IN a world facing growing environmental challenges, one of India’s leading environmental NGOs dedicated to promoting conservation and sustainability is playing a pivotal role in addressing pressing issues. One such organization, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), stands out as a source of hope and innovation. Founded in Bangalore in 1996, ATREE has been at the forefront of generating interdisciplinary knowledge to foster the twin goals of environmental protection and social justice. This article delves into the multifaceted work of one of the country’s leading environmental NGOs, with a particular focus on its remarkable “Weeds-to-Wealth” initiative, which is transforming the lives of marginalized indigenous communities while simultaneously contributing to forest conservation.

The mission of ATREE

The mission of one of the country’s leading environmental NGOs is multifaceted and visionary. The organization is dedicated to producing rigorous interdisciplinary research that addresses critical issues related to biodiversity, climate change, land and water resources, forests, governance and ecosystem services. Their work goes beyond academic exploration; it’s about facilitating the utilization of this knowledge by policymakers and society, thereby bridging the gap between research and real-world application. Furthermore, ATREE is one of the environmental NGOs in the country that is committed to nurturing the next generation of scholars and leaders who are equipped to tackle the environmental challenges of the future. To support ATREE, you can donate here.

Weeds to Wealth: a sustainable initiative

ATREE’s journey into the world of innovative conservation and livelihood development began with a profound observation. Over two decades of engagement with the Soliga community, an indigenous forest-dependent tribe residing in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve and Malai Mahadeshwara wildlife sanctuary, ATREE noticed a significant decline in their ability to forage Non-timber Forest Products. The key factor was the invasive weed, Lantana Camara, which had taken over more than 47% of the forest floor. Lantana Camara, one of the world’s most notorious invasive weeds, not only obstructed the growth of native forest biodiversity but also severely hampered the Soliga’s income generation. Several attempts to eradicate Lantana had proven futile as the weed continued to return, impacting the livelihoods of the Soliga community.

In response to this challenge, ATREE piloted the Weeds to Wealth program, a creative initiative aimed at transforming Lantana Camara into a valuable resource. Under this program, the weed is used to create furniture, home accessories and crafts. This approach by one of the country’s most innovative environmental NGOs creates a win-win scenario: it elevates tribal livelihoods while promoting forest biodiversity and conservation. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of this initiative, as marginalized communities seek alternative income sources due to the difficulties associated with urban migration. 

Impact of Weeds to Wealth

The Weeds to Wealth program by one of India’s leading environmental NGOs has already demonstrated remarkable success, changing the lives of the Soliga community in significant ways. ATREE’s efforts have led to a 42% increase in the household income of Soliga master craftsmen and women. Moreover, over 350 Soliga individuals have been trained in the craft, with 20 emerging as master craftsmen and women. These skilled artisans, in turn, have taken their expertise to neighboring villages, where they have trained an additional 400 craftsmen. The impact of this program has been substantial in improving the living standards of the Soliga community.

ATREE is one of the leading environmental NGOs that has gone a step further by setting up three Lantana Craft Centers, which continuously evolve their product line. The craftsmen have expanded their craft, creating bespoke pieces of art from Lantana, such as those of life-size elephants. These innovative and sustainable products have found recognition in the market, leading to collaborations with other NGOs and increased opportunities for the Soliga artisans.

Beyond local recognition, ATREE is one of the leading environmental NGOs that has facilitated the display of the Soliga community’s handiwork at various platforms within Karnataka, garnering appreciation and support from a wider audience. The tribal artisans now run their microenterprise through the Lantana Craft Centers, contributing to the local economy while promoting forest conservation.

Scaling the initiative

Recognizing the potential of the Weeds-to-Wealth program to impact more lives, ATREE, one of the most impactful and innovative environmental NGOs, has accelerated its plans to scale up the initiative. With the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting the need for alternative income sources, ATREE aims to generate 36 lakh for the artisans. This funding will serve multiple purposes:

  • 6 lakh for working capital to take on new orders, ensuring a steady stream of income for the artisans
  • 15 lakh to rent a warehouse for 12 months in Bangalore to store their products, providing a central location for production and distribution
  • 15 lakh for upgrading tools and infrastructure to scale their work, improving the efficiency and quality of the craft
  • Collaboration for a sustainable future

ATREE’s commitment to sustainability and conservation, as one of the leading environmental NGOs in India, extends beyond the Weeds to Wealth program. The organization is constantly evolving and expanding its horizons. The Centre for Social and Environmental Innovation is currently working with Social Venture Partners to develop a scalable business model for the sale of Lantana furniture by local artisans. This collaborative effort aims to ensure the long-term sustainability of the initiative, promoting the use of Lantana as a valuable resource for the Soliga community.

Support one of India’s leading environmental NGOs

The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) is one of the leading environmental NGOs in India that stands as a remarkable example of an organization dedicated to bridging the gap between environmental conservation and social justice. Their Weeds to Wealth initiative not only addresses the challenges posed by invasive species but also offers a sustainable source of livelihood for marginalized indigenous communities. 

As ATREE continues to make strides in improving the lives of the Soliga community and promoting forest conservation, it serves as a shining example of how interdisciplinary research, innovative thinking and collaboration can create a win-win scenario for both the environment and its inhabitants. The Weeds-to-Wealth program is not only transforming weeds into wealth but also building a sustainable and environmentally conscious future for all. To support ATREE, you can donate here.

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