Empowering the forest economy with women-led enterprises

By Soumik Dey Dec 03, 2022

ISB inks MoU with Mission Shakti, Government of Odisha, to empower two million women on the path to prosperity from forest produce

(L-R) Prof. Ashwini Chhatre, ED, ISB-BIPP with Sridhar B, AD, ISB-External Relations and Mansi Nimbhal, CEO, Odisha Livelihoods Mission exchange the MoUs as Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik (back) looks on

Naveen Patnaik at the MoU signing with ISB during the 'Make in Odisha Conclave' at Bhubaneshwar

Forests are a major source of livelihood for more than 200 million people in India, dependent on the collection and trade of forest produce. So far, value creation from forest products occurs far away from the forests across several industries ranging from pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paper, food products etc. This leaves out the trade and those directly involved with it.

This scenario is, however, now set to change, thanks to a recent agreement inked between the Indian School of Business and Department of Mission Shakti, Government of Odisha during the recently concluded ‘Make in Odisha Conclave, 2022’ at the state capital Bhubaneshwar on December 3. One of ISB’s RCI, Bharti Institute of Public Policy (BIPP) will be executing this implementational project.

As part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Indian School of Business (ISB) and the Government of Odisha aim to empower about two million women across six districts (Malkangiri, Koraput, Nabrangpur, Rayagada, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar) in the eastern-India state to achieve women-led rural prosperity through a sustainable forest economy -- over the period of next three years.

This socio-economic empowerment would be based on multiple policies and technological interventions. It would be affected by the formation of large-scale women-led community enterprises (Federation of women Self Help Groups), granting Community Forest Resource Rights titles to the concerned tribals, technological support to harness economies of scale, mechanisation, and establishment of direct marketing linkages with industries that use forest-based raw materials.

Primarily, as on date, this initiative would focus on five seasonal forest produce - Bamboo, Sal seeds, Mahua flowers, Mahua seeds and Chironji seeds. Besides training the community resource persons (Van Sakhis) with basic business process knowledge, ISB would identify scopes for primary mechanical processing to capture value locally. Creating smartphone applications for forest boundary mapping, online claim filing, facilitating financial inclusion, and formal sales to industries are also within the ambit of the agreement.

The Government of Odisha’s Mission Shakti department will facilitate the mobilisation of the Women Self Help Groups (WSHGs) and implementation of Community Forest Resource Rights across the six identified districts, acting as the nodal department to enable this model in the state. The other State Government departments that are involved in the implementation of this prestigious project are – Odisha State Forest Department, ST&SC Development, Minorities & Backward Classes Welfare Department, Odisha Space Applications Centre and the District Administrations of the six identified districts.

“The forest economy, anchored in secure tenure, and built on women-centric community-owned enterprises, is a triple-win model,” said Ashwini Chhatre, Associate Professor and Executive Director of ISB-BIPP. He said this initiative would benefit forest-dependent industries with secure, visible, traceable, and sustainable sources of supply and ensure sustainable management of forest landscapes. “It is a win for the people, profits and the planet.”

Professor Ashwini Chhatre signed the MoU on behalf of ISB, and Sujatha Karthikeyan, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Department of Mission Shakti, signed it on behalf of the Odisha government. The Exchange of the MoU was between Prof Chhatre and Manasi Nimbal, CEO Odisha Livelihood Mission in presence of Odisha’s Hon’ble Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, as part of the high profile ‘Make in Odisha Conclave,’ signifying the importance of this initiative for his state.

ISB-BIPP's ‘Initiative on the Forest Economy’ (IoFE) is built on the three pillars of security of tenure, economies of scale, and assured market linkages. It aspires to create a landscape-scale sustainable and thriving forest economy by enabling sustainable management of forests and improved livelihoods for over 200 million forest-dependent people across India. With pilots currently running in Malkangiri district in Odisha, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh, the model is now ready to scale up and scale out rapidly.

Such an interventional project will change the outlook of the forests from one which is seen as a space of poverty and deprivation to one which is at the base of future economic growth.