Creating a Green Economy

Covid19 and the renewed need for providing livelihoods at scale

Lantana artisan at work.

Our work at CSEI cannot exist in isolation from the fact that the communities we work with have been ravaged by Covid. We are raising funds to help the public health officials and doctors in their Covid response. We’re helping the district administration setup 9 new Covid clinics in Chamarajanagar, Karnataka (more on the fundraiser here: bit.ly/2SMB2sW).

ATREE has been working with these Lantana artisans from Soliga and other vulnerable communities around BR and MM Hills in the Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka for over 25 years.

Is it possible to remove 500,000 hectares of invasive species from Indian landscapes, while providing livelihoods for 10,000 individuals?

Our problem statement gains even more importance when seen against the backdrop of Covid19. The pandemic has affected this community in many ways:

  • Illness and/or fear of infection has reduced access to the forest and its produce.
  • Unable to find seasonal work outside the settlement or unable to return from their workplaces due to the lockdown.
  • Family income and thereby money flow in the community has reduced.
  • Quality of life and access to healthcare have been affected.

Restoring forests and creating livelihoods will be crucial if we are to help these rural communities build back stronger. Here’s a look at what we have done so far to address the Lantana problem at scale.

Creating livelihoods

Stunning image of Lantana elephants outside Buckingham palace. (Photo: Alex Green/Evening Standard)
100 life-sized Lantana elephants outside Buckingham palace. (Photo: Alex Green/Evening Standard)

Indigenous communities are increasingly being displaced from protected forest areas. In the absence of resettlement and job training, many are ending up in urban slums. ATREE introduced Lantana craft as a way of providing livelihoods to these communities. Since the launch of its Lantana Craft Centre in 2004, ATREE has trained over 650 artisans in Lantana craft of whom 40% are women. Trained artisans derive nearly 80% of their cash income from Lantana crafts.

Lantana is an invasive plant species that now covers over 40% of the forests of Western Ghats. Lantana prevents

  • native species growth
  • blocks wildlife movement
  • increases the risk of wildfire

Lantana is used as a substitute for native species such as bamboo and cane. Using a simple technique, Lantana stems are bent to form a range of products. These products range from simple tables to elephant artworks, like these elephants shown below with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall pose with Lantana elephants (Photo: Murray Sanders/Daily Mail)

Challenges of conservation at scale

In order to achieve our goals, we need to address the challenges of scale:

  • use Lantana furniture as a way to spread awareness.
  • make it possible to use all parts of the Lantana plant at scale. create enough value and incentives to fund livelihoods, removal, and restoration.
  • have safeguards to not create unintended consequences like creating income dependencies on Lantana as a resource.
  • ensure that it does not dispossess local communities who are already marginalized.

Addressing the lantana problem at scale

How are particleboards made? (Illustration: Aparna Nambiar)
How are particleboards made? (Illustration: Aparna Nambiar)

Working with our partners, the Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute (IPIRTI), we are piloting the Lantana particleboard to help solve the scale problem of Lantana removal, livelihood creation, and restoration.

We have created our first particleboard with Lantana. Particle board aka chipboard, is an engineered wood product made from wood chips pressed together with a suitable binder.

Along with IPIRTI we developed a technology which uses Lantana chips, instead of wood chips, to make particle boards. After edge lamination and waterproofing, particle boards have various uses. These include modular furniture, flooring, core material, wall partitioning/paneling, and false ceilings.

Validating the product

The initial prototypes have been very promising. A series of tests are being conducted to validate the product and compare it to industry norms. Watch this space for more information in the coming months.

Join us to create a greener economy

Furniture being made from Lantana wood.
Furniture being made from Lantana wood.
  1. Donate to our Covid fundraiser to provide immediate life-saving medical equipment & in-patient care to these rural communities. Donate now!
  2. To buy Lantana crafts or use particleboards with artisanal components, contact Harisha: hari@atree.org or Dr. Siddappa: siddappa@atree.org.
  3. Write to Sandeep at sandeep.hanchanale@atree.org to
  • Help source Lantana sustainably
  • Use Lantana in manufacturing processes
  • Use particleboards
  • Create other Lantana products

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We work on issues related to the environment and focus on citizen action and/or market-based approaches to solving these problems. Based in Bangalore, India. Find out more: https://www.csei.org/

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