Women In Assam Take Sustainable Approach By Churning Out Dinnerware From Areca Palm Waste

Women In Assam

Converting waste sheaths of areca palm trees to dinner plates and other wares has become a ray of hope for women of two blocks in Assam’s Kamrup Rural district, as they engage in entrepreneurial ventures to become economically independent.

The biodegradable disposable dinnerware made of waste sheaths also addresses the concern of pollution caused by materials like styrofoam and plastic. Villages under Chaygaon and Bangaon blocks of the district, 40 km from the state capital, are dotted with areca palm trees that were earlier considered to be a source only for ‘Tamul’ (betel nut), while its sheath, a waste material, was at times used to make temporary boundary walls of homes.

“We never thought the waste sheaths could be used to manufacture products that have a demand not only in the state but across the country and help us earn a living,” 35-years-old Sonoti Rabha told PTI.

An initiative named ‘Project Pragati’ was introduced in the two blocks about four years ago by an NGO Dhriiti-The Courage Within by engaging rural women through mobilization and training in producing plates from waste sheaths of areca palm trees, said Anirban Gupta, co-founder of the organization.

When the idea was first introduced among people in the mobilization camps, no one could believe that waste material can be converted into a product that has a profitable market not only in India but across the world, he said. In the last four years, the project has helped build an areca nut manufacturing cluster with 30 women entrepreneurs setting up home-based producing units, and 350 others engaged as raw material collectors and machine operators.

The project is primarily aimed at enhancing the income of rural women through value addition to locally and abundantly available raw materials. For most of these women, it is their first opportunity to own a business and earn independent incomes, he said.

Moreover, the dinnerware made of areca palm sheaths has better dimensional stability, is hygienic, biodegradable, and microwave safe, and also addresses the issue of pollution caused by styrofoam containers and plastic dishes. 

The making of an eco-friendly disposable plate goes through the process of leaf gathering, drying, sorting, cleaning, production, packaging, and above all marketing, making the whole activity a business for many micro and nano-woman entrepreneurs.

They have now organized themselves under two Self Help Groups (SHGs), and are scaling up operations by leasing areca nut palm plantations for the sheaths as well as for trading of the fruits. Monica Banerjee, head of InterGlobe Foundation, which funded the first two phases of the project said, “Nurturing the strengths and leadership abilities of the women and promoting natural resources-based small enterprises among them was a satisfying experience for all stakeholders.”

Chaygaon MLA Rekibuddin Ahmed hoped that these women will motivate many more in rural areas to take up entrepreneurship. “I will direct the block development officers to extend all possible help to them,” the MLA said.

Credits: PTI

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