Meet Maya Mahajan who is transforming harmful forest weeds into eco-friendly furniture

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Lantana camara, a harmful weed has become the source for eco-friendly furniture from. Thanks to Maya Mahajan and her research in Niligiris reserve.

Deforestation is not the only cause of depleting forests. It’s also the exotic weeds that grow within the forests and sucks up all the nutrients and water underground, and eventually kill valuable plants.

Lantana camara is one such weed, found in the Nilgiris Biosphere. This threat to ecology has found its way into the homes of many in the form of eco-friendly furniture.

Thanks to Maya Mahajan, a Ph.D. scholar from Coimbatore. She has been awarded the International Women Achiever Award at the 2018 International Women’s Meet held in Chennai.

It was during her research on forested lands of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Maya Mahajan, a PhD scholar from Coimbatore, came across the lantana weed. The weed had a harmful impact on the native vegetation in the Western Ghats, including the Siruvani region in Coimbatore.

Removal of the weed though chemicals was not possible as it would have affected the environment as well. The only method was to use the elephants to remove the weeds, which was not economical or time-efficient.

The solution

Maya Mahajan was aware of the rising demands of eco-friendly furniture. Her detailed research concluded that the manufacturing of the furniture with the lantana weed required no chemicals. Also, it had natural chemicals that repelled pests. The research proved lantana furniture is more durable than wood or bamboo, and less affected by termite.

Maya Mahajan in the center with the community members, source The Logical Indian

One of the factors that make the lantana furniture more popular is the free raw material.

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Impact on the local community

Besides making its way into homes as furniture, it has also made a positive impact on the lives of tribal women of Siruvani, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.

Maya Mahajan with the community people, source The Better India

Even though elephant attacks on the tribals were common, seven women followed by Vellachi volunteered for the weed removal.

Ninety-five percent of tribal women now have a regular source of income.

The weed removal was an issue for the forest department, so giving Maya the permission to cut down the weed was a solution

Transforming weed into eco-friendly furniture

Speaking to The Better India, Maya said,

We 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.

Tribal women working on the wooden furniture, source The Logical Indan

The entire project is well balanced and sustainable. It involves tribal people cutting the lantana wood, and also being trained to make small low-cost furniture, handicrafts, toys and other utility articles from.

Maya added,

Through my research project on the forest product harvesting, I have had a close interaction with the tribal inhabitants of Siruvani, Mudumalai, Wayanad, and Silent Valley. I shared a good rapport with the communities. Yet when I approached them with the proposal of making furniture from Lantana, they were reluctant, doubting its feasibility.

Debut in the marketing sector

The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation in India (TRIFED) has helped the tribal community set up a market in Coimbatore and other major cities.

Maya plans to launch it as a full-scale business and market the product through ecommerce sites. The project is funded by the Ministry of Environment.  The products have become popular through word-of-mouth and social media campaigns.

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The path ahead

The project has been adopted by villages like Singhampathy, Kalkotipathy, and Sarkarporathy. The new batches are being trained by the first batch of skilled workers. It has also helped youngsters get better jobs, and has been recognised as a certified skill-training course.

Source: Yourstory

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