Setting up Ground for Bamboo Sale in Malkangiri, Odisha: Joining Forces with BGPPL to Foster Forest Economy

Mr. Akhilesh Bharti, the Manager of BGPPL visiting the Bamboo depot in Sudhakonda.

On June 25, 2023, a business meeting took place at Telrai GP, focusing on the upcoming Bamboo Sale in July between Gram Sabha and Bilt Graphic Paper and Pulp Industries (BGPPL). The meeting was held in the Conference Hall and was organized by the Maha Gram Sabha, Kalimela. The event witnessed the presence of all 24 GS leaders, who were actively engaged in direct interactions with Mr. Akhilesh Bharti, the Manager of BGPPL in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. The primary objective of the meeting was to determine the precise rate of Bamboo based on its weight in tons. After the meeting, Mr. Bharti promptly visited the Bamboo depot situated at Sudhakonda to understand the operations. 

The Initiative on the Forest Economy (IoFE) aims to establish a direct connection between forest communities and the first-mile industries using seasonal forest products (SFPs) as raw materials. This initiative seeks to eliminate intermediaries in the trade process of SFPs. The forthcoming Bamboo sale in Malkangiri is a step towards fortifying the IoFE vision and generating wealth at the local level.  

We will delve into the intricacies of our journey so far, shedding light on the extensive efforts and diverse strategies employed to make the upcoming sale possible. We shall dissect the work into five distinct verticals, each with a specific focus. The ensuing list outlines these essential aspects. 

Community Forest Resource Rights (CFRR) titles:  In March 2022, we initiated our operations by engaging with government officials to seek assistance in CFRR (Community Forest Resource Rights). Our efforts encompassed raising awareness about the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and specifically highlighting the importance of Community Forest Rights (CFR).  

ISB-BIPP, in collaboration with the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), dedicated the first workshop to developing a plan of action for drafting bamboo management plans and understanding existing capacity gaps. The tehsildar, two range officers, Forest Department (FD) officials, the Sub-Collector Forest Rights Committee (FRC), the Sub-Collector Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC), BILT Graphic Paper Products Ltd., and the leaders of twenty-four villages from Malkangiri participated in this workshop to provide support and inputs.  We actively filed claims and established Maha Gram Sabhas to develop sustainable bamboo management plans. As a result, these Gram Sabhas are now directly involved in the sale process alongside BGPPL, fostering a collaborative and mutually beneficial partnership.  

Technical Intervention: To expedite the initiative, we leverage technology in two ways (i) Digital Intervention, to file the CFRR titles at scale with efficiency, we use RatiFy, a mobile application and handy GPS to mark the boundaries accurately. To bring the market visibility of the seasonal forest products, the IoFE team engages in inventory mapping. These estimations have proved invaluable in facilitating larger trade opportunities with communities, benefiting both BGPPL and mobilizing the local communities effectively. (ii) Mechanical Intervention, to alleviate the drudgery involved in collecting SFPs and enhance the efficiency and profitability of trade, we collaborated with IIT Delhi to develop mechanization tools such as bamboo splitter, moisture meter, etc. As part of our preparations for the upcoming Bamboo sale, we have implemented the use of a Bamboo Splitter, a tool designed to divide bamboo into parts. By doing so, we aim to reduce transportation costs by increasing the loading capacity of bamboo per ton for trucks. The investment in the Bamboo Splitter not only benefits the bamboo trade but also extends its advantages to other SFPs, benefiting various communities.  

During the deployment of the Splitter machine to Malkangiri, we encountered a significant obstacle related to the requirement for 3-phase electricity. Complications arose when the designated area to house the machine in Malkangiri turned out to be smaller than anticipated, and there was a misunderstanding regarding the provision of 3-phase electricity. Consequently, the process was delayed. However, we have taken steps to rectify the situation by ensuring that all eight villages have submitted applications for the installation of three-phase electricity. Furthermore, we have undertaken the task of training women to operate the bamboo splitter. By empowering women with the necessary skills, we aim to create opportunities for them to actively participate in the mechanization process and contribute to the success of the initiative. 

Corporate Engagement: As BGPPL is a major buyer in the sector and has been operating in Maharashtra for several decades, we engaged with them for bamboo sale, for the procurement of bamboo from community-owned forests directly to industry. The discussions with BGPPL revolved around the large-scale supply, aggregation, and collective sale, pricing of the products, payment timelines, payment mode, and planning. 

Financial Inclusion: With a focus on women-led enterprises, IoFE (Initiative for Forest Enterprises) is actively involved in assisting women in establishing producer groups that will eventually form a unified Producer Company (PC). After the consultation with the department of Mission Shakti and introductory meetings held in Gram Sabhas (GS), we ensure the transfer of knowledge regarding the functionality and registration process of the PC. Our objective is to complete the registration of both Producer Groups (PGs) and PCs prior to the upcoming sale. This will enable the PC to purchase bamboo from the GS and subsequently sell it to BGPPL after implementing the mechanization process using the bamboo splitter. By empowering women and fostering women-led enterprises, we strive to create a sustainable and inclusive business environment. 

Mission Shakti Collaboration: ISB and the Department of Mission Shakti have forged a significant partnership through a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at promoting women’s empowerment and fostering rural prosperity through the establishment of a sustainable forest economy. The collaboration with Mission Shakti has been instrumental in successfully establishing a Producer Company (PC) and effectively implementing initiatives on the ground. This collaboration not only strengthens our mission but also brings us closer to achieving our shared goals of empowering women and driving sustainable economic growth in rural areas. 

The upcoming Bamboo sale displays the power of multi-partnership. With the active involvement of Gram Sabha, BGPPL, and Mission Shakti, the July Bamboo Sale in Malkangiri represents a collaborative effort towards a sustainable forest economy. Through extensive efforts in CFRR, technical intervention, corporate engagement, and financial inclusion, these partnerships empower forest communities, promote women’s empowerment, and eliminate intermediaries in the trade process. This multi-partnership approach brings us closer to achieving our shared goals of inclusive growth and prosperity in the forest economy.  

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