamboo resources in Tuli, which were originally planted amidst talks that the defunct Tuli Paper Mill would be revived.
“Our father planted them in large quantities, and it was just going to waste, just growing wildly. Despite having ample raw materials, we did not know how to materialise or profit from them. It was a chance encounter that turned into a successful venture. We hope to find more buyers and expand to outer markets,” he shared.
Longkumer further explained how the chance encounter with the unused paper-processing unit turned into a successful venture, leading to the establishment of the Nagaland Bamboo Processing Centre, Tuli unit. This centre not only produces Longmi but also features a bamboo splitting/splinting unit. The bamboo splints are transported to Jorhat in the neighbouring state of Assam and used for making agarbatti (incense) sticks, furniture, and various craft-related products.
Elaborating on how the briquettes are produced, Longkumer said they first observed bamboo charcoal production in smaller units and experimented with various methods. Eventually, they settled on digging pits near the bamboo groves to eliminate the need for transporting cut bamboo.
He said that experienced workers are hired to harvest the wild bamboo, especially avoiding the rainy season when the hills become slippery.
The harvest is followed by a process involving lighting the bamboo on fire in the pit, covering it with metal lids and carbonising the residual material overnight. The resulting charcoal is collected in sacks and transported to the Tuli town unit where it is segregated to remove dirt and pollutants.
Two workers, wearing protective gear, heat the bamboo charcoal in a grinding machine, producing fine bamboo powder which is then combined with organic bonding materials. Once mixed, the substance travels through a conveyor belt to a molding machine, shaping it into the final ovular product.
After molding, the product dries under the sun until it becomes hard and sturdy.
“To check consistency, we ensure it does not crack when thrown on a concrete floor. This is how we know the consistency. If it breaks when thrown, it only means that the consistency is incorrect. Once dried, we pack it in sacks and transport it to Dimapur using local means. The final packing is done in Dimapur,” Longkumer shared.
Sales of bamboo briquettes peak during the colder months of December and January, and the product’s novelty enhances its appeal. Although charcoal itself is not new, bamboo charcoal briquettes represent a unique offering, carving out a niche market, he said. He also attributed the rising popularity to the emergence of barbecue culture in Nagaland.
Surprisingly, Longkumer said that even the elderly prefer bamboo briquettes for their reduced odour, minimal smell, and lower smoke emission, making it more pleasant and tolerable. Additionally, these briquettes have a longer burn time, staying constantly lit for up to four hours if undisturbed.
Longkumer revealed that the long-term goal is to maximise profits and contribute to local employment. He envisions a scenario where, as the venture grows, there will be a need for a considerable workforce, providing sustainable wage-based employment for the local community.
He expressed the hope that the venture will evolve into a fully registered unit, considering the significant advantage of having abundant raw materials. Bamboo, with its rapid regeneration in just two years, ensures a continuous supply as new shoots emerge from the groves even after cutting, presenting a sustainable advantage, he said.
Acknowledging a significant failure in the advertising aspect, Longkumer expressed the need for improvement, emphasising the necessity for more efforts. In this connection, he said, the plan is to delve into research, consider the use of social media, explore potential links, and seek tie-ups with existing market channels. Additionally, they aim to engage with the bamboo agency, actively pursuing updates from them.
Currently, the family is his sole support, navigating through ups and downs. “I’ve made many mistakes, but with experience, I hope not to repeat them. The learning process continues every day,” he said.
Longkumer also had a message for those facing challenges. Emphasising the importance of passion and dedication, he maintained that success requires giving 100%.
There will be both bright and difficult days, but maintaining faith is crucial, he said, adding: “Even I, as an entrepreneur, did not do sufficient research initially, but I maintained faith in my capabilities and the raw materials—something tangible I could see in front of me to be materialised, and that was the most significant part. So if you are going to do something, there is nothing as good as conducting pre-research before starting the venture, before you invest. But when you invest, please go 100%, not 90%.”