Dabbawalas are the people who work in the lunchbox delivery and return system that delivers hot lunches from homes and restaurants to people at work in India, especially in Mumbai. The Mumbai delivery system was the primary source of income for 5,000 men who are mostly semi-literate and earned around 15,000 Indian rupees a month ($200) by lugging more than 200,000 lunch boxes across the city every day.
But with India imposing a nationwide lockdown in March, the state government of Maharashtra was forced to shut down all public transport and essential services. That is why, at this time, some 450 dabbawalas are entering new territory: The farm-to-table delivery of fresh vegetables.
“Our association is going to try a new business model to help the dabbawalas in this time of crisis,” said Vishnu Kaldoke, spokesperson for Mumbai’s Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (MTBSA). “We have entered the business of supplying fresh vegetables to the households and our customers whose lunch box we were supplying for years,” he added.
As part of the project, the MTBSA recently signed an agreement with 19 farmers’ associations to source vegetables and supply them directly to customers, without using intermediaries. And while it will be a new experience to deliver raw instead of cooked food, their “modus operandi will remain the same.”