Entrepreneurship began early for Mizoram’s Lalthamuani. All of 22 years, the young leader-in-making relied on her penchant for tea, innate leadership, and compelling desire to create job opportunities in the region, to set up Eco Far—a tea manufacturing and producing home-grown business that has won national accolades on multiple occasions. The business enthusiast tells us more. By Bayar Jain
T+L India: Tell us about Eco Far and how it come into being
Lalthamuani: I started Eco Far in 2018 while studying for my BBA course. Then, the firm would be involved in producing and manufacturing a variety of products. With it, I became one of the finalists at the Start Up India Mizoram Yatra, as well as Mizoram Kailawn 2019–a business plan contest initiated by the government of Mizoram through its New Economic Development Policy to promote entrepreneurship in the state. I even won the Pandemic Innovative Challenge organised by the Planning and Program Implementation Department of the Government of Mizoram in 2020.
Now, however, Eco Far has extended its business by manufacturing and processing Jungle Tea, [a variety] based in my native village at the Myanmar border. I have also formed a society named Leisenzo Tea Society here—of which I am a chairman—so that the village-people can be sustainably employed by supplying jungle tea leaves to the Eco Far tea factory.
Eco Far is now empanelled by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, where I also supply jungle tea products. The Ministry is in the process of sponsoring Leisenzo Tea Society for training the society members.
T+L India: What are some challenges you faced as a small home-grown brand?
Lalthamuani: [The] poverty and hardships [faced] during my days in the village was a challenge. But it was also a motivation for me to pursue business. I had the option of being a regular village girl who would study up to elementary school in the village or to find a source to support myself to pursue higher education in the city. My small home enterprise, wherein I would sell a variety of household needs, helped me support myself during elementary school.
My interest in business was ignited from this venture. Understanding the importance of formal business education to pursue my dreams further, I enrolled myself for a BBA course, fully knowing that I would have to support myself for the expenses.
I started my own online shopping business and also did some network marketing, where I gained good experience in product management and customer relationship. My previous experiences of running a small enterprise during school days, the online shopping business and networking marketing during my college days, and a partnership venture in TribeLand immensely helped me in starting up and running Eco Far and the Leisenzo Tea Society.
T+L India: Why tea, as opposed to any other consumable?
Lalthamuani: I choose tea because I come from a long line of tea farmers. My ancestors were tea farmers, and our tea estate has been passed down from generations to generations. So, to me, tea is very special and unique; no one processes it like our tea! No other competitors and opportunities allow me to connect with my ancestors [compared to this].
T+L India: What does a typical day in the tea estate look like ?
Lalthamuani: Life in a tea estate is simple yet healthy, and people are friendly, hardworking and honest.
The day in a tea estate or farm starts early as the tea pluckers go about their task before the morning sun becomes too hot for their activity. After plucking, the tender green leaves are dried under the sun. At farms capable of factory production, the leaves are processed. This activity is manual. All the processing activities are performed by the natives of our village, Leisenzo, and they take pride in it.
Since our village lies in the easternmost part of India, the day’s routine and household chores have to be completed by early evening. Dinner time is usually about 5-6 pm, after which the villagers are ready to retire for the day and start afresh early next morning.
T+L India: What are the challenges of working in a region like Mizoram? How do overcome it?
Lalthamuani: There are many challenges in our region. First is the infrastructure. Mizoram is remote state. The [lack of] road connectivity in Mizoram is a challenge as it hampers with logistics and supply of material. Our roads are neglected and moving about is difficult. Running a business is hard because of roads, unstable electricity and water supply. Additionally, the remoteness from any major city in India is big setback for [gathering] supplies.
I have associated with Her&Now which has helped me gain self-confidence and learn the advantages of running a business by working for the community. My business has since benefited in every aspect.
Her&Now is an initiative that empowers women entrepreneurs, implemented by GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH), on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development(BMZ), and in partnership with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), Government of India.
I gained confidence to start my venture independently which resulted in Eco Far starting a new independent venture of tea processing. The formation of Leisenzo Tea Society, which is a blessing for the village community as well as a source of raw material for factory, is also inspired from my association with Her&Now.
T+L India: What is Leisenzo Tea Society?
Lalthamuani: I ventured into tea manufacturing and processing from my experience [gained] from TribeLand. This further resulted into the foundation of Leisenzo Tea Society, named after my native village.
T+L India: Do you plan on expanding your operations outside of Mizoram?
Lalthamuani: Yes. Our main target is marketing nationally and globally by supplying our products with the support of Her&Now.
T+L India: Three must visit places in and around Leisenzo, and why?
Lalthamuani: Mizoram is blessed with natural beauty. There are several tourist attractions and historical places near Leisenzo, which falls in Champhai district, like Vangchhia, Khawbung, and Vaphai. The locals of Mizoram are friendly and welcome visitors from other states.
T+L India: What next for Eco Far?
Lalthamuani: Train more people to master the traditional methods and skills of processing the jungle tea leaves, so that demands can be met; increase product variety by adding white tea and green tea, too; and marketing of produce.