Epiphanies can occur in the strangest places. For some, it’s the bathtub. For Narayana Peesapaty, it was during the course of an in-flight meal.
In 2005, the 50-year-old researcher who focuses on rural development, water and energy and agriculture, noticed that people around him on a flight were using khakhra, or thin wafers to scoop up rice and curry.
Narayana Peesapaty Image courtesy: Bakeys/ Ketto
Peesapaty who claims to have been looking at creating opportunities in the jowar (“the poor man’s crop”) market, saw this as the perfect opportunity to not only eradicate plastic cutlery (according to him, annually 120 billion pieces are disposed every day), but create nutritious edible cutlery that would minimise carbon footprint, and help farmers.
“Rice is expensive, yet people continue to cultivate it, even though it consumes a lot of power and is very water demanding. I would, during my field visits to the semi-arid areas of Andhra Pradesh, employ the hard and flat jowar roti (sorghum bread) to scoop lentil and vegetables during a meal. After this, and observing the people on the flight, I had a Eureka moment, and I decided to make an edible spoon from different flours,” he told HuffPost India.
In 2006, Peesapaty quit his job and funded his edible cutlery project called Bakeys by selling his house, and availing small loans, and crowd funding through an organisation named Ketto. It took him seven years of research and development to perfect his product. “We had limited money, and took a lot of time to formulate different percentages of mixes for each of these shapes, heating levels, packaging issues… all were challenges as we had none to look up to, and all had to be invented for the first time.”
A mixture of jowar, rice, wheat mixed in hot water is used to make these hard and crunchy spoons that are available in three flavours, sweet, plain and savoury (rock salt, black pepper, cumin seed and carom seed). “Other grains or millet like corn, soy, ragi, barley are also being utilised to render these spoons gluten-free,” said Peesapaty. “The moisture percentage is minimal (2-3%) so they don’t melt for 10 minutes at least.
A 10 gram spoon also comes loaded with its own nutrients: calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, niacin, folic acid, iron and fibre. Eating these spoons with tea or coffee can be a meal on its own.
In addition to soup and dessert spoons, Peesapaty along with his wife, started experimenting with chopsticks, sporks and knives, and came up with chemical-free paper for packaging.
“When we started Bakeys, people didn’t think that this was a feasible idea, we wouldn’t get orders and many people were skeptical about the spoon. They would not trust me, and laughed thinking the spoon would break,” said Peesapaty. “Now the only challenge I face is how do I complete the number of orders on time so that they can enjoy their spoons with their meal.”
Between November 2014, and March this year, they made 6,000 -7,000 spoons manually, and have been working on a system that will manufacture close to 50,000 spoons in just eight hours.
Peesapaty and his wife, who are based out of Hyderabad, only employ women to produce these spoons. “My wife runs the production unit, and her priority is fitting women and people with disabilities into appropriate roles. Some jobs like machine maintenance and repairs, and night shifts are handled by men, “ he said. “There have been times when we have not been able to pay them, but they have continued to stay with us, telling us they feel safe here, particularly the ones under 25.”
The duo plans to tie up directly with farmers to reduce the cost of spoon to Rs1 per product. “Some so-called high-end plastic spoons cost Rs 1-2 each in wholesale market. If we get subsidies from the government for procuring the grains we need, we can lower the prices and reach out to all segments of society,” said Peesapaty, also adding Bakeys plans to tinker with prick sticks, stirrers and small bowls.
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