Going about their eco-friendly business

As many as 300 homes out of the total 600 in Devarhubballi are engaged in this low-capital business.

For the women of Devarahubballi village near Dharwad, the spring season, when the ‘flame of the forest’ tree (muttuga in Kannada) turns green, is the busiest one. The blossoming of the new leaves on this plant makes these women so engaged that they don’t have time to complete their household work. What makes them so busy you ask? It is the entrepreneurial activity they are involved in. They make patravalis, the environment-friendly plates made of the muttuga leaves which are used for serving food.      

As many as 300 homes out of the total 600 in Devarhubballi are engaged in this low-capital business. “Dried muttuga leaves are like cash for us. We make muttuga patravalis during our spare time. The traders from Hubballi come here twice a week and buy the plates from us,” say the women.

The women gather the leaves during summer from the hills and forests of Kalghatagi, Tadas, Tavargeri, Mundgod, Neersagar and other places. Whenever they travel to other villages to attend a fair, weddings or any other function, their eyes are set on the muttuga trees around the place. When they find these trees, they cut out clusters of leaves and neatly wrap them in a piece of cloth.

They women sometimes fall down and hurt themselves while collecting the leaves. Many a time, they suffer snake and scorpion bites. However, this does not deter them, they are now experts in climbing the trees and collecting leaves. 

“Carrying a lunch box and bottle and wearing men’s shirts over torn sarees, we set out to gather muttuga leaves from seven in the morning, and we return only at seven in the evening. This goes on for two months and in this period, we stock enough leaves,” explain the women who along with other labour work make these green plates.

The gathered leaves are tied using a jute thread and dried for five days. Paddy straw is separated from the husk and is spread on the floor and the leaves are placed on it covered in a cloth, to avoid exposure to air. Meanwhile, dried jowar stalks are slit and broken down into tiny sticks to join the leaves to make a patravali. Six to eight leaves are required to make one patravali .

A big leaf is placed at the centre, around which other leaves are attached using jowar sticks. A bundle of hundred patravalis costs Rs 100. There is a great demand for these patravalis during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and weddings.

Renuka’s maternal family owned farms, but women in the household still made patravalis during their spare time to make their own money. “I was attracted to this and learnt the art of making patravalis from the women in my home at the age of 10. Post-marriage, in a landless family, my skill became a source of income,” she says. She recalls that during her childhood they sold a bundle of hundred patravalis for one rupee but now the same number of plates is sold for Rs 100. “Making patravalis is not easy and Rs 100 is too less an amount for the hard work. But we do not possess any other skill and the only cost involved in getting the raw materials is in moving to places to fetch the leaves. Properly dried leaves can be preserved for a year. And, I can make patravalis during my spare time and that is why I will not give up this job.” This skill has also helped her raise and educate her four children. 

Bheemavva, an older woman says that the government gives ration, but selling patravalis gives money for other expenses. “I can’t make patravalis continuously like the younger women, nor do I have the energy to work as farm labourer. So, making them at my own pace helps me in sustaining my life,” says Bheemavva.

“Each family in our village annually earns around Rs 10,000 to Rs 40,000 by making patravalis,’’ says Yellamma. Akkavva Basavva says she can earn only
Rs 150 if she works as a labourer. But staying at home, she can make two bundles of these plates and earn more than that. She adds that she deposits that money with a self-help group to pay loan instalments. The traders who purchase the stock also give advance money to those women who face a financial crunch. The eco-friendly patravalis feed many families, while the used patravalis, when discarded, increase the fertility of the soil. 
 

(Translated by Divyashri Mudakavi)

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Going about their eco-friendly business

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