Recently Cycle Agarbathies (NRRS) associated with the government of Assam to set up a dedicated project for bamboo used in agarbatti production. Through this project, NRRS will be extending operational support and technical know-how for manufacturing. Aligned with the governments Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, ramping up bamboo production is a step towards local procurement of raw materials.
In an email interaction with FE Online, Arjun Ranga, MD, Cycle Agarbathies, talks in detail on the project in Assam, impact of lockdown on his company, Atma Nirbhar Bharat dream, future plans to expand the bamboo project to other states and more. Excerpts:
Please share details on your engagement with Assam govt for the bamboo project:
We have associated with the Government of Assam for setting up a dedicated project for bamboo used in agarbatti. Through this association, will be extending operational support and technical know-how to manufacture bamboo sticks for agarbatti. This initiative will strengthen the supply chain and enhance the value chain for the production of the bamboo sticks in the North East region in line with the Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative. All the stakeholders in the bamboo industry in the North East including the farmers who harvest the bamboo and the Entrepreneurs will benefit from this initiative.
We are waiting for the COVID-19 to come down in the region before we activate our plan full-fledgedly. We have all permissions in place with the Govt of Assam and things are moving in the right direction. We have already started sourcing some volumes from the established vendors.
How many employment opportunities will be created by your project in Assam?
The organization along with the government is working with 26 entrepreneurs and will impact 550 beneficiaries. It’s going to be in a phase-wise manner. At an initial stage, there will be 3000 new job opportunities created in Assam through this association and as the production scales we will create more opportunities.
What will be the average income bamboo growers and workers linked to your project in Assam can make?
We have committed to buy the finished bamboo used for agarbatti. The current price for finished bamboo is between Rs 100 – 120 per KG. And our requirement is 50 tons to start with. We have committed 50 tons per month as per our requirement from the clusters developed by the Government of Assam.
Do you think agarbatti production can provide sustainable employment to workers?
We are sure that our efforts in the region will help in providing sustainable employment to workers. This is a cluster development approach that will address all issues of the supply chain of Bamboo, starting from Plantation, transportation, processing, value additions, and ultimately the sale of bamboo sticks. N Ranga Rao & Sons will work closely with the State Bamboo Development Agency (SBDA) to establish a working model that will be designed specifically with the cluster development approach. These clusters will encourage collective use of resources resulting in inclusive development and increased employment in the region.
Are you in talks with other state governments for starting projects like in Assam?
We are in talks with the states of Karnataka and Kerala in South India. We are already working with the Govt of Maharashtra. In the Northeast region, we are in talks with the government from Tripura, Mizoram apart from Assam.
Do you see hurdles in the way of the Atmanirbhar Bharat dream, especially in bamboo and agarbatti production? What are they?
There is no major hurdle that we see in the journey of Atmanirbhar Bharat, it is just the availability of quality raw materials that needs to be streamlined. If quality raw materials are available then local and small manufacturers can produce required raw agarbatti. This will help the agarbatti industry grow and become more Atmanirbhar. It also is a concern for the supply chain and ingredients available.
Has Chinese agarbatti dominated the Indian market? Is it going to change? How’s your company going to contribute in this direction?
Chinese agarbatti has never dominated the Indian market. There is no supply of Chinese agarbatti in Indian market and are all produced in India. Till August 2019 there was some raw material for raw agarbatti imported from Vietnam and China. Since the government has put a restriction on the import, all the agarbathies are produced locally.
We are the largest manufacturer and highest employer and we will continue to do the same going forward. Our association with Assam for developing bamboo for agarbatti is one of our efforts in this direction.
Does your company source all materials for agarbatti production from the domestic market, or outside? Please share details
Our entire agarbatti manufacturing is domestic, however, we do not have some raw materials locally available and to keep our twenty thousand employees working we source those raw materials from other countries like France for Lavender Oil, Indonesia for Clove oil. While each and every agarbatii is made in India, we source some key raw materials that are not available in India from other countries.
What has been the impact of lockdown on the agarbatti industry, your company?
The lockdown period was very difficult for the company. We did not have any sales during the months of March-May, but our employees did really well. We planned before time and started work from home before the lockdown started. The organisation had a business continuity plan in place, we could transition well till Unlock 1.0 came in. Post Unlock 1.0 we focussed on the supply chain, getting our production back in order by following all the safety and hygiene protocols. With our continuous effort over the last few months we are slowly coming back to previous levels of our business.
Apart from incense sticks, what will it take for India to become “atmanirbhar” in items like candles, other fragrance-based products?
India has a rich pool of resources available when it comes to fragrance. In fact, our homegrown fragrance line Ripple Fragrances is working extensively to provide Indian consumers with a wide range of exotic fragrances. We have been working towards this direction since 2005 and have been successful in creating a mark in luxury home fragrance space through our brand IRIS Home Fragrances.
According to me, Atmanirbhar Bharat does not mean that we make everything locally. I believe that Atmanirbhar Bharat means to become world-class as a manufacturing hub. For us to become world-class we have to get the best manufacturing practices, putting more investment into R&D and innovations, try to bring in technology from global places into the country, and then we will be able to compete globally with other countries as well. Businesses also need to tie up with universities a lot more and have a very solid process of creating entrepreneurs and incubation centres to get youngsters to come into innovations and other such industries.
There are certain raw materials not available in the country but the country has the manufacturing capabilities to produce world-class products and we should focus on getting the raw materials into the country and produce world-class products for exports and also for the Indian consumers. Atmanirbhar Bharat does not mean we produce an inferior product, we need to focus on producing world-class products that can take the Indian market anywhere
Recently, KVIC launched Khadi Agarbatti Aatmanirbhar Mission. What’s your view on this initiative?
We appreciate KVIC for this initiative and it has a lot of potential. Being the largest manufacturer of agarbatti we support the local production of raw agarbatti. Availability of raw material plays a key role in our sector and will definitely help us in our production.