Bhubaneswar, Oct 1 (LocalWire): As the country gears up to implement the single use plastic ban from 2 October, tribals living in forest areas of Odisha are upbeat.
They are pinning their hope that prohibition may bring about a turnaround in their lives.
With palm, Sal and Siali leaves likely to emerge as the alternatives to plastic, the demand for products made of these leaves will swell considerably.
The tribals, who eke out a living by collecting leaves and making plates and cups from them, are poised to reap benefits from single use plastic ban.
For an estimated 40 lakh tribal settlers, plucking leaves and stitching them to make plates and cups are their principal vocation.
And the ban is likely to transform the lives of these tribals towards the better, said Chittaranjan Pani, a researcher in non-timber forest product trade.
The state records an annual trade of Rs 1,500 crores in plates and cups made of leaves.
If the single use plastic ban is implemented properly, its market could climb manifold, he said.
Ahead of the single use plastic ban, residents of forest-side villages in Keonjhar district have found a way out to become self-reliant by manufacturing sal leaf plates.
Residents of tribal-inhabited villages, who were earlier depending on forest for their livelihood, have now taken to leaf plate makingwhich are much in demand in urban centres.
A plant has been established at Rs 20 lakhs to make leaf plates by stitching, said forest officials of Keonjhar forest division.
‘The experiment to empower tribals by generating income for them from Sal leaves has been undertaken which is yielding positive results.
Demand for stitched Sal leaf dishes and bowls have gone up substantially and villagers are unable to meet the demand.
The objective of the project was to reduce human interference in the forest and also reduce the use of non-biodegradable plastic plates and bowls.
The plastic ban will provide them more opportunity for income,’ said Divisional Forest Officer, Santosh Joshi.
‘The Sal and Siali leaf plates of Betanati in Mayurbhanj district are much-sought-after in northern and southern parts of the country.
The area rich with lush-green forest cover has a turnover of Rs 400 crores annually in leaf products,’ Pani, the researcher in non-timber forest product trade, said.
‘We earn our livelihood by selling leaf plates and cups in local areas but it does not fetch us a handsome amount.
The plastic ban may come in as a blessing in disguise as we hope demand for leaf plates will go up,’ said Nalini Mahakud, a tribal woman from Deogarh district.
‘The levying of Goods and Service Tax also hit the leaf plate market.
The middlemen exploited us by cutting down the price of our products stating 18% GST slab.
We have learnt that GST has been withdrawn from leaf products but the middlemen continue to rake in profit by slashing down the price of our products,’ she rued.
Forest analysts feel the market for leaf plates is destined to grow and the government should lay focus on research and development for low cost technologies to make best use of leaves that are wasted in forests.
Odisha forests fall under dry and deciduous category.
The leaves fall off trees causing forest fire. The unused leaves could be better used productively and could augment source of income.
The increase in demand of leaf plates is likely to trigger exploitation of forests.
Sustained harvest of forest product would have long term benefits for the tribal communities living on leaf trade.
Efforts should also be made to end exploitative marketing system in which traders are calling the shots, said the analysts.
The tribals often face obstruction from forest personnel for transporting leaves although no restriction is imposed on Non Timber Forest Produce.
They are often harassed by low-level forest staff who demand transit permit for trading in Sal and Salia leves.
The higher-ups need to look into it to curb exploitation of poor tribals, they added.