Siali (Bauhinia vahlii), is a creeper with large leaves that that typically grows around Sal trees, and is commonly found in the forests of Odisha, and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.
On account of its size, texture and durability, siali leaves make for a very good source of raw material for the production of disposable plates and bowls. Tribal women travel deep into the forests to collect these leaves, which are then stitched together with bamboo splits to make disposable plates. These products are a familiar sight as the bowls on which temple prasad or pani puri is served. While they are typically used to serve food at community gatherings such as temple festivals, marriages, and in snack shops, there is immense to scope to propagate its usage in higher value markets and bulk users like multiplex concessions and airlines as well, which typically using disposable plastic ware.
Women travel deep into the forest to collect the leaves. The leaf is then bundled into chakkis, where each chakki consists of 80 to 100 leaves. Most people who collect the leaves also stitch them, since it provides them with an additional source of income. If they were to sell the chakkis, they would get as little as Rs 10 – 16 for a chakki.
Leaves are stitched together with bamboo splits and are graded intro raw-stitched, medium-stitched and fine-stitched based on the number of stitches holding the leaves together. Raw-stitched plates typically have only 2-3 stitches to attach leaf to leaf and use the poorest quality of leaves. These are typically picked up by traders at very low prices for local markets. In comparison, fine-stitched leaves have about 12-14 stitches and are leak proof.
The stitched leaves are stacked and cut as per the required shape before it can pressed and moulded to usable serve ware such as plates and bowls.
Once the leaves have been cut, stacks of them are pressed together around a mould to create a plate or bowl shape. A stiff inner layer is required to create a sturdy finished product.
Collection points are set up at villages to store the stitched leaves. Proper storage method eliminates the chances of the leaves getting infested by fungus or insects.
Value addition at CFC
Common Facility Centres are set up from where the following activities are carried out.
- Quality check of stitched leaves
- Machine stitching of leaves
- Manual cutting of leaves into the desired shape
- Pressing of leaves into plates or bowls using sized dies
- UV Treatment
- Shrink wrapping
- Packaging for Sales
The eco-friendly, biodegradable table-ware is then dispatched to buyers in the local and national markets, to be used at community gathering such as weddings, or at restaurants. What has also been observed is that it is possible to take the product to international markets as well, especially since communities across the globe are looking for sustainable solutions that can substitute single-use plastic.