Himalayan Lush Industry: A Startup Born Amidst the Crisis, Manufacturing Biodegradable Crockery!

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Shyam Bahadur Basnet has quite a history. He initially started a ketchup business but things didn’t workout then he moved on to start an NGO named ICE PEGS Nepal. As a chairman of ICE PEGS Nepal, he and his team partnered with  Save the Children (US) and jointly ran programs for the rural development of VDCs of Gorkha. Because of political situations, the project was stopped just after 1 and a half years of initiation. Despite this, he did not give up. He started another program to support the tourism industry of Nepal. He organized training for local trekking guides and the owners of guest houses in Gorkha, who were involved in the business without training and little experience. Talking about the present time he is the founding member of Shraddha Institute of Health Science, Bharatpur and the co-founder of Himalayan Lush Industry.

Quite a rollercoaster journey he has had. Being a social entrepreneur, he experienced and went through a lot of changes. But one thing remained constant, the willingness to do something for the motherland and for the Nepalese.

We got an opportunity to catch up with this dynamic personality a few weeks back, where he shared about his venture Himalayan Lush Industry. Read on to know more!

Can you briefly introduce your venture Himalayan Lush Industry to our readers?

Himalayan Lush Industry is a venture that manufactures biodegradable, sustainable crockery using the leaves of Areca trees, commonly known as Supari trees. We registered the venture in 2019 under the Department of Small and Cottage Industry but the brainstorming and planning started way back in 2016. Also, recently in March 2020 we have officially and actively started manufacturing our products. 

How did the concept of this venture come about?

On 4 November 2016, Paris Climate Agreement came into force with the motive of limiting global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The clauses mentioned in the agreement fascinated me and made me think about my role to save the world through a small impact. This brainstorming session, led me to biodegradable eco friendly plates, referred to as Sal ko paat or Tapari in Nepali. To be honest, I was proud that we Nepalese have been unconsciously supporting the mitigation of climate change for thousands of years now. In the course of this self discovery, I had a meaningful conversation with one of my good friends, Ashok Man Kapali, also the co- founder of Himalayan Lush Industry and luckily we shared the same vision of bringing change. Then we decided to work together to replace plastic plates with biodegradable plates. We spent 3 years back and forth manufacturing samples, getting feedback, working on improvements. Along with replacing the plastic plates with biodegradable plates, I also wanted to promote this at international level but again the foreigners didn’t like the smell of saal ko paat and it was also not very much useful.  There was a problem of  leakage, the plates couldn’t hold sufficient food to name a few. 

So, taking into account the pain points of our potential customers, we started looking for alternatives. In the process, we came to know about Arecana Industry, a small business that used the leaves of Areca trees to manufacture crockery. We then acquired Arecana and led on to establish Himalayan Lush Industry with three other co-founders.

Where are these products manufactured?

All our products are manufactured in Jhapa. We have 17 katta of land (62,118 sq.ft) in Jhapa where we have built 5000 square buildings, setup 36 machines with 34 different products and 10 shades for the production process.

What about the raw materials? Where do you get them?

We get it from the village itself. We buy it from the owners at Rs.2 per leaf providing financial support to the locals. 

How many people are working at the factory?

We have 36 machines and we need 22 full time employees to run them optimally. But considering the situation we are in with, with the lockdown and the crisis, at present we have  only 7 people working with us. But again, we are on rapid hiring mode. We will be welcoming 3 more employees in the first phase and many more in the coming days.

How has the COVID crisis affected Himalayan Lush  Industry?

We have not been able to run in full capacity, so we are more focused in the research and development as of now and are manufacturing the minimum piece right now.

What makes Himalayan Lush Industry unique?

I would say the quality aspect is our unique point, not only the product quality but also the hygiene aspect. Before establishing Himalayan Lush Industry I visited some factories in Nepal and India and found that the whole production process takes place in multiple places and even in open space, so hygiene was highly compromised.  However in our case everything is produced in one single place so we are able to closely monitor how our products are being produced.  Our raw materials, that is the leaves, are stored, washed, dried inside our factory which makes it more hygienic. In addition the manufactured products are UV treated before they are sent for packaging. So, hygiene is an utmost priority for us which is our strength as well as a factor that differentiate us.

Along with producing and promoting biodegradable products, we also work on empowering the marginalized communities financially.

Can you tell us more about how you are planning to impact the lives of the marginalized communities?

The Areca tree leaves which is our major raw material was considered as waste in the past but now we buy it from the villagers. Similarly, when hiring candidates for our factory, we contact Aama Samuha, Dalit and marginalized communities and ask them to suggest names of deserving candidates looking for jobs. We have already hired 3 people using the same process. This is how we aim to empower marginalized communities.

What  about the target market for Himalayan Lush Industry?

For now we are targeting the international market. This is because sadly Nepalese aren’t that conscious about health, hygiene and negative environmental effects of using plastic products. And the price factor also comes into play. Our products are slightly more expensive than the plastic products available in the market. So, we are not sure about the local market at the present . However, this does not mean that our products will not be available here. A  lot of wholesalers from Kathmandu and around are interested and are demanding our products. In addition restaurants have also shown interest in our products. We recently launched our products at Big Belly Restaurant, Thamel; Good Mixer, Bhaisepati; Hotel Basera, Anamnagar; Sagun Bakery, Chandranigahapur, Rautaha to name a few. 

Do you think the government has the role to pay to promote eco friendly biodegradable products?

Yes of course. If the government removes VAT on biodegradable, eco friendly products  then the customers will be able to purchase them at a low price and they will also be encouraged to use more environmentally friendly products. 

Similarly, while going international, a BPI certificate is needed but the certificate alone costs around $7000 and also needs to be renewed every year which costs around $3000 yearly. Getting a Biodegradable Product Institute (BPI) certificate allows you to use a logo that is internationally recognized. So if the government could support this factor, it would be great help to take the environment friendly product to the international market. Adding on, if the government could provide subsidy and support to take Nepalese products on the international market, It will be a lot easier for entrepreneurs.

How has your journey been so far?

The journey has been a hopeful and exciting one. At times when I think about the timing, the COVID-19 situation, I have goosebumps but again the fact that I am living and working towards my dream of taking Nepali products to the international market gets me all excited.

Also, I am really hopeful with the president elect of Joe Biden as he is an avid advocate of the Paris Climate Agreement. This means it is not only the winning moment for Joe Biden but also the winning moment for OUR EARTH. So, I am looking  forward to the future and the environmentally positive changes that the world will get to see. 

Make sure to check out their wide range of products from Himalayan Lush Industry here!

Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya