Forest-dependent indigenous tribes across India are poverty-stricken, marginalized communities struggling to make a living. These communities, who have been primarily hunter-gatherers, depend on Non-timber Forest Products (NTFPs) for their day to day earnings. Ill-conceived nationalization of forests across India worsened their plight by limiting their access to forests which was their only source of livelihoods.
The Chamarajanagara district’s Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve (BRT) and Malai Mahadeshwara wildlife sanctuary (MM Hills) are inhabited primarily by the indigenous Soliga community. ATREE found that the impact of nationalization of forests is exacerbated by the spread of invasive weeds. Lantana camara was the main culprit in reducing NTFPs – one of the main resources of livelihoods for these communities. Lantana is currently occupying more than 47% of the forest’s understory and hampering the growth and multiplication of native forest biodiversity, and animal life. Several organizations including forest department attempted one-time removal of Lantana only to find that the tenacious weed came back. This heavily invasive weed restricts movement of animals throughout the forest, due to its thickness and dense nature.
For the Soliga community, whose average household earning is just $1 a day, ATREE tested the alternative of using the stubborn weed, Lantana itself, as a livelihoods resource. ATREE’s innovation of converting “weeds-to-wealth” promises a dual advantage of improving livelihoods and simultaneously promoting biodiversity conservation.
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