Forest dependent communities put a weed to good use

Murugesh, lantana master craftsman from Hanne Hola says, “Lantana has changed my lifestyle. Earlier, I would plough the land. Now lantana craft is my mainstay. I can afford luxuries which I could not earlier. I make over Rs 6000 profit every month.”

Inaugurating the 2011 annual Male Mahadeshwara Lantana Mela on 30th April Dr. Venkatesh Tagat, Chief General Manager of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) reassured NABARD’s support to lantana produce. “Lantana usage has showed the way of livelihood to many forest dwelling families,” he said. “And we, along with ATREE and Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India limited(TRIFED), will continue to support and encourage the production of lantana products further,” he added.

What is lantana? Lantana is an aggressive weed that challenges the Forest Department with its aggressive spread. It has found use as an alternative, zero-investment raw material for bamboo and cane, which till recently, were restricted Minor Forest Produce. ATREE shared technology to substitute bamboo and cane with lantana stem. Local forest dwelling communities from Palani Hills, Malayalis from Javadi Hills and Kurubas from Mudumalai, Tamil Nadu and H D Kote, Soligas from Moyar Reserve Forest and BR Hills, Karnataka use this technology to make baskets, furniture and other utilities that they can sell.

ATREE, along with University of Agricultural Sciences,Bangalore, Lantana Craft Centre and Divya Jyoti Federation, MM Hills organises lantana crafts mela every year at MM Hills, where it first established Lantana Craft Centres. Rasathi from Manathevu village, Kodaikanal, said, “We are employed to pluck coffee beans. But it is a seasonal job. Whereas lantana products can be created throughout the year and it is an additional income for me. I feel happy to make lantana products as I work on my own choice and feel proud once the product is completed and sold. In coffee plantation I earn Rs 70 for a day, while we make Rs 800 for a lantana shelf, which takes just two days to construct.”

ATREE’s Lantana Craft Centres have trained over 350 craftspeople in lantana craft. The craftsmen derive 80% of their cash income from lantana craft. Average income of an artisan ranges from Rs 2500-6000 and 80% of these folks are women. At this mela, Nagendra Rao, Assistant Conservator of Forest, Chamrajanagara, distributed certificates to lantana craftsmen for completion of lantana training.

Later during the day Mr Tagat and the guests inaugurated the lantana toys making centre at Hanne Hola, MM Hills. The craftsmen also demonstrated to the visitors how the machine works and a toy was made in a matter of few minutes. The mela also saw the presence of Harish Java, General Manager of NABARD.

The event witnessed the participation of Srinivasan Service Trust- Javadi Hills, The Act India Foundation from Palani Hills and Soliga artisans from MM Hills, Nakundi and BR Hills. Many local people also attended the event. Products were displayed by JungleScapes and Philips India Limited, TRIBES India, Lantana Craft Centre, DBT- Government of India supported Temple Prasad Programme- BR Hills, Arulagam- palmera products - Coimbatore and awareness posters from Primary Health Centre – MM Hills.

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