Leaf plate making is a village-based industry, which depends upon the local availability of siali (Bauhinia spp.) and sal (Shorea robusta) leaves from nearby forest. It is a widespread activity in the villages of Orissa, employing thousands of workers. Many of them are home-workers working in an informal way, to increase the household income.There are also some more organised 'self-help' groups. These are often women-focused or adivasi (tribal)-focused.
Women appear to be the main collectors of leaves. Later, they sit together in the smoothed mud yards in their village and stitch the leaves into rounds with little sticks. They can be stitched further by machine. The stitched rounds are put out in the sun to dry. Each plate is made by pressing 2 rounds of leaves together in a machine. This work is done mainly by men.
The plates we buy are marketed through several fair trade marketing organisations: ORUPA (Orissa Rural + Urban Producers' Association) and SASHA (Sarba Santhi Ayog). Their profiles can be seen in the list on the left.
Leaf plates are used widely in India for festivals and weddings - a modern twist on a millennia-old use.
See some images of plate making below.