Jeeva (name changed) is a member of the Self-Help Group (SHG) in Barepanga village being supported and strengthened by CARE India, under its Pathways initiative in Kandhamal district in Odisha. When Jeeva lost her husband she was left with no source of income and hardly any assets, except for a small piece of land of 2 acres in the nearby forest. The initial days were a challenge for Jeeva and her only child, as she struggled to feed and maintain the family. Her problems were compounded as she was not aware of the location of their forestland, even when she had a valid patta. She was also not able to get any help from the local government officials in locating her land. Around that time, Pathways initiated FRA related-activities in her village, and Jeeva came in contact with CARE’s Forest Rights facilitator to whom she recounted her problem. Supported by the facilitator and the local ITDA staff in Kandhamal, the Gram Sabha helped her identify her piece of land.

Today, Jeeva is cultivating paddy and vegetables on her own land. With this secured source of livelihood, she manages to maintain her family, and support her son in pursuing secondary education. In addition to that, due to CARE Pathways’ convergence initiatives, she has also applied for support to construct a house for her family under Mo Kudia’ Yojana, a housing scheme implemented by the state government to help poor households in constructing their own dwelling units. Displaying tremendous resilience and entrepreneurship, Jeeva has also filed an application with the Horticulture Department, seeking support to undertake mango plantation on her land, to maximize returns from the only piece of land she has. Access to land has made Jeeva confident and independent. She finds herself better prepared to take decisions on her life and livelihood.   

Jeeva is not the only one who has benefited from CARE India’s forest rights interventions. She and other women members of the SHGs supported under Pathways program, participate in various collectives strengthening activities undertaken in their village. She has reliable access to affordable credit from her group, which she invests in agriculture. She and other women are increasingly confident about enhanced crop production and productivity of their lands, having adopted the improved agricultural practices being promoted under Pathways.

Besides, women are starting to reap the benefits of aggregation and collective sale of their NTFPs, and supported by CARE India, actively negotiate with traders to fix a remunerative and fair price for their collected produce. This translates into more money in the hands of women and a bigger say in decision-making. These women who were only involved in NTFP collection earlier, and hardly engaged in marketing of the produce have started engaging with the markets, aggregating their produce, and negotiating prices with traders. The mobility of women has also expanded to include locations out of their villages, as women interact with NTFP traders in different markets. Sensitized by CARE India on gender equity and role of women, even men of Barepanga are not complaining, as they have also started recognising women as entrepreneurs!