Invasive Weed to Wealth: Siruvani Story

Siruvani hills, a part of the Western Ghats encompasses pristine, semi-evergreen, moist, and dry deciduous forests that represents rich diversity of flora and fauna. It is located 25km to the west of Coimbatore, away from the hustle-bustle of the city. The famous Kovai Kutralam waterfall is situated inside these forests. In the foothills of Siruvani, six hamlets of the Irula tribe is located, with a population of around 550. Tribal community in these areas are dependent on non-wood forest products, and is unable to cultivate their agricultural lands of approximately 45 hectares due to water scarcity and frequent raids by wild elephants and other animals.

The socio-economic conditions of the communities residing in these villages are poor. These communities relatively lag in areas like maternal and child mortality, size of agricultural holdings or the access to other facilities when compared to the general population in the urban areas of Coimbatore.

ENVIS Center Amrita

It is observed that the forests around these hamlets are severely infested by Lantana Camara, an exotic weed of South American origin. This exotic species is invading different forest areas and posing a serious threat to the native vegetation of Western Ghats including the Siruvani area under the Coimbatore Forest Division (CFD). There is an imperative urge to control this invasion which is affecting the biodiversity of several forest areas. The Forest department is considering different options with community participation for managing this notorious invasive weed. Consequently, we commenced an initiative involving the tribal community of Siruvani area, to control the Lantana infestation by manual removal and uprooting from the nearby forest areas. The removed Lantana wood is then utilized to develop sustainable livelihood options for the community. For instance, the tribal community is being trained in making value added products such as low cost furniture, handicrafts, toys, and other utility articles using Lantana wood. So far sustainable livelihood options have been generated for 100 families in four remotely located tribal hamlets in the Siruvani forest in this manner.

More than 100 tribal women and men are empowered by developing their capacity in Lantana wood furniture making.  Also 30 tribal farmers are trained and are converted into Organic farmers and are following 100 % organic farming methods, practicing in 45 acres in Siruvani.

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

Assistance is provided to communities in the marketing of the products in potential areas in Coimbatore and other major cities in the country. Market linkages are now being established in these areas for sustainable marketing of these products with the support of national organizations like Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited (TRIFED), Tamil Nadu handicraft development corporation center. Online selling via e-commerce websites like Amazon is also being done. This program was supported by Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEED), and the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. As a promotion, exhibitions were organized in several locations at Coimbatore and Ooty.

Following the completion of the third phase of this project, it is expected that this tribal development Centre would become self-sustainable. The empowered tribals can continue production and marketing of various commodities using this transferred technology and in the process establish small scale enterprises. The Forest Department and Amrita University will continue supporting these tribals even after the completion of the project period.

After implementing this project successfully, we decided to develop a more structured certifiable course on Lantana craft and furniture making. We developed a module on the same and are conducting this course under the Green Skill Development Program funded by ENVIS-MOEFCC in various locations.

An Interview with the Tribals of Siruvani Regarding Lantana Goods

A conversational interview regarding the Green Skill Development Program (GSDP) was done with the tribals of the Siruvani area, where they shared their experience and feedback on the training program for building furniture and other crafts like small toys from Lantana wood.

 In the interview four woman trainees participated (Kaliyammal, Chinnathaai, Savithri and Lakshmi) and shared their experience. They started with the basic demographic details of the 58 families residing in the area. There are 30 males, 38 females and 50 children in the settlement. Further they shared their occupation details.

They were former daily wages labourers in the agricultural field earning 250 rupees per day. After the GSDP training that was first held in 2015 by Dr. Maya Mahajan of Amrita University, they have discovered a better source of income and livelihood. The first training program happened for 45 days with a total of 28 tribal people (24 females and 4 males) attending it. The GSDP training enabled them to build different furniture including sofa sets, bookshelves, chairs, vegetable racks, reading tables, waste bins, and swings.

This furniture was then showcased in various exhibitions where it received immense appreciation from the public and great sales. The consequent GSDP training was also conducted by Dr. Maya Mahajan, where 13 new trainees attended including 7 males and 4 females. The span of the training increased to 60 days with three trainers who trained the trainees to build  new models of chairs, cots, and sofa sets. The furniture sold out within the first three months and the demand for the products rose among the public. Subsequently, the third training program for an advance level skill development was held for 10 tribal people, where mechanisms of small toys and furniture production were imparted to the attendees. The aim of this training program was to create sustainable livelihood support for the tribal communities through the manufacturing of furniture and small toys that are easily saleable.

Following the training programs, the tribal people have realized that furniture and small toy making using lantana sticks is the best livelihood support and profitable business when compared to their earlier daily wages job.

