In the year 2000, Maya Mahajan, a PhD scholar from Coimbatore, began her research on the impact of invasive alien weeds on native flora and ecology in the Nilgiri biosphere reserve, including Siruvani hills, Mudumalai, Silent valley and Upper Bhavani.
During the research, Maya came to know about lantana camara – an exotic weed of South American origin – which was invading different forest areas and posing a serious threat to the native vegetation in Western Ghats, including Siruvani area in Coimbatore.
According to a Better India report, Maya decided to get rid of latana weed, however, getting rid of it was a little tricky as the use of chemicals to remove the shrub could affect the native species of plants too, and mechanical methods of removal are too expensive.
Maya kept thinking for years to find about a possible solution to remove these plants as well as helping the local community in Siruvani. Since lantana weed plant looks exactly like bamboo and more durable, Maya got the idea of making furniture out of it. However, she never had the right support and financial backing.
After joining the Centre for Sustainable Future at Amrita University, Coimbatore, she wrote a project report about how lantana can be used to make furniture and help the local tribal community with some extra income.
It took her almost four years to get approval from the funding agency, but finally the project was fully funded and Maya’s idea started to take shape in 2015.
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She also roped in ATREE, a Bengaluru based organisation, to train villagers in furniture- making. Around 40 residents of the three villages were trained in a three-month training programme beginning December 2015. The project was funded by the department of science and technology.
The speciality of the latana furniture is that it looks exactly like the bamboo or cane furniture, but is more durable. The cost of lantana furniture is also much lesser than bamboo furniture as the raw material is available for free.
Even though the business is still in its primitive stage, villagers have so far sold furniture worth Rs 1,70,000, and have orders worth Rs 70,000 pending with them.
“It was a huge responsibility on me. Even the farmers were not sure, but I asked them to just trust me. Now things are good,” said Maya, according to the Better India report.