Women Spearheading Leaf Plate Trade in Jharkhand

Women Spearheading Leaf Plate Trade in Jharkhand

Oxfam India set up 14 leaf plate machines in Godda, Jharkhand. Out of these eight were leg-pressed models which were distributed in 2019-20 while six new hand-pressed models have been distributed this year. Due to COVID-19 and lockdowns, five out of the six units became operational only from October.

One unit of older model and one unit of newer model will be installed with our NGO partner Badlao. They have plans to organise and scale up the trade through a women’s federation. The federation is up and running. However, any woman/women group involved in the trade are free to join the federation and make it stronger.

To kickstart things, Badlao is planning to start production at the centre with the two units—one for making leaf bowl and one for leaf plate. Women from the neighbouring three villages will come to the centre to make the plates and bowls while Badlao will help market these pressed plates. Badlao will also provide an initial revolving fund to the federation to start the business.

Kusmaha village was recently provided with one of the hand-pressed plate making machines and a women’s collective—Gulanjbaha Mahila Mandal—began operating it from 24 October 2020. It was outstanding that the unit here was being operated by other women besides the 15 members of the collective.

Earlier, Kusmaha villagers used to sell one bhinda (20 handmade plates) for Rs 2 to petty traders. After the machine was set up, the collective offered a price of Rs 2.50 per bhinda and they have been more than happy to sell their handmade plates to the local women collective. After pressing and packing, the group can make a net profit of at least Rs 10 from one bhinda. The collective decides how they distribute the profits among its members.

In less than a week, the women’s collective purchased around 5000 plates from villagers and converted them into finished products. Like in other villages, the trader paid the collective here in advance too. None of the 15 women in the collective the group are literate; a young boy at the moment is helping them with the accounts.

The village has the advantage of having superior quality Sal leaves; the finished products are therefore greener than the other units. However, unlike Mohanpur which runs on a solar power unit, Kusmaha is yet to have one. There are two reasons — a) the unit in Mohanpur has been running for sometime and the business has stabilised. b) the roof, where the machine is housed, is big enough to accommodate 12 panels. Kusmaha on the other hand has just started operations, roof of two houses would be required to set up 12 panels and the houses are at least 50 meters apart making it difficult.

However, this we all see as an opportunity for solar installations later preferably in convergence mode with govt departments like Jharkhand Renewable Energy Development Agency (JREDA), Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) or Forest Department. The project holds promise of a bright future because it has been well accepted by the community. Moreover, this intervention will strengthen community governance of an important NTFP— Sal leaves— and build much needed resilience for the economically and socially marginalized sections of the society, especially women.

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