MYSURU: Lantana camara, an invasive species that threatens the country’s forests, is now lighting up the lives of tribal families of Kaniyanapura Colony near Bandipur Tiger Reserve (BTR) in Chamarajanagar district.
The women of this tribal settlement are using lantana to manufacture furniture and other decorative items to sell to tourists who visit Bandipur. It’s a win-win situation as it helps in clearing the forests of the toxic invasive species, which in turn keeps a check on forest fires, and also provides a source of income to the tribals.
It has brought about a change in the lives of many tribals, including Asha, a Soliga woman from Kaniyanapura. Asha earlier used to spend the entire day doing domestic chores and looking after her child. But now, she and her 64-year-old father-in-law Kalaiah, whose right leg has been amputated due to an ailment, keep themselves busy making furniture with lantana. “My husband Vishwanath works as a forest guard at Bandipur. As he earns a meager salary, running the household was difficult. But now we are trained to make furniture from lantana and hope to earn decent money to lead a better life,” she says with some hope.
Kalaiah, preparing a bird cage using lantana under a tree, adds to his daughter-in-law’s story. “I used to work as a tractor driver as a daily wager in a nearby farm. But I lost my job after my leg was amputated,” he says.
Like Asha, close to 300 women from the Mangala Gram Panchayat -- which is adjacent to BTR and 25km from Gundlupet town, received training in making handicrafts and furniture with lantana. The Chamarajanagar Zilla Panchayat, under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) and Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan (PMVD) scheme, provided financial aid to train the tribes. The 40-day training from resource persons from NGO Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) from Male Mahadeshwara Hills ended in December 2022 at the PMVD unit set up at Kaniyanapura Colony. Among the trained women, 30 are seriously involved in manufacturing furniture and other items from January 2023.
Another resident Padma says that each day, two tractors-full of lantana from the forests are supplied to the unit in Kaniyanapura Colony. “We boil the lantana sticks in a boiler and later peel the skin and use it to prepare various crafts. It takes a week to prepare a table and two to three days for small items. We have prepared a few items based on the designs they taught us during training,” she says. She is proud that Union Minister of Forests, Environment and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, who was in Bandipur recently to attend a conference and launch ‘Bandipur Yuva Mitra’, sat on a lantana chair manufactured at the unit. They also manufacture baskets, tables, bookstands, key holders, bird nests, trays, fruit baskets etc.
NRLM district manager BD Govindharaja says a tribal woman among the group is appointed as a Vana Saki, who monitors the activities at the unit. “The zilla panchayat gives an honorarium to Vana Saki for the service. The rates for the furniture and crafts are fixed based on the prices mentioned in the lantanasalecraft.com. Once a stall at the safari centre opens, there will be a good market for the products,” he says.
Bandipur Tiger Reserve Director P Ramesh Kumar says they are providing a dedicated stall to market lantana products at the Bandipur Safari Complex near Melukamanahalli which will open in a few days. As the safari complex sees good footfall, it will help market these products, he adds. “We are planning to market and supply lantana crafts to all the resorts based on demand and also through other marketing agencies at Mysuru and Bengaluru,” he adds.
Bandipur ACF MN Naveen says that a similar programme at Maddur Colony of Maddur Range and Melukamanahalli Colony in GS Betta range, which has significant tribal population, will be launched soon.
THE INVASIVE LANTANA
Lantana camara is an invasive species posing serious problems to the wildlife and its habitat. Overall, about 38 per cent or 362 hectares of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve is covered with high density of lantana. Here, lantana dominates the flora and is impenetrable to wild animals. Another 50 per cent or 470 hectares of BTR is covered with moderate density lantana, where few other plants are present. Remaining 12 per cent or 114 hectares is covered by the low-density of lantana.