How a Kerala green start-up sees a business model in tree-planting drives

Real-time data on forestry is more than counting trees; it also means health checks for saplings, says Kerala start-up Tree Tag.

ByPrutha Chakraborty

Published Dec 26, 2022 | 9:30 AMUpdated Dec 27, 2022 | 9:25 AM

How a Kerala green start-up sees a business model in tree-planting drives

A Kerala start-up is looking at tree-planting initiatives the world over as its growth vehicle. The service it promises: Digitalisation of forests to provide real-time data of trees, real-time monitoring, and real-time forest inventory.

“Tree plantation drives happen almost every month in Trivandrum district,” says Abhijith Kumar Meenakumari, CEO, of Tree Tag, the Thiruvananthapuram-based start-up that is pinning its business plans on afforestation drives.

“Not only in Trivandrum, tree plantation activity is alive throughout the state and has slowly started expanding to the northern parts of our country,” he told South First.

What Tree Tag does is track trees planted during environment protection drives, and also allow users to digitally locate them and get details relating to them.

Moreover, Tree Tag provides a platform for businesses and individuals to sponsor trees without the hassle of having to procure, plant and maintain them themselves.

The start-up also serves as a bridge between the sponsors and those who execute the tree planting campaigns, or basically, NGOs.

For instance, last year, the start-up started tagging trees for Mahindra Logistics with support from a Kerala-based NGO named Thanal, meaning “shade”.

“Now, after almost a year, we have 50-plus clients in India and abroad,” said Meenakumari. The plan now, obviously, is to grow from here.

The beginning: A chance offer

Tree Tag was set up in 2019, but Meenakumari was not the only person involved; by his side was Aashuthosh B Sai, a schoolmate from Kendriya Vidyalaya in Pattom, Kerala.

What also brought the two childhood friends closer is their academic background: Both have engineering degrees.

Meenakumari did his master’s from Government Engineering College in Thiruvananthapuram, while Sai graduated from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Goa.

Kerala Tree Tag - core team members

The core team members of Tree Tag. (Supplied)

For Meenakumari, post-graduation was followed by an internship as project engineer at Thanal, where his initial efforts were focused on waste management; it was a move that would change his life.

“My ideas were usually innovative,” he recalled of his rookie years. “NGO members thought I had a problem-solving attitude.”

And it was precisely because of this impression that Thanal members had of him that they approached him in 2019 for a tree digitalisation project at a village called Meenangadi in Wayanad district.

He agreed, and asked Sai if he was interested in joining him. “He was kicked about the opportunity,” Meenakumari said.

Residents of Meenangadi village are on a mission to become a carbon neutral gram panchayat – one of the first in India – with the help of Thanal, citizens’ groups, the government and awareness campaigns.

As part of this initiative, the villagers were undertaking many tree-plantation drives, and Meenakumari and Sai tagged over 7,000 newly-planted saplings in 2019.

“Soon afterwards, various other organisations approached us to tag trees planted by them as well. This is what motivated us to officially form Tree Tag.”

Tree Tag makes a niche for itself

Trees are tagged for many purposes, such as for identification before cutting them down, protecting them, treating them, and for recording the species and genus names, etc.

Tree Tag does all that and also carries out random checks at plantation sites to take stock of the health of saplings. It is also working on tech-based solutions to improve the quality of vigilance.

Kerala Tree Tag - won the Climathon-2022 award last month

Tree Tag won the Climathon-2022 award in November 2022. (Supplied)

“Most of the tree planting organisations lack data,” Meenakumari said. “Digitalisation helps them count trees and keep a tab on other details.”

For instance, Tree Tag’s dashboard gives information like latitude and longitude of a project, photos of trees, the name and information of the sapling, date of planting, date of updating, name of the sponsor, name of the organisation that planted it, carbon sequestration etc.

Tree Tag began as an initiative of Alphavogue, another company headed by Meenakumari, but was registered as a start-up under Start-up India and Kerala Start-up Mission in 2021, with clients across India and abroad.

As business grew, the need was felt for a bigger team. So in 2021, the start-up got a chief operating officer in Mohamed Wazeer, an engineer, and a chief strategy officer in Anoop Basu, who has an MBA in marketing and HR.

This year, Tree Tag was made the sustainability partner of the Huddle Global – one of the most coveted start-up tech events organised by Kerala Start-up Mission.

“We are expecting more support from the state as well as the central governments to our organisation,” said Meenakumari.

That should not be a problem, as last month, Tree Tag was declared the winner of the “Life on Land” category at Climathon-2022, a hackathon hosted by the Kerala Start-up Mission.

The feat also meant a prize purse of Rs 5 lakh, but given that the meet was organised to promote the idea of finding solutions to the challenges posed by climate change, the win means bona fide bragging rights.

And Meenakumari recognises that. Right now, his team is basking in the glory.

“We were competing against 174 companies, so this is definitely a major feat for us,” he said. “But now we are more focussed on our next mission – to expand nationally by February 2024.”