Rice husk to incense sticks

Preeti Mehra Recently in West Champaran district (Bihar) | Updated on November 12, 2017

Twin gains: Residue from conversion of rice husk intopower can be used to make agarbathis with womenemployment being an offshoot advantage.


When revenue streams need augmenting and empowerment is the goal, R&D takes on a special meaning. It becomes even more interesting when it is a mass product like agarbattis or incense sticks, which command a market size of Rs 1,000 crore annually in the country.

While converting rice husk into power that's what a renewable energy company, Husk Power Systems, discovered – it could use the char waste left behind to make agarbattis. Apart from earning extra revenues for the company, the cottage industry could be a source of earning for women living in the vicinity of the plant.

Traditionally agarbattis in the country are made of a variety of powders mixed together, essentially charcoal, white chip, and sandle wood with jiget as the binding agent. Mixed with water and made into dough, it is then rolled on bamboo sticks. If they need to be perfumed, they are generally dipped in it or sprayed with it.

Making agarbattis is essentially a low technology, labour intensive job, and HPS has decided to do it differently so that costs are kept at minimum and earnings can be enhanced for the women. Though initially HPS was also using the traditional hand-rolled method to turn the waste char into agarbattis, it realised that the margins were not substantial enough to keep the initiative afloat.

Being technology savvy and having studied in technical institutes in India and overseas, the partners studied different ways they could use to make the incense sticks. They then struck upon an innovative method to fix the char and binder to the bamboo stick – a trade secret not to be disclosed.

“We've been trying out the new way to make agarbattis and it seems to be working out. I am earning Rs 60 to Rs 80 per day doing this,” says Rajini who mostly spends the money on her children. She, however, is waiting for the agarbattis to go to the market, so that her income can increase to around Rs 100 a day.

HPS is progressing with the experiment, and has come a long way. Of course, there is still scope for perfection, says COO Ratnesh Yadav, pointing out the potential of agarbatti making to provide employment to thousands of women across the district. While each of the mini power plants provides light to about 400 households and shops, it also saves the community approximately 42,000 litres of kerosene and 18,000 litres of diesel per year.

Now, the production of agarbattis will make use of waste from rice husk, give us an added revenue stream and provide employment to the local women, he says, adding, “It's not about electricity alone, it's about empowerment.” As of August 2010, HPS has sequestered 50,000 tonnes of CO{+2}, and employed and trained more than 300 local people for running and managing its power plants. Through agarbattis it hopes to create a livelihood for the women as well.

“We will help HPS with product packaging, design and taking it to the market,” says Anuradha Bhavnani, Regional Director at Shell Foundation, the organisation that is providing grants for the renewable energy venture. She suggests the product be perfumed with essential oils from local flowers such as the champa (magnolia), the tree that the district is named after.

Published on July 20, 2011

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