Featured case: Tamul Leaf Plates – Building an Inclusive
Eco Enterprise in India’s Insurgency Affected Northeast

Share this page:
The case

Arindam Who – the protagonist

Arindam Dasgupta, CEO and co-founder of Tamul Plates Marketing Pvt Ltd (TPMPL).

What?

Tampul Plates is an eco enterprise using areca nut leaf sheath, previously treated as a waste in the Indian northeast region of Assam, to produce environmentally friendly disposable dinnerware.

TPMPL, founded by Arindam and three other entrepreneurs, produced 2.5 million plates in Assam in 2014, with the product targeted at the high end of the market, including high earning individuals in big cities and at official events.

Why?

The entrepreneurs set up this venture, as they wanted to do something about the unemployment amongst rural youths in Assam – one of the worst affected states in India.

With more than 100,000 hectares of areca nut farmed across northeastern India as of 2015, farmers in Assam have created hundreds of production units, where they prepare the nut leaf for Tamul Plates. Around 900 young men and women work for these units.

When?

Arindam and his fellow founders initially ran Tamul Plates under the banner of their not-for-profit organisation (NGO), Dhriti, which they created in 2004.

After relying on grants for the first few years, the decision was made to commercialise Tamul Plates and launch it as a private limited company, with operations beginning in 2010.

As of 2015, Tamul Plates had established over 460 units across 20 districts of Assam.

Where?

Assam is located south of the Eastern Himalayas, well known for its tea gardens and rich biodiversity.

The state is also known for its ongoing ethnic conflicts. Assam is home to around 220 ethnic groups, with these different factions clashing over leadership and resources for the past 50 years.

In 2014, Assam was rated the second most volatile state in the region and was the worst affected state in India that year, with 305 fatalities.

Key quote

“Whatever I do, the work should be such that there should be some benefit to society.” – Arindam Dasgupta

What next?

Tamul Plates has made great strides in its growth as a private company, but they have only accessed 5% of the raw material available in Assam.

This meant Tamul Plates didn’t have enough supplies to produce enough dinnerware to meet the demand with India and target the exports in a big way.

But with the government, NGOs and financial institutions viewing areca nut leaf manufacturing as a viable rural enterprise, they’re ready to support Tamul Plates, who are the only enterprise that has the resources to provide both technical and marketing support.

This has led to Tamul Plates aiming to sell 20-30% of their production in the export market, while expanding their organised retail segment within India.

 
Interested in finding out more?
Download

Download the case and teaching note

Educators can login to view a free inspection of this case and its teaching note.

Tamul Leaf Plates: Building an Inclusive Eco Enterprise in India’s Insurgency Affected Northeast
Ref 817-0010-1
Teaching note
Ref 817-0010-8

This case was written with the support of a case writing scholarship from The Case Centre.

The author

author

Niraj Joshi

Niraj talks about the advantages of taking the field research option when producing cases.

First hand experience

Niraj said: “I strongly believe that unless you visit the scene of action and get a first hand feel of the production process and supply chain, or meet and interact with the entrepreneurs, customers, beneficiaries and understand their perspective, you will not understand the real opportunities and challenges well enough.

“In this case I was also interested to find out how ‘green’ the enterprise was; therefore I visited the villages where decentralised production units were in operation, and procurement of both raw and finished products was understood. Best of all was the time I got to spend with youth and marginal farmers, who actually are the producers and benefit from this enterprise.

“By taking the field research option, I really understood the nuts and bolts of the production.”

Inspiring others

Niraj continued: “I think the success of Tamul is going to inspire many more social enterprises in India.

soap

“Social enterprise is already thriving in India and I have come across several such entrepreneurs in diverse sectors, including handmade soap making, solar pumps, e-waste recycling and compost making.

“In addition to this large number of start-ups, there’s also a quantum of venture and angel investments being made in India.”

Drawing parallels with society

He continued: “I had the opportunity to share this case with two groups of international students at an academic institute. I found they were very keen not only to understand various aspects of Tamul’s journey, but also to share their own real life experiences from their diverse contexts and draw parallels.

“I am quite sure that despite the influence of the virtual world in our lives, students crave real life experiences and do realise that soon they will be dealing with the real world of enterprise outside their classrooms.”

Government support

Niraj commented: “Increasingly governments are looking for entrepreneurs and other opportunities for a public-private partnership. In Tamul’s case the government bought into their idea and supported it through the purchase of machines and sponsoring of capacity building of unemployed youths in Assam.

“Although governments will have to continue with welfare policies and cannot absolve their responsibilities towards the more vulnerable and disadvantaged, social entrepreneurship does provide to deal with unemployment and build skills in people, as demographic changes happen across the world.”

More still needs to be done

Niraj concluded: “I think social enterprises like Tamul and other ‘green’ entrepreneurs need to be encouraged much more through a dynamic policy support.

“Currently government policies do not offer such enterprises a level playing field. For instance, there are no disincentives for industries that promote styrofoam dinnerware, and it continues to clog our landfills when such alternatives as Tamul exist.”

About the author

Niraj Joshi is a PhD Scholar at the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) University. Niraj is also a Prince Bernhard Scholar. He was awarded the prestigious Prince Bernhard Scholarship, for his doctoral work relating to Nature conservation, from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Switzerland, in 2014.
e nirajjos@gmail.com

 

View a full list of featured cases