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Lantana: A friendly weed
With the rapid depletion of bamboo, Lantana has saved the day for Soliga tribes of Karnataka. An NGO has developed the technology to manufacture durable and fashionable furniture from it which has helped preserve the biodiversity of the region.
ACCORDING TO IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), Lantana Camara is one among the 10 most harmful weeds in the world. It spreads rapidly and occupies major forestland. It inhibits natural pollination, leaving the native trees unpollinated. It also fuels forest fires.
 
Since its entry in 1807 it has spread all over the Indian subcontinent, and is currently a threat to the biodiversity of forests because it encroaches upon the native vegetation. Despite having cut, burnt and uprooted the plant, nearly 80 per cent of the MM Hills of southern Karnataka are still plagued by the Lantana plant. Despite all odds, ways to harness these seemingly untamable weeds for positive purposes have been found.
ATREE, an NGO in Bangalore, had trained the Soliga tribes of the MM Hills to use Lantana for making a variety of products from baskets to cots. It markets these products to the urban classes, ensuring each (tribal) working family a minimum monthly income of Rs. 950.
 
Earlier, the Soligas largely depended on bamboo, weaving baskets from this for their livelihood. This led to rapid depletion of bamboo, which adversely affected the livelihood of these people. The high cost of bamboo, about Rs. 40,000 for one truckload, has only added to their woes. Lantana is found in abundance and there is no anticipated shortfall in supply. This has made Lantana a viable substitute for bamboo.
 
Lantana has changed the lives of the tribal people. The increased income has paved the way to a better infrastructure, nutrition, work stability, and education. Santhal, a Soliga, said, “Now we are assured of fixed income every month, Lantana weaving gives mental satisfaction to work and live in peace.” Currently this project has been executed in three states of India - Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
 
In short, promoting the Lantana weed among the tribal people would not only aid in supplementing their livelihood but also serve to reduce the pressure on the existing bamboo stocks and allow it to replenish itself.
 
Trainers for the Soligas have shown that Lantana products are not just a good substitute for bamboo ones, but they are also durable, pest resistant, beautiful and sturdy. The stems are cut and debarked manually. They are then treated with boiling water so that they can be easily moulded. This unique technology enables a greater variety of finished goods. The Lantana made products are trying to create a niche market. Efforts are being made to improve the market network. It is hoped that with increasing returns, Soliga migration to stone quarries in Tamil Nadu will be reduced.
 
Promoting Lantana as a bamboo substitute has had multiple benefits. In addition to providing a livelihood to the tribal people, it has also helped in conserving the biodiversity of the region. Continuous sourcing of Lantana has allowed the regeneration of native flora. The extraction of the weed has also helped in reducing the spread of forest fire.
 
This project has shown initial success and has the potential to address the worldwide problem of Lantana invasion. At the same time, it addresses the issues of livelihood gains from conservation and of tribal migration to urban areas. If such initiatives were replicated worldwide, it would solve this problem to a considerable extent. Replication of this model project could save our biodiversity and also allow the tribal community to regain their identity.
 
 
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