Lantana – ‘A Plant as a Pariah’ – Foreign Flora & Fauna fetter our forests

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Foreign Genetic Material – Insemination into India’s flora and fauna

Protests against the ban on Jallikattu rocked Tamil Nadu and surprised the nation. It also brought into focus, issues that the media and various stakeholders knew little about. The impact/ harm of foreign genetic material. For instance, milk in India could be compromised. It is time we understood such biological/ecological issues which are staring us in the face. In this post, we cover the Lantana Plant.   

 Lantana – the Plant that Appalls! 

The Europeans introduced Lantana in the Indian sub-continent as in other ‘colonies’. Intentions may have been benign. But the plant has become a very invasive weed in all its new eco-systems.  

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Understanding Lantana    

image courtesy: fountainink.in

 Ornament gets Ominous

The act of Lantana’s introduction was benign probably. The persons concerned may have only wanted to ornament the hedges etc. But two centuries later, this ‘innocent’ action is threatening Indian forests, particularly, the Western Ghats. The ‘Western Ghats Bio-sphere’ is one of the World’s eight hottest hot spots of bio-diversity. Not many are aware that a plant variety could actually threaten our forests and its wild life.

Choking Native Neighbours? –  Lessons from Lantana

Lantana grows in abundance at the expense of the native ‘understorey’. The understorey (the layer of vegetation below the main canopy of a forest) is typically the smaller plants and herbs that have less than 1% of the forest biomass. But the understorey is diverse, contributing to 90% of the plant species.

Lantana cover creates 95% shade in the understorey area, whereas our forests typically have 70-80% shade. Thus, only those plant varieties survive, which can grow in 95% shade i.e. those that can grow in 5% sunlight. 

Lantana feeds man-animal conflict 

The spread of Lantana is aided by the fact that their leaves are poisonous to most animals.  Hence the animals which could otherwise have controlled Lantana by foraging on the same, avoid it altogether. The fruit, meanwhile is a delicacy for many birds, which distribute the seeds and unwittingly contribute to the overall spread of lantana. 

Herbivores thus don’t find their natural food (the native grass/plants which have been displaced by Lantana) inside the forests. This pushes the herbivores (and the predators who depend on/follow them) outside the core forest areas. Thus Lantana causes additional deaths/injuries for our wild life (already endangered), by triggering more man-animal conflicts. 

Normal Plant Life and Forest Produce Impacted

The typical forest produce like honey, amla, mango, betel leaves etc is impacted because Lantana is slowly strangling normal plant life. Thereby forest people like the Soliga tribe who have depended for centuries upon wild produce for both domestic use and trading for other items are affected.

‘A Plant becoming a Pariah…’, perish the thought!

No Englishman, Official or Biologist or Missionary may have thought this turn of events  remotely possible, since they also researched/sought feedback before introducing foreign varieties into the county. Unfortunately a few varieties like Lantana are doing great damage. 

Environmentally impacted  countries like New Zealand or Australia have become finicky about what comes into their land. These days, plant or animal products get in only after due diligence.

The Lantana Effect as a Metaphor

The Lantana Effect could be the pressure on (or temptation for) a person or a group to think or act  based on certain experiences or data points. In this particular metaphor, experiences with the Eco-system X or Belief System X provide the data points. But the thinker or ‘do-er’ wishes to perform the actions on Eco-system or Belief system Y, even though X and Y are dis-similar. Differences could be, by virtue of Space (Region), Time(period) or both.   

Lessons from Lantana … Native Cattle Genes and A2 Milk compromised .

We have also reaped the benefits of foreign or western influence and hence need to give it its due. Thanks to the Christian Missionary, William Carey and his influence on Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the British administration prohibited the cruel practice of Sati (immolation of widow on husband’s funeral pyre). Carey was also responsible for India’s first missionary college, the Serampore College.

For the record William Carey played a part in introducing Lantana in India! He donated the Lantana Trifolia to the East India Botanical Garden in 1809! 

Government and Stakeholders need to Understand issues In Depth!

Lantana is not easily wished away. A mixed approach involving both physical cutting/removal and fires is required for which we need to understand how administrations in countries like Australia are fighting to keep Lantana in check.

Tribals and Forest dwellers – repositories of Wisdom 

Tribals/adivasis/forest dwellers are important soldiers in this effort against Lantana. They know best how to manage, leverage and keep our forests healthy without over exploitation. They have been doing it for millennia.

The inherited wisdom of adivasis through centuries of practice needs to be protected, but could also be unwittingly at risk due to efforts by Missionaries to convert them. The loss is not as much for the ‘Hindus’ as it is for the eco-system. Many of these tribal/adivasi groups are not Hindus in the ‘Brahminical concept’ of Hinduism. They have their forest gods and rituals, which may not have much to do with mainstream Hindusim as we know it. These ‘religious’ habits and rituals may actually be a collage of sage practices which help manage forests maturely without exploitation.   

‘Misplaced Missionary Zeal’ and its possible impact on our forests

We already face numerous challenges with our forest cover and wild life. As noted above, the forest soldiers with their deep understanding (through inherited wisdom) of ‘how a forest works’ need to carry on their ancient ways. Once we convince the tribals that their forest god is irrelevant, the associated rituals/’way of life’ that helps protect the forest is under risk. A few hundred rupees a ‘Soul’ converts a family in an urban setting these days. One can well imagine the low hanging fruit, Adivasi were/are for the missionaries.

Irrespective of  ‘Hindutva’ rhetoric, there are practical and ecological reasons for us to question the need to support Conversions. The loss is not for ‘Hinduism’ in the strict sense’, but for the ancient ways of life that nurture our forests, which our Captains of Conversion may not realize. Conversion is increasingly about Commerce (cornering more share in the lucrative market for religious beliefs) and less about genuine Compassion. One of my childhood heroes, Dr Livingstone, I presume, would not have disagreed had he been alive today.  

Please Note:

We at NewsTikka.com believe in the old Indian saying, ‘Vaasudhaiva Kutumbakam‘, meaning ‘The World Is One Family’ (including the animate and the inanimate). Hence we respect and encourage all doctrines and actions that help us move towards this ‘inclusivism’.

The traditions and lives of the adivasis of mainland India, the forest dwellers in the Amazon forests and the very ancient primitive humans of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are at stake as are other vulnerable communities. We need to correct the belief that ‘I/we know all there is to know and you/they know little.’

The Europeans destroyed the precious ancient records of the Mayan Civilization in misguided religious fervor. The ISIS (and the Taliban before it) has damaged various precious legacies of human history. The Indian sub-continent too may have had similar unfortunate instances in its ancient past. We need to discourage attempts to erase ancient surviving customs whether by force, money or guile (unless those practices be generally unacceptable, like Sati).

 

Acknowledgments and Related Reading 

The forest killer

A losing Battle

In relation to the Lantana Plant above, we just discovered this interesting portal to spot alien invasive species(thanks to https://microcosmos.foldscope.com/?p=8197). We think it is a great initiative. 

Conversion of Adivasis 1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice)

A peek into Missionaries’ Involement with East India Tribals

Jallikattu & Animal Rights – Part 4 – healthy native A2 Milk Vs ‘hybridized’ A1 Milk