When microbusiness meets urgent needs of the modern world

Betel palm leaves instead of plastics – Platemaking in Karamadai

The betel palm is known as a plant that in many parts of Asia and East Africa delivers betel, a dangerous drug that when it is chewed helps against the feeling of hunger and tiredness.

Did you know? In Asia, unripe betel nuts are chopped up with betel cutters. Usually these are rolled in leaves coated with slaked lime, which do not come from the betel palm but from the betel pepper (Piper betle). The finished bite of betel (also called sirih) is chewed. Because of the bitter taste, spices such as peppermint, liquorice or chewing tobacco are often added. The slaked lime causes the arecoline found in the nuts to hydrolyze into arecaidin and methanol, but it also attacks the gums.

But here in Karamadai (Tamil Nadu) a woman of one of our Core partners Self help groups has started a very successful business. She produces plates of different sizes from cleaned and pressed leaves of the betel palm. At the beginning she started with just one small machine at home and earned a few rupees only. She was able to get a loan from the selfhelp group itself. Every month and for years twenty selfhelp group members have saved some money before being able to give some small loans to the members. That’s when she could also get a loan to buy a first machine and to produce the first plates.

Palm leaves around the house – a precious raw material

The loan could be repaid very quickly… In the meantime, the whole family and several workers are supporting her with the production. Around the house palm leaves are stocked everywhere…

The production of plates is easy – with the right machines. The palm leaves are pressed, heated and cut – the outcome: nice, trendy and stable plates that can even be washed and re- used.

Plate pressing machine

The disposable plates are exported to Europe, too.

They are a great alternative to plastic plates. And a great business for the whole family. “Earlier”, the women who runs the business, says,”I did not know how to pay the school fees for my kids. We had not enough food and there was a lot of things that made me stay awake during night… now things have changed. Economically, we are fine. The huge need for these plates from all over the world is crazy. We export a lot of plates. Now I cannot sleep because I need to think how to grow and how to find enough storage room for the raw materials and plates”, she adds.

Indeed, there are five big machines in the room. There are different sizes and shapes of plates she can produce.

This micro business has changed her and her families life. The final income per plate varies between two to four rupees per plate. In this way she earns more than thousand rupees a day and can engage also the women in addition.

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