Forests form a critical source of livelihood for the poorest in the most backward and tribal regions of Orissa. This dependence is mostly in terms of collection of various kinds of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) available in the forest. About 40-50 lakhs poor, who are landless or marginal farmers mostly belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, depend critically on NTFPs for their livelihood. Kendu leaf is one of the most important cash- giving NTFPs, alone generating more than one crore person-days of employment during summer. Although NTFPs constitute a major source of livelihood for poor and marginalised forest-dependent families, its market is riddled with various problems like dominance of traders, their unethical trade practices, imperfection in flow of market information, lack of processing and storage facilities, absence of market yard, primary gatherers dealing in the market at the individual level with no bargaining power, and policy problems.
Vasundhara has been addressing forest-based livelihood issues over the past few years at different levels. Initially we were primarily involved in research and advocacy on livelihood issues related to forests. Learnings from these research and advocacy initiatives helped in realising that mere policy changes without proactive efforts at the ground level may not ensure proper livelihood from NTFPs. With this in mind, the Sustainable Livelihoods and Economic Democratisation team has been working towards facilitating collectivisation of the trade through an alternative trade system/network owned and managed by the primary gatherers, and on the development of a market information system.
One of our team's core interventions is the cooperativisation of NTFP trade, done through the facilitation of self-reliant women NTFP gatherers' cooperative institutions in the Gurundia block of Sundargarh District, the Kuchinda and Jamankera blocks of Sambalpur District, as well as in other parts of the state.