The Complexities of ‘conservation and livelihoods’ – Lantana furniture programme near Mudumalai
The Shola Trust
Nishita Vasanth1, Tarsh Thekaekara1, Thomas Thornton2. 1 The Shola Trust, Tamil Nadu And 2 University Of Oxford, Uk. Email : Nishita@Thesholatrust.Org
Lantana camara, a highly invasive weed, is found abundantly across India and this is especially true in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, particularly near human habitation. In our intervention, we hoped to turn this highly problematic weed into a livelihood option for a traditionally hunter gathering tribe – the Kattunayakans. It was a classic ‘conservation and development’ initiative, but three years into the programme, we find very few families engage with this full time.
Influenced by ethnographic methods, through direct participant observation and in depth interviews, we mapped the livelihood activities over one year of the households participating in the programme, to better understand their reluctance to fully partake in the new livelihood activity. We also used a series of focus group discussion to better understand the dynamics of the communities’ range of livelihood activities, time spent on each and work preferences.
The Kattunayakans in Chembakolly were engaged in a wide range of activities throughout the year, and had no one ‘livelihood’. The assumption of providing an ‘alternate’ is then doubtful. Interestingly, we also found no correlation between time spent and income earned from different livelihood activities. Instead of adopting to furniture making as a singular livelihood activity, they incorporated this skill into their complex, hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence.
Most conservation and livelihood programmes assume that when communities are given the option of making more money, they will take it. We found this not to be true, any idea that seems obviously beneficial for conservation and communities requires careful and detailed examination before it is implemented, especially when it involves hunter gatherer communities with a different world view. We also highlight the importance of long term monitoring of such programmes.