Diversity as a Livelihood Strategy Near Mudumalai, Tamil Nadu: An Inquiry
While the Valaiyars of Karandamalai Hills and most of the peripheral farming communities of Kanakapura have expanded their livelihood portfolios in response to the changes around them, for the ‘fringe’ forest communities of the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, dependence on hunting and gathering remains high despite extensive engagement with the cash economy. The Kattunayakan and Bettakurumba people’s cultural model of the forest as communities of ‘other than human persons’ remains an important ontological and epistemological constraint in their engagement with forest ‘resources’. This case study assesses a progressive environmental NGO intervention in these communities, seeking to reduce the spread of an invasive woody shrub, Lantana camara, by helping local communities set up a ‘Lantana furniture centre’ for the conversion of the woody shrub into marketable furniture, a seemingly perfect conservation and development solution. However, instead of adopting the plan and intensifying production of Lantana, communities engaged in the industry only as a part-time activity and in ways complementary to their existing portfolio of livelihood activities. The study evaluates the limited success of the Lantana Craft Centre initiative by examining how the scheme clashed with the hunter-gatherer worldview and cultural models of the relationship between personhood and livelihood. The lessons from this Lantana furniture centre are more broadly relevant to issues in conservation, development and adaptation to biodiversity change in hunting-gathering and other forest communities.
KeywordsLivelihood Activity Fuel Wood Forest Department Wild Food Wage Labour
We thank Ramesh Kannan and others at ATREE for helping launch the Lantana furniture project in Gudalur; Rajeev K. Srivastava, the Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director of Mudumalai, for all his support and help in funding the Chembakolli EDC through the Mudumalai Tiger Foundation; Ramesh Madan, Jobi Thomas, H. Madhusudanan and others at The Shola Trust who have been involved in the Lantana Project and Shonil Bhagwat and Kathy Willis for various discussions around invasive species and helping in shaping some of the ideas in this chapter. We also thank the Rufford Small Grants Foundation for supporting a part of the Lantana project. Thornton’s work was funded in part by the framework project NE/I004149/ on human adaptation to biodiversity change, with support from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme. The ESPA programme is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
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