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The Story of a Plate from Assam

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Sustainability is a subject that has been close to my heart and I have always tried to contribute in my own little ways. Even if they are little things like switching off everything after leaving a room (sometimes, even when people are in the room) or holding off waste until I can dispose them properly.

When I was invited for Manas Spring Festival, little did I know that I am connected to this festival through the dishware that they served in. Not directly. But yet, there was a connection. I was interested but I had no idea about it until I came back and published my story on Manas Spring Festival. I was intrigued when I saw the plates and bowls at the food counter on the first day. I knew that the organizers were trying to promote sustainability but the plates/bowls totally blew my mind. That’s where most of the litter is generated and I was pleased to see the organizers keeping a conscious eye on it.

Few months ago, I had applied for the YOU Start! NE workshop conducted by Dhriiti, The Courage Within to understand the basics of running a business before my foray into entrepreneurship and I was happy to have been selected. I had a wonderful time getting to know many young entrepreneurs from North East India, exchanging information, giving suggestions on how we can improve and above all, motivating each other to stay strong. The earlier perception of having a steady, government jobs was clearly changing in North East India and it encouraged me to stay true to my passion.

When I posted my blog about my experience at Manas National Park, one of the Managers of the workshop, Debaleena saw my work and called me up excitedly as to how the plates over which the foods were served belonged to an organization, incubated by Dhriiti. This is when I came to know about Tamul Plates. And I could not help being amused at how coincidentally I became a part of two organizations in a single festival. My curiosity led me to research more about Tamul Plates (with help from Debaleena as well) and I wanted to share a bit of their journey through my little blog.

Photo Copyrights – Priyam Kakoti Bora (@nookandcorners)

About Tamul Plates:
An alumnus of the prestigious Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) in Gujarat, Arindam Dasgupta wanted to work in the Eastern India and chanced upon the idea of producing biodegradable plates from areca-nut sheaths when he received the same from South India through a relative. Since Assam is abundant in Areca nut plantations (it is called Tamul in Assamese), Mr Dasgupta saw the region’s potential to change the rural economy through disposable dishware, made from the areca nut sheaths. The journey took shape in Barpeta district (some part of it shifed to Baksha district now) in 2004 as it had the largest plantations of Areca Nut.

Mr Dasgupta had also launched an NGO, Dhriiti – The Courage Within with his friends, Anirban Gupta and Nidhi Arora in 2004 with the aim to inspire and build entrepreneurs who can identify as well as convert opportunity into sustainable enterprises. One of those projects was to set up small manufacturing units of plates and bowls, made from areca-nut sheaths in Assam. Within a short period of time, the village youth came forward to set up such units and Dhriiti helped in providing logistical support and training to these youth. However, Mr Dasgupta realized that the commercial model was the only viable way of creating employment through this business and hence set up Tamul Plates Marketing Pvt Ltd (TPMPL) in 2010 to look afer the marketing and other aspects of the business. TPMPL is now also in the business of selling the plate-making machines, rather than procuring expensive machines from the manufacturers. These machines are designed to run on LPG as well as Electricity. They also take care of packaging and quality-testing the products for the plate-makers before shipping it of to their markets in New Delhi, Mumbai among other regions. These leaf plates have promoted 110 areca-nut leaf plate production units and generated employment for more than 2000 rural youth while reducing pollution from plastic and styrofoam plates by over 100 tonnes since its inception.

How life changed after Tamul Plates:
1. Moniram Narzary was a carpenter with limited means to sustain his family. But his decision to try out the Areca-nut leaf plate production through 2 machines paid of well and he is now earning a decent income. He has also given employment to his villagers and dreams of expanding his business further.

2. Dinesh Narzary runs a tea-shop in his village in Bodoland Territorial Administrative districts (BTAD) and earns additional income by supplying sheaths to TPMPL. He can now aford to spend luxuriously on festivals and send his children for training outside his district.

3. A mentally challenged youth, Ramani Dewri can now provide for his family and regained his confidence as he rose up in his role in raw materials operations.

4. With little or no skills, Dhanada Kalita mastered her job in Dryer operations and is the sole bread-earner of the family afer her husband’s demise.

5. Tapan Poddar was born with a deformed feet and low speech clarity, due to which he shunned himself from the society. But from an opportunity at TPMPL as plate cleaning staf, he rose in the organization to the role of Supervisor of packaging unit. He no longer feels diferentiated based on his disability.

And many more…

Meanwhile, I am going to be on the lookout for more such places where I can find these sustainable, biodegradable plates from my homeland. While chomping on my Assamese breakfast of kettle pitha, banana and a cup of black tea.

Photo Copyrights – Priyam Kakoti Bora (@nookandcorners)

Note: All my photographs are copyrighted with all rights reserved. Please do not download/use my work and never for any commercial use without contacting me in advance for purchase or licensing rights

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