Arindam Dasgupta
Co-founder of Tambal leaf plates

“Tambul Leaf Plates aims to create 1000 micro-enterprises in North East India”

Tambul Leaf Plates from India is one of the more than 165 ventures on the Inclusive Business Accelerator online platform. They produce & market biodegradable disposable dinnerware through community owned micro-enterprises. Products are made from the fallen sheath of the Areca nut palm. We contacted co-founder Arindam Dasgupta to learn more about his plans.

Please pitch your business?

"Tambul Leaf Plates, established in 2009, produces and markets biodegradable disposable dinnerware made from the fallen sheath of the arecanut palm. Our 20 member team helps rural producers across North East India, to establish micro-enterprises, producing these plates, through capacity building and technical, financial and marketing support. The dinnerware reduces pollution and deforestation while local communities gain a livelihood through its production and sale.

Our mission is to make arecanut leaf plate manufacturing a USD$20 million green enterprise through establishment of more than 1000 micro-enterprises, thereby generating livelihood for more than 50,000 people. In addition to livelihood creation we also target to replace 1000 tonnes of highly polluting plastic and styrofoam plates annually, with environment friendly arecanut disposable dinnerware."

"Woman making wood plates"
Woman fabricating a Tambul leaf plate

What inspired you to start the company?

"Around 91 per 1000 are unemployed in Assam, which is much above the all India average of 50 per 1000. If we factor in disguised unemployment and underemployment, the problem is much more intensive. Due to lack of productive engagement, the youth is often lead towards anti-social behaviour. In 2012, the communal clashes between the Bodos and the Muslims, perhaps saw the largest amount of human displacement since Independence.

The way out is to promote micro enterprises amongst the rural youth. North East India (NE) has a huge supply of natural resources which can be value added into many high demand products with use of appropriate technology

My education in Loyola School, Shri Ram College of Commerce and Institute of Rural Management, Anand has developed a passion in me for promoting people driven enterprises. Inspired by Dr. Kurien's achievements with the AMUL Model, I believe that sustainable development can be brought about only by enterprises which have social goals built into their models. Over the last 10 years, I have tried my best to build this enterprise from scratch in an insurgency prone remote location, from the limited resource available."

A meal served on the arecanut plates of Tambul Leaf Plates
A meal served on the arecanut plates of Tambul Leaf Plates

What problem are you solving?

"We are trying to provide solutions to two societal problems through Tambul Leaf Plates. Employment opportunities for youth in Assam & NE are inadequate and inaccessible. Assam ranks the highest in rural male unemployment rate (4.3%) and second highest in female unemployment rate (5.7%). The unemployment rates for rural youth in Assam are the second highest in the country, standing at 16.2%. Lack of infrastructure, geographical isolation and well developed markets has resulted in low per capita income.

Waste management has been an ongoing problem across the world and disposables is one of the biggest contributors in this. Every 10000 standard-size disposable polystyrene foam plates result in more than 500kg emissions of CO2, and produce over 100kg in non-biodegradable waste. And the volume of the disposable tableware market of the world was estimated to be $48.6billion in 2013 and is growing annually by 4.8%.

The arecanut palm is one of the most important commercial crops of NE. Though, the betel nut is used in various forms, the sheath is considered as a waste. The green disposable dinnerware made out of the arecanut sheaths, has better dimensional stability, besides being hygienic, biodegradable and microwave safe. Due to its qualities, it has a huge market in India and Internationally. NE has more than 100,000 Ha of arecanut plantation and more than 5000 arecanut leaf plate enterprises can be promoted even if 30% of the resource is tapped. Thus generating livelihood for more than 50,000 rural youth, by value adding a naturally available waste material, which simultaneously reduces pollution by replacing toxic polystyrene plates in the market."

How do low-income people benefit from your business model?

"Tambul Leaf Plates is driven by a production by masses model, not mass production. The enterprise helps low-income rural communities to establish plate producing units. The machines are sold to the micro enterprises with a 100% buy back guarantee for the plates. The plates are purchased from the rural producers through a fair trade process. Tambul Leaf Plates also provides capacity building, technical assistance and financial linkage to boost the efficiency and productivity of the producers.

The uniqueness of the model lies in providing an end to end solution for all the players in the value chain. The small units producing these plates, not only creates employment for the workers producing the plates but also additional livelihood for arecanut sheath collectors in the region.

Since the dinnerware is being sold in cities, money is flowing into the rural economy and having a larger impact through money multiplier, thus boosting the rural economy. Tambul Leaf Plates has provided an alternative income, which has reduced the risk portfolio of the rural villagers. All this is being achieved by value adding a waste material."

Tambul Leaf Plates
Two men fabricating Tambul leaf plates

Please highlight what has been achieved so far. What are the key milestones?

"In the last 4 years Tambul Leaf Plates has been able to generate sustainable livelihood for 2000+ rural youths and promote 100+ arecanut leaf plate making units. The income of the producers has increased by more than 100% over these years. Entrepreneurial and production skills training has been provided to 330 rural youths. We have included women as raw material collectors and workers in the value chain, which has led to their economic independence. Tambul Leaf Plates now focuses on building the capacities of women in a more streamlined framework.

Due to our continued efforts we have been able to also attract investment from two investors, namely Upaya Social Ventures and Rianta Capital apart from the highly prestigious SEED Low Carbon Award."

This year you've been part of the SEED Accelerator. How has this programme helped you so far?

"Firstly the $40,000 award money has really helped us in addressing some critical areas of our growth plan. The 3 key areas are as follows: Work on technologies like hydraulic machines, new design dies which will not only improve our productivity but also make our portfolio of products better. Also creating and implementing a complete branding and promotion strategy for the products. It is helping us in accessing newer and better markets. And lastly the capacity building of the team, producers and partners.

Secondly the ongoing support of improving our financial systems has been very important. We are already tracking our financial performance in a better way and by the end of the year we expect our financial management to be an asset in our growth plan.

Finally, the SEED collaboration with the Inclusive Business Accelerator platform is helping us to reach out to investors and supporters across the world. This is critical in finding appropriate partners to invest in our growth plan."

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