Lantana camara, a native weed of South America, was introduced to India at the National Botanical Gardens, Calcutta in 1807 as an ornamental plant by the British and, since then, the plant has successfully invaded virtually all parts of the country, displacing native plants and animals. Unfortunately efforts to manage the weed have not been successful. The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), in Bangalore, India, has sought to promote the use of Lantana as a substitute for the rapidly declining bamboo resources among some of the poorest rural communities in south India. This innovative idea won the global Development Marketplace award in 2003.
Through recent support from Rainforest Concern, the use of Lantana has been extended to additional communities in south India. A number of Lantana Craft Centres have been established, specifically to train women artisans, and to help organise communities to develop their own administrative structures and formalise market linkages. Attempts are also being made to design and diversify the range of products to include handicrafts and toy making.
In 2006, the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary (GBS) and its ‘School in the Forest' educational programmes, won the Whitley Award, one of the top UK environmental prizes. Due to GBS's unrivalled knowledge of plant species cultivation, it has shown that degraded complex habitats can be re-established faster through a process of ‘gardening back the biosphere'. As over 90% of the forest of the Western Ghats has been lost through poor farming practices and poorly planned development projects, GBS is seen as the hope for the region and its educational work is now urgently sought after locally, nationally and even internationally.
Rainforest Concern has supported GBS in developing the Sanctuary as a local model for integrated land use through the support and expansion of its Plant Conservation and Educational programme, as well as supporting GBS's Rapid Floristic Survey project and contributing funds to purchase and reforest a disused coffee plantation.
Please click here for our 2012/13 newsletter story of Suprabha Seshan's invitation to visit the Amazon.