They explain the process that takes up to four months for making one set of sofa. The initial step is to collect the sticks from the forest, followed by the boiling of the sticks to increase the flexibility. The third stage is the peeling of the barks and sizing the sticks. These are then allowed to dry for two days before they are ready for building furniture. Finally, the designed furniture is bound at the corners using cane wires and completely varnished

Today people hesitate to go inside the forests for collection of lantana sticks due to the frequent presence of wild elephants in and around the settlements. In earlier times, the Lantana sticks were abundantly available near the tribal settlements, but later the Forest Department  uprooted all lantana and planted teak and other native trees. Thus, they need to walk long distances from their settlements and are often forced to face elephant conflicts, during the collecting stage of the lantana sticks. The number of participants is declining lately due to different reasons. Some join temporary jobs in the forest department, while many are engaged in livestock management. Few of the women candidates have opted to engage in tailoring job.

The tribal people are now finding the collection of lantana sticks as a tedious job and hope for some form of support from the forest department in the same. They are ready to happily continue the furniture production and make it their permanent profession and are eagerly waiting for a response from the forest department. Further they also find it necessary to have external support to market the produced furniture.   

ENVIS Center Amrita

Green Skill Development Programme on Lantana Furniture and Crafts in Maharashtra

Introduction

Introducing an exotic species into a relatively foreign environment often causes problematic conditions in the said environment and the species is then defined as an Invasive Alien Species. The alien species can be an animal or a plant from a distant area anywhere in the world and does not belong to the new environment. The major pathways of introduction are by ship ballast water, accidental release, and most often by people. Invasive species can lead to the extinction of the native plants and animals, destroy the biodiversity, and permanently alter that habitat (NOAA, 2017). These species are one of the greatest threats to global biodiversity, agriculture, livelihoods, human and animal health, and forestry (Pimentel, 2011). They are capable of disturbing not merely the environment or ecology, but also the local economy (Simberloff, 2003). Hence, identifying the probable future distribution of this  species is paramount and can be accomplished through early detection, prioritization of regions for conservation and effective management of invasive species (Bellard, 2013).

Lantana is a genus under the family Verbenaceae. These are shrubs that can grow within a range of 0.5–2 m height. Lantana is mostly native to subtropical and tropical American regions, but a few taxa are indigenous to tropical Asia and Africa. In India, seven or eight such species like L. camara, L. indica, L. veronicifoila and L. trifolia are reported (Rajendran& Daniel, 2002). Lantana was initially brought to India in 1807 as an ornamental plant at the National Botanical Garden (Kohli et al., 2006), and also as for ornamental hedging, to Calcutta in the early nineteenth century (Hakimuddin, 1929). Subsequently, this plant proliferated across all open areas like roadsides, railway tracks, edges of crop fields,  and open forests across the country. Today, it has become completely naturalized and found throughout India.

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) observes Lantana camara as one of the world’s 100 most invasive species, and one among the 10 worst weeds in the world. Exotic plant species invasion poses a serious threat to native plant communities and ecosystems, such as population dynamics and community structure (Pimentel et al., 2001), and alters the native vegetation threatening the biodiversity (Mack et al., 2000). Habitat disturbance due to anthropogenic or environmental reasons (Heywood, 1989) modifies the microclimate, resulting in colonization of the invading species such as Lantana, particularly in the dry deciduous environment (Heirro & Callaway, 2003).

Objectives

The objective of the Green Skill Development Programme is to provide training to tribal communities for creating low cost value added Lantana furniture and crafts using the invasive problematic Lantana plant.  This program simultaneously creates sustainable livelihood options for the tribal community, and lead to forest and biodiversity conservation.

About Participants

Twenty tribal people have been attending the (GSDP) training for furniture making from Lantana weed (natively called 'Ghaneri'). Among the attendees, three are men and the rest are women, whose details are attached with annex 1.

The Training Program

The program was inaugurated on 11th of February, 2020 by Mr.Shivaji Mahale (Panchayat Member, Duldhanwadi Village) in the presence of Mr. Babasaheb Nivrutinath Pawar (Principal, NLC), Mr. Aniket Mahulikar (General Manager, Girivanvasi Educational Trust), Mr. Valvi (Community Outreach Coordinator, NLC), Mr.Shailesh (Assistant Agricultural Instructor, NLC), and Mr. Binish M. B. (Information officer, Amrita University). Mr. Aniket explained the invasive lantana plant and its impacts followed by a video showing the success story of Lantana furniture and craft making by tribal communities in Siruvani hills, Coimbatore. Following the event, the trainees along with their trainer visited the field, where lantana is present.

ENVIS Center Amrita

GSDP Dahanu I, Inauguration

ENVIS Center Amrita

Trainees with Member of Panchayath

ENVIS Center Amrita

Introduction of the Trainer and Participants

ENVIS Center Amrita

Introduction of the Trainer and Participants

The trainees collect the lantana sticks every morning from the nearby village areas for making the products. In the first few days, they were trained on how to collect the sticks and their preparation for craft making on step by step basis. Later, the trainer taught them to create certain small handicrafts like hair combs, baskets (different sizes and shapes), pen stands and so on.

In addition, training was given on how to make the products trendy and stylish by applying varnish.

