Vasundhara began our work of facilitating the process of networking amongst the forest-protecting villages in the Ranpur block of Nayagarh District (approximately 70 kilometers from the state capital, Bhubaneswar) in 1995. Before anyintervention, we worked to develop a comprehensive understanding on the dynamics prevailing on the ground, and the institutions and processes involved in forest protection and management. The facilitation process resulted in the formation of a federation of forest-protecting groups at the block level, named Maa Maninaga Jungle Surakhya Parishada (MMJSP) in the year 1997. Since that time, we have been undertaking various initiatives to strengthen the federation. An important realisation to come out of those initiatives is that community forestry initiatives can be strengthened with the active involvement of forest-dependent marginalised sections, and this calls for addressing their livelihood issues. Thus, our focus in Ranpur expanded to livelihood intervention, supporting the federation in its advocacy efforts on livelihood issues, such as lobbying the State for the establishment of Kendu leaf phadis (government collection centers), working against privatisation of cashew plantations, and on livelihood-promoting activities such as Siali leaf plate-stitching enterprises.
The Community Empowerment Initiatives team works toward empowering local communities to assert greater access and rights over natural resources and entitlements, contributing to long-term control over their lives and livelihoods. We also focus on creating space for marginalised sections in decision-making, management of natural resources, and governance.
Vasundhara functions as a catalytic organisation and process facilitator. Our approach is rights-based, focusing on social, political, and economic democratisation, working towards long-term social change that will result in sustainable development. Therefore, the Community Empowerment Initiative team’s intervention in Ranpur can be categorised into two areas: Supporting and strengthening the federation-building process and Community development initiatives.
Vasundhara has gained rich learnings through working with the communities and the federation. Knowledge gained from field work helps in shaping advocacy strategies in community forestry and networking. On the other hand, research, advocacy, and networking activities contribute to the rights-based interventions by supporting the efforts of the forest dependents relating to their livelihood issues, conservation and management of natural resources like land and water, and the ongoing federation-building process.