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The NTFP Policy in 2000 opened space for community-based NTFP marketing. Following this,Vasundhara graduated from policy research advocacy to a role of market facilitator with an understanding that mere policy change won’t change much without proactive initiatives at the community level. Initially, Vasundhara opted to work with Self-Help Groups (SHGs) for NTFP marketing in collaboration with few local NGOs. Thus, SHGs that existed in the focus area as somewhat organized groups were taken as an entry point for community-based enterprises  

Though efforts were made to create a sense of confidence among the community certain limitations came in the way, some of which could be mentioned below: 

  • The size and nature of SHGs proved it difficult to enter the market in a big way
  • SHGs seemed to have been oriented more for thrift & credit transactions rather than for business activities.
  • SHGs cover only a part of the community, while leaving out another vast section engaged in the same type of economic activities (in this case NTFP gathering). Thus when the trade is carried out this section emerges as an intermediary group.
  • The highly informal nature of these institutions prevents any business dealings with them of any volume and nature.

In addition to the above, there were issues in networking relating to varied perspective/ limited understanding, collective and larger visualization, and increased expectation from Vasundhara which is perceived to be a ‘rich’ State level organization.  

After the enactment of ‘Orissa Self-Help Cooperative Act 2001, in June 2002, an opportunity was created for Self-Help Cooperatives as Collectives. Given networking constraints to begin with, Vasundhara directly got involved in Co-operative promotion work which began in the month of August 2002 in Gurundia block of Sundergarh district. This has gradually spread to Kuchinda, Bamra and Jamankira blocks of Sambalpur district, Barkote block of Deogarh district, Pallahara block of Angul districts.. The learnings of these interventions are now replicated in Phulbani block of Kandhamal district, Ranapur block of Nayagarh district and Jashipur/ Similipal of Mayurbhanja districts. 

After failed experience with the SHG model, the work around facilitating cooperatives was initiated in December 2002. The NTFP cooperative process is now being facilitated in 5 development blocks of 4 tribal dominated and forested districts of the State of Orissa which currently includes more than 3000 households from across 175 villages. They are organized in the form of 78 primary cooperatives covering more than 3000 households and three unions (secondary level cooperative having primaries as their members) and have only women as members. The union arranges working capital support from a revolving fund Community Enterprise Revolving Fund (CERF),maintained by Vasundhara and markets the produce procured by its member primary cooperatives. Besides, the union also helps them in government liasoning, auditing, documentation and training. Even all the facilitation inputs by Vasundhara are channelized through their unions.  

The primary cooperatives have federated to form secondary level cooperatives called Union. At present there are two such Unions headquartered at 3 different central points.The governance structure of these cooperatives is two tiered one – General Body and Board of Directors (BoD). General Body happens to be the key policy making structure which elects the BoD from among them. The BoD looks after implementation of policy decisions and day-to-day affairs with the help of a Chief Executive who is popularly called the Manager in these cooperatives. In primary cooperatives all the individual members constitute the General Body whereas in Union the BoD members of primaries constitute the General Body. All BoDs elect President and Vice-President to provide leadership. 

Over the period, inspite of all the odds, the cooperative process in the region has caught attention of general people, trader, politician, local administration and government development agencies. The local MLAs (Member of the State Legislative Assembly) now participate in the General Body meetings of the Union besides leaders of the Panchayats (local self-governing bodies) as well. In addition to this the government agencies have shown interest in granting different schemes, allowed a space for the Union in one of its market complexes and they are also now interested in providing loan to them as well. The intermediary traders are now quite responsive to the cooperatives. There are now a set of women leaders who have started taking appreciable lead in cooperative affairs and other matters. Beside there were also instances of collective action on other social issues in cooperative villages. In all the cooperatives, though returns to members increased as compared to the returns they got through individual transactions in the market. 

After the repeal of the Odisha Self Help Cooperative Act, 2001, Vasundhara discussed with all the stakeholders associated with the process for alternative institutional arrangement to align the collective process with in an ambit of a legal framework. Round of discussions were done with the cooperative members on various institutional aspects like Producers Company, the scope of Gram Sabha as per Forest Right Act Amendment Rules 2012, or an informal producers collective. It was found that the responses from the members are varied and would take little longer to arrive at a decision. Hence strategically, it was decided to explore the possibilities under the Amendment Forest Rights rule, 2012 retaining the principles of Self-Help Co-operatives, which was familiar within the members. At the same time it was also decided to pilot producer company in few selected areas 

 
     
 
 


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