Pragati Maidan in Delhi hosts a range of exhibitions throughout the year. Among them is a yearly handicraft fair where artisans across different states in the country display their unique products for sale.
Ravi Prasad from Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh was one of the hundreds of visitors for an exhibition held in 2016. He visited the event with his friends and found handicraft items made from banana fibre, jute and other materials.
Intrigued by the concept of banana stem waste converted into artistic products, Ravi decided to explore employment opportunities in the field.
“There are hundreds of acres of banana plantations in my native town — Hariharpur. But the farmers discard the banana stems, which could have been made into beautiful and economically profitable handicrafts,” he tells The Better India. “There was no such handicraft industry working in upcycling the banana tree waste, and I decided to explore potential business prospects.”
The very trip to the event changed his life from being a low-skill employee to an entrepreneur. Today, Ravi has a kiosk set up at the same Pragati Maidan where his products made from banana fibres are sold under Malawa Kela Resa Utpadan Laghu Udyog Kendra, which earn him lakhs per year.
Creating Gold From Waste
Narrating his journey, Ravi says, “My father was a daily wager and never earned a stable income. The poor financial conditions made the family struggle to make ends meet. At times we struggled for food at home.”
Ravi says that his father died an untimely death in a road accident. “I had to drop out of school and took up odd jobs to support my mother and earn a living. Eventually, I managed to complete my graduation in economics and began working in a private company in Delhi,” he shares.
The 36-year-old says the company paid less, and he was on the lookout for a better opportunity. “I visited the exhibition on one of my days off,” he says and adds that when he looked at the products made from banana fibre, he realised its business potential in his village.
“There are about 30,000 hectares of banana plantations in the district which produce tonnes of waste from banana stems. The farmers sell the fruit and throw away the banana stems. But the same waste can be turned into meaningful products,” he says.
Ravi requested the contact details of one of the entrepreneurs selling the products and decided to learn about the handicrafts. After frequent persuasion, the entrepreneur agreed, and Ravi decided to learn the required skill set at the entrepreneur’s training centre in Coimbatore.
“I signed up for the course. The institute was about 80 km away from the city, and the living conditions were uncomfortable. Moreover, I did not understand Tamil, and the food was new. They were 22, rather difficult, but significant days of my life. I learned the art by observing the work of other artisans participating in the workshop,” he recalls.
Ravi returned home and decided to apply for a loan to buy the machinery and set up the business. However, the banks turned him away. “After much hassle, I learned from an acquaintance about the Zilla Udyog Kendra (Zilla business centre) of the state government. I shared my business idea with the officials, and after feeling impressed by the concept, they referred me to receive a loan of Rs 5 lakh from a private bank. In 2018, I set up Malawa Kela Resa Utpadan Laghu Udyog Kendra, a small cottage industry,” he says.
He started making products such as footwear, hats, carpets and bags, and sold them in local markets. Since then, the business picked up and how.
Ravi also applied for the One District One Product (ODOP), a state government scheme, where his unique handicraft got selected for exhibiting at state level festivals. “The women became aware of my venture and expressed their interest in working with me,” he says.
Explaining his business process, Ravi says that he sources banana stems from farmers across the region. “The stems are cut and processed in a machine that converts them into sheets. The sheets are further turned into threads and weaved into products such as slippers, hats, sanitary napkins, grow bags, carpets and other items. The sheets are also sold to textile companies that convert them into fishing nets, bedsheets and clothing,” he adds.
The cheapest product, which is a yoga mat, costs Rs 600 while the most expensive items like a carpet can fetch up to Rs 6,000.
Ravi says that the residue from banana fibres also serves as fish fodder in fisheries and organic fertiliser for agriculture. “The residue is mixed with other organic materials that help to improve the fertility of the soil,” he says.
As the production increased, Ravi sold his products across exhibits and markets, including states like Delhi, Lucknow, Amritsar, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, among others. To increase the visibility, he expanded his business on online platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart and others, enabling him to sell products across India.
The overall business sales earns him Rs 9 lakh per year.
Making Women Key-Decision Makers
Along with Ravi, about 450 women from his districts have benefited from the venture. The women undergo a 10-day training with the state department under the ODOP scheme and receive a toolkit and a stipend of Rs 200 for attending the workshop.
Kamlesh Devi from Tamkuhi Raj, who has been associated with Ravi’s business for the past couple of years, says, “We work in a group of 12 and make different products, depending on the demand. Each woman earns Rs 6,000 a month.”
Kamlesh says that the money has enabled her to become financially independent. “I do not depend on my husband for daily expenses or worry about his irresponsible money splurging. The money has enabled me to offer a better education for my children,” she adds.
Ravi says he has participated in over 50 exhibitions and has a permanent place in the popular Delhi Haat, a traditional art market in Delhi. “I plan to set up a bigger unit to produce sarees, fishing nets and bed sheets from banana fibre,” he says.
He says that entrepreneurs with access to banana fibres should pursue the business for their benefit. “The business is also environmentally-friendly and offers a good source of income,” he adds.
“I am glad to be a part of the venture that converts waste into useful items and assists in mitigating agriculture waste. My business has helped me improve my standard of living and helped women in the district uplift their status and respect in society. I feel proud that women, who never stepped out of their homes, are now able to become financially empowered and key decision-makers in the family,” he says.
To order handcrafts from Ravi, contact him on 6306353170.
Edited by Yoshita Rao