Case studies

Restoring Livelihood Security

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For close to 50 years, Ghanshyam and other residents of Dumbisahi village in Odisha lived in penury because forest officials would not let them practice their traditional trade of rearing silk worms. With support from PACS, the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) secured their right to the forest land, ensuring financial sustainability for them.

Ghanshyam is not afraid any more to go into the forest now to rear silkworms.

Reversing a life of penury

Adjacent to the Similipal National Park and Tiger Reserve in the Mayurbhanj district lies the small village of Dumbisahi. Situated in Kerkera Gram Panchayat of Karanjia Block, Dumbisahi has 62 households. Most of the families are forest dwellers of the schedule tribes and speak “Ho”, a tribal dialect. Ghanashyam Hanaga’s family, which includes his wife, two daughters and three sons, is one of them. 

After 55 years of living in poverty, Ghanashyam can finally breathe a sigh of relief as he is now financially independent because of the intervention of the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) under the PACS programme. Before ISS came to Dumbisahi, Ghanashyam was forced to make ends meet with the irregular wages he earned as a landless labourer. 

Lack of documents

The residents of Dumbisahi had lived off the forest for generations and Ghanshyam’s traditional trade was to rear silkworms. But they had no legal documents to prove their ownership of the forest land.

Ghanshyam and a fellow villager show the coccons they have cultivated.

‘I learnt all about rearing Tusser silk worms from my father but was afraid to utilise this knowledge because officials of the Forest Department would threaten me and refused to let us perform essential tasks like pruning and trimming the branches of trees to assist in the growth of cocoons,’ Ghanashyam says. 

Fear of the officials had long since deprived the community of profiting from such traditional livelihood practices. Ghanashyam adds: ‘For a long time now we have not been able to go into the forest because the forest department officials cut down the tress we use for the activity and warn us against using the forests for Tusser cultivation.’

Reviving the Forest Rights Committee

When ISS first started working in the area, they found a defunct Forest Rights Committee which existed only on paper. The members had no knowledge of individual or community forest rights and the procedures to be followed to avail of the benefits of the Forest Rights Act (FRA)

The organisation took the first step in reviving the committee by identifying the concerned individuals, getting them together and conducting regular awareness meetings on the Forest Rights Act, and other rights provided by government schemes such as the MGNREGA rural employment scheme, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana  micro insurance and a number of other subjects. 

The meetings served to capacitate the group and strengthened them to carry out their roles and responsibilities. ‘ISS informed us that the jungle was ours and that no one had the right to stop us from using its resources. We restarted Tusser cultivation again and are not afraid of the forest officials anymore,’ Ghanashyam states. 

Under the programme, the villagers also got work allotted under the MGNREGA rural employment scheme

Land provides security

ISS went on to liaison with district authorities and helped the committee to apply for and receive titles to the forest land. In the process, Ghanashyam received two and a half acres of forest land. 

‘Once I received my patta (piece of land) I realized that there was nothing to stop me anymore. Last year I  once again earned Rs. 10,000 from silk cultivation,’ says a rejuvenated Ghanashyam. ‘ISS also provided linkages to other government schemes so that we could benefit from them. I and 37 others dug a community well under the MGNREGA convergence programme and started growing vegetables. My share alone was another Rs. 10,000. I also received Rs. 50,000 to construct a house under the Indira Awas Yojana hosing scheme.’ 

Kedar Nath, project coordinator of ISS, says: ‘We have also strengthened the community’s authority over the surrounding forests and its natural resources by helping them acquire their community forest rights under the Forest Rights Act. This has gone a long way in securing the livelihood of the entire village.’ 

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