1991-1992: Vasundhara was formed in 1991 to work for institutional and policy changes in community forest management. It was registered under the Societies Registration Act in 1992. Work in our first two years was focused on research, and soon after our efforts expanded to networking.
1993-1994: The Implementation of Joint Forest Management guidelines in Orissa saw diversification of our research with a focus on understanding JFM-related institutional, economic and ecological aspects, non-timber forest products (NTFPs), and policy issues. In 1994, Vasundhara received its first funding support from the Ford Foundation. From 1994-96, Vasundhara designed and facilitated participatory trainings for the frontline officials of territorial and social departments in 13 forest divisions of the Orissa Forest Department on the JFM concept and PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) tools for micro-planning. To facilitate proper implementation of JFM guidelines in the state, a state-level JFM steering committee and working group were constituted, and Vasundhara was a member. We were also a part of JFM national support groups including: Ecological and Economic Research Network, the National Network on JFM’s gender and equity subgroup, and the institutional and training subgroup. Further we undertook collaborative research and contributed in methodology development in different subject areas. Afterwards, we advocated and campaigned for Community Forest Management (CFM), which gives ownership, control, and benefits to local initiatives and organisations.
1995-1996: In 1995, we attempted to practice what we learned from our past research work. During this period, we initiated the process of working with communities involved in forest protection – specifically the Tangi-Ranpur blocks of Khurda and Nayagarh, two neighbouring districts – with an aim towards strengthening the capacities of local communities for resource management and facilitating interaction and linkages amongst them.
1997-2000: The period 1997-2000 was exciting and eventful. Vasundhara spearheaded a state-wide consultative process on evolving a pro-poor forest policy framework involving large number of community groups and civil society actors across the state. We also ventured into some new areas of research such as community-based fire management and sustainable NTFP harvesting. The end of the period also witnessed initiation of the process of community-based NTFP enterprises.
2001-2002: The year 2001 was marked by intense mobilisation on kendu leaf issues.The year 2002 saw diversification of research covering areas like Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, feasibility studies on NTFP enterprises, market studies, etc. The kendu leaf mobilisation process got a boost with people strongly putting forth their demands though a state-level workshop and subsequent massive public hearing programme on the issue. During this period, our research focus expanded, covering conservation and livelihood issues in Protected Areas. We also contributed significantly to the national-level forest rights campaign against the eviction of tribal and forest dwellers from forest land. This led us to venture into new areas of land rights issues.
2003-2004:This period saw the beginning unique process of NTFP cooperativisation. In research we also ventured into the new area of land rights, only to end up with startling and remarkable findings. The year 2004 saw the NTFP cooperative process gaining momentum. We also explored remarkable organic clues to the detoxification of contaminated water, which could lead to the development of low-cost and local resource-based water treatment systems. We began the process of getting this knowledge disseminated to the larger public, and continued to further our research in this area. In order to sustain and strengthen the community enterprises process, several support initiatives focused on marketing and working capital support were begun. The Centre for Cooperative Business (CCB) was conceptualised during this period and was put into action.
2005: With an aim to increase our sharpness and effectiveness, we reorganised ourselves into thematic groups and ventured into the newer arena of biodiversity and environment conservation. Land rights is another area where we intensified our research intervention.
2006: Subsequently, owing to our intensive and seminal research work on land rights, in 2006 the state government involved us as a resource organisation in its ongoing Orissa Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Programme. Apart from our regular work along thematic lines, we are in the process of establishing a legal defense cell, particularly to look into cases of incarceration of marginalised sections of the community, and we would undertake legal research and support.
2007: Over the years we have seen several leadership changes, which has added to the depth of expertise in our approach. Dhirendra Panda joined as Vasundhara’s Executive Director in April 2007. He brings his vast experience in programme management, policy analysis, advocacy, action research, and networking. .
2008: The passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 also known as the Forest Rights Act includes provisions that give forest dwellers rights over land and forest produces, and that make conservation more effective and transparent. It acknowledges, for the first time, traditional rights of forest dwellers to conserve and nurture their forest resource. Our present work includes participating in the process of implementing the Act.