Sowing the Seeds of Women-led Forest Prosperity through CFRR in Malkangiri, Odisha

Chumki Behera, Cluster Coordinator explaining the importance of CFRR titles to the women.

In the Malkangiri district of Odisha, the Initiative on Forest Economy has been working towards scaling up the recognition of community forest resource rights. With a vision of securing livelihoods, creating jobs, and conserving biodiversity, the initiative has partnered with the state government and its Department of Mission Shakti to implement the project in six high-potential districts of the state. 

Malkangiri was chosen as the pilot location to establish a protocol for rights recognition and inter-departmental coordination. With active collaboration from the government, the initiative developed the Standard Operating Procedure for claim filing and selected three blocks for testing the protocols. 

The initiative chose 24 villages in the Kalimela block to develop the nuances of inter-departmental coordination and detailed instructions for generating boundary maps. The logic was to make the claim filing process easy and efficient by undertaking all relevant activities simultaneously at the landscape level. 

The recognition of community forest rights is a significant milestone for the communities in Malkangiri, as it gives them control over the forest resources in their area. This means that they can make decisions about how the forest is managed and how the forest’s products are used. It also means that they have a say in the development of their area, as forest resources play a critical role in the livelihoods of the people living in these communities. 

The recognition of community forest rights has also opened opportunities for these communities to engage in forest-based businesses. They can now legally sell forest produce and earn a livelihood from it. This involved conducting workshops, meetings, and awareness campaigns to educate communities about the legal provisions of FRA and the benefits of CFR rights. Additionally, the initiative provided technical support to help communities generate the necessary documentation, such as boundary maps and community resource registers, required for filing CFRR claims. This has led to the inclusion of self-help groups in the CFRR recognition process, the business of forest produce, and forest management to empower women in these communities. Women are now involved in the collection, processing, and marketing of forest produce, which has not only increased their income but also their status in their communities. 

The women’s active involvement in claim filing, management plans, and inventory estimation has empowered them and ensured that they are well-positioned to participate in the forest-based economy. They are at the forefront of co-developing management plans for sustainable harvesting of bamboo and taking on the responsibility of explaining the purpose and rules of forest management. The women have been trained in using mobile applications to estimate the inventory of bamboo in the forests, and their participation has ensured that they are in a suitable position to participate in conducting business with large buyers. 

The project has also focused on training young women from the villages in the use of digital technology for securing and sustaining tenure. There is immense interest from the youth in the landscapes to participate in inventory estimation, and there are now at least 25 youth volunteers in each cluster being trained in using digital technology for securing and sustaining tenure. 

The initiative was successful in generating a consensus on what a valid CFRR claim looks like and deriving a checklist for future use. The communities in Malkangiri have also been actively involved in constituting Forest Management Committees, with 24 committees already established. These committees were responsible for drafting rules for sustainable harvesting of bamboo, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, strategies for restoring degraded bamboo clusters and establishing institutional arrangements for generating income through the forest-based economy. 

The team also developed a claim filing application, RatiFi, to generate claims at scale. The acceptance of technology support has also played a significant role in the management of forest resources in Malkangiri. The use of technology tools such as HandyGPS and remote sensing applications to map the forest resources and boundaries of an area has made it easier for communities to manage their forests. Technology will also make it easier to monitor illegal activities such as deforestation, which has helped preserve the forest resources in the area. 

To sustain the tenure of the communities, the team established a working relationship with the leadership of BGPPL and strengthened this partnership in the second phase. In a workshop organized by the Integrated Tribal Development Authority in Odisha, BGPPL committed to sourcing 25,000 metric tons of bamboo harvested from community-owned forests in Malkangiri district. 

The collaboration with Mission Shakti, a department under the Government of Odisha responsible for the welfare and economic development of women through the Self-Help Group architecture, further reinforces the project’s focus on women’s empowerment. The collaboration, over a period of 3 years, will benefit 20 Lakh women across the six districts (Malkangiri, Koraput, Nabrangpur, Rayagada, Mayurbhanj and Kendujhar). The outcomes of the partnership between ISB and Mission Shakti are aimed at establishing women-led community-owned enterprises for increasing incomes through the forest-based economy, developing mechanical solutions for value addition at the local level, establishing market linkages for high-value Seasonal Forest Products (SFP), and building an inventory of SFPs in the state to support community-centric forest governance for the sustainability of forests and forest-based incomes.  

Overall, the recognition of community forest rights in Malkangiri has been a significant step forward in the empowerment of communities and women in the context of forest rights, management, and the business of forest products. 

This article is part of a series showcasing Outstanding Success Stories from 2022 documented by the Initiative on Forest Economy (IoFE) team from BIPP, ISB. 

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