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

Collection of Lantana Plant

ENVIS Center Amrita

Hair Combs Made by Trainees

ENVIS Center Amrita

Pen Stands Made by Trainees

Dr. Maya Mahajan, Coordinator, ENVIS RP, Amrita University who is monitoring the training program visited the centre and gave a brief introduction about the program. She further explained the impacts of the invasive alien weed, lantana, and how this could be turned into a livelihood option. She recommended to the trainer certain fresh designs and ideas for craft making. Dr. Maya also interacted with the GSDP participants and staffs of Nareshwadi Learning Centre and collected the feedback on the training program.

Conclusion

The training program was completed successfully with the active participation of all the participants. The Nareshwadi Learning Centre team supervised the program while the ENVIS Amrita team regularly monitored the process. The final five days of the GSDP was scheduled for the marketing of the products and each participant was awarded a certificate from the concerned Ministry on completion of the training program.

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

Different Steps of the GSDP Training

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

Different Steps of the GSDP Training

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

GSDP Participants with ENVIS Coordinator Dr. Maya Mahajan

Green Skill Development Programme on Lantana Furniture and Crafts in Wayanad, Kerala

Introduction

Lantana Camara of Central and South American origin, has today invaded several parts of the world. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers Lantana camara as one of the world’s 100 most invasive species, and one among the 10 worst weeds in the world.  This weed was introduced into India for horticultural purposes. Since then, this highly invasive weed has taken over the landscapes of India, growing in thickets and encroaching wastelands, forests, wetlands, and agricultural fields. Lantana camara is a threat to the biodiversity of any region due to its rapid growth rate covering the open grounds hastily hindering the regeneration process of the native species. Lantana often outcompetes other important species, leading to a reduction in biodiversity. The thorny nature of this weed prevents animals from feeding on its leaves. Furthermore, Lantana becomes a catalyst during forest fires as the fire spreads more through its rampant shrubs. Considering the encroachment of a large portion of the Indian forests by Lantana, the Indian Government has established several initiatives to curb this infestation. The forest department deploys significant resources into the cutting and uprooting process of this plant to regulate its rapid growth. Several measures are being taken in order to address the Lantana problem. Mechanical control by uprooting plants and using it to make Furniture is proven to be one of the most successful initiatives. Green Skill Development Programme (GSDP) is a similar initiative towards addressing this problem.

Objectives

The objective of the Green Skill Development Programme is to provide training to tribal communities for creating low cost value added Lantana furniture and crafts using the invasive problematic Lantana plant.  This program simultaneously creates a sustainable livelihood options for the tribal community, and lead to forest and biodiversity conservation.

About GSDP

Utilizing the vast network and expertise of Environmental Information System (ENVIS) Hubs / RPs, an initiative called Green Skill Development Programme (GSDP) was established for skill development in the environment and forest sector, to enable India's youth to make gainful employment and/or self-employment.

The program endeavors to develop green skilled workers who possess technical knowledge and commitment to sustainable development, which will help in the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In Wayanad, the Green Skill Development Programme was started on 24th of February, 2020, inaugurated by Mr. Sunil Kumar (Forest Range Officer, Muthanga) in the presence of

Mr. Sundar (Deputy Forest Range Officer, Muthanga), Mr. Subash (Trustee, Shola Trust), and Dr. Magesh G (GIS/IT officer, ENVIS, Amrita University). A subsequent presentation and video on the success stories of tribal communities of Siruvani on Lantana furniture and craft making.

Twenty tribal people attended the training program (GSDP) for making furniture and craft from Lantana Camara, known locally as ‘Kongini’ or ‘Arippoochedi'. The majority of the attendees are women and youth from the neighboring villages where different tribal groups such as Kattu Naikkar, Paniya and Kavara reside.

Detailed training sessions on craft making from the basic collection of Lantana sticks from the forest, preparation of sticks such as boiling, peeling, and so on are provided. Following the preparation of sticks, the villagers are given the training to make elegant craft items and furniture such as Vegetable stands, flower baskets (different size and shape) hanging stands, chairs, stool, and so on. The completion of the training program is followed by exam and evaluation and each participant would be awarded a certificate from the Ministry.

The livelihood and income generated through lantana are sustainable as there is an abundant population of this invasive weed in the Wayanad area. GSDP training can supplement their family income and improve their overall livelihood.  As a part of the training, they are taught not to merely cut the plant, but rather uproot the plant including their deep tap root system, to ensure the prevention of their regrowth. Furniture and craft making from Lantana were evidently one of the most successful initiatives. Apart from its aesthetic appeal, the tag of being an eco-friendly alternative to wooden furniture has made lantana wood products a sought after variant in offices and resorts. Thus, through the conversion of  Lantana into an economic value added product, the GSDP was able to not only convert the weed into wealth but also bring about a balance in the local ecosystem. This aided in improving the livelihoods of people at the grass-root level.

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

ENVIS Center Amrita

Different Stages of GSDP on Lantana Furniture and Craft