Empowering Women in Forest-Based Enterprises: A Three-Phase Initiative in Odisha for Sustainable and Digitized Forest Management

The Initiative on the Forest Economy (IoFE) is a model presented by the Executive Director of BIPP at the Indian School of Business, Professor Ashwini Chhatre, to the CEO of Mission Shakti, Odisha, to enhance the state’s Forest Economy through women-led community enterprises. The meeting concluded with a request from Mission Shakti to submit a proposal detailing the objectives, plan of action, timelines, and outcomes of the work in the Forest Economy. 

The IoFE model for boosting the forest economy in Odisha combines large-scale women-led community coalitions of Self Help Groups (SHGs), Community Forest Right (CFR) titles at the village level, technology support for harnessing economies of scale, and direct market linkage with large buyers of forest-based industrial raw materials. 

The women in the state collect Seasonal Forest Products (SFPs) and sell them as raw materials to industries through a widely spread but informal trade network. This supply of SFPs is a crucial source of income for the communities that depend on forests. However, the informal nature of the first step in production results in lower economies of scale and challenges in sustainability. The BIPP-ISB team is working to create a sustainable forest economy by empowering women who collect and supply Seasonal Forest Products (SFPs). The focus is on formalizing the trade, adding value locally, and securing the Forest Resource Rights of communities. To achieve this, the team is developing a smartphone application to file for Community Forest Rights (CFR), introducing mechanized solutions to boost productivity, and building direct market connections between communities and large industries through Gram Sabhas. 

All enterprises created through this initiative will be community-owned and women-led, with support from ISB for knowledge and capacity-building. Women will lead the forest-based enterprises, which will aggregate and pre-process the SFPs through a hierarchy of Self-Help Groups, Village Organizations, and Cluster Level Federations. The women-led forest-based enterprises built on the hierarchy consisting of Self-Help Groups, Village Organizations (VOs), and Cluster Level Federations (CLFs) levels will aggregate and pre-process (sort, clean, grade, pack, etc.) the selected forest products to achieve economies of scale and value addition. The Village Communities are responsible for developing a management plan outlining sustainable harvesting protocols for the collectors, a socio-ecological monitoring system coupled with advanced technology for measuring indicators of forest health, and a coordination mechanism with the women-led forest enterprises at the village- and landscape levels for inclusive decision making

Technology will play a key role in this initiative, helping to transition from an informal to a formal economy, increase productivity, and improve accountability. Communities can access working capital through local Fintech-enabled financial institutions, customized solutions for cash flow management, and enhance the use of digital transactions. The project will also provide access to working capital through local financial institutions and digital financial transactions. Opportunities for mechanization to increase productivity in the collection, aggregation, and processing of forest products at the SHG, VO, CLF, and Enterprise levels are being mapped. We aim to use advanced technology for monitoring to improve accountability and ensure sustainable use. 

We aim to achieve the broad goals of the project, such as generating jobs and wealth, especially for women, creating women-led community enterprises, and establishing community-owned, sustainably managed forest landscapes. The team has set specific objectives, interventions, and activities in line with these broader goals, including building women-led enterprises, securing CFR, digitizing CFR implementation and market linkages, creating a forest inventory, and establishing sustainable supply chains with rural industrialization and mechanized solutions. 

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