D. Biodiversity Conservation: Western Orissa Rural Livelihoods Project (India)

(NB: To read more about gender, biodiversity conservation and CCA, see Sectoral Module C;to read more about gender and forestry/watershed management, see Sectoral Module B.)

Project Name:

Western Orissa Rural Livelihoods Project (WORLP)




Biodiversity (NTFPs)

Watershed Management Forestry

Implementing Organizations:

Funding Partners:
Department for International Development (DFID)

Budget (US$):
53.62 million (£32.75 million)

2001–2011 (includes one-year no-cost extension)

Project Objectives:

  • Create a favorable environment for fair trade of NTFPs
  • Encourage investment and public-private partnerships in the NTFP sector
  • Promote women’s collector or other types of cooperatives as successful alternative trade institutions for NTFPs, and ensure their control over procurement, enterprise development, and trade in NTFP
  • Ensure sustainable harvesting of NTFPs and conservation of forest resources
  • Shift emphasis of trade from raw materials for industries to value-added products via supply chain management.

Project goal:
“More effective approaches to Sustainable Rural Livelihoods adopted by government agencies and other stakeholders in
Kalahandi Balangir Koraput
districts and elsewhere.”(Source: Sambodhi Research and Communications Pvt Ltd. n.d.)

Notable Gender-Related Activities and Processes:

  • Pro-poor, NTFP orientation and participatory orientation created opportunities for women’s involvement
  • Selected several indicators focused on increasing women’s participation, as both clients and staff, or improving women’s status
  • Hired women staff as community specialists
  • Worked through women’s self-help groups (SHGs)
  • Encouraged women’s participation on watershed management committees
  • Innovate application of project-specific (Women’s) Empowerment Index to track project impacts on project clients and a control group.

Notable Gender-Related Results:

  • Improvements in women’s economic status, for those involved in SHGs
  • Economic status changes led to increased household and community-level respect for women
  • Increased membership and leadership in watershed management decision-making
  • Improved access by women to information and key institutions for NTFP activities.


Department for International Development (DFID). 2004. Logical framework—Western Orissa rural livelihoods project. DFID, London. (URL is no longer available).

Sambodhi Research and Communications Pvt Ltd. n.d. Impact assessment of western Orissa rural livelihood project. Revised main report submitted to Department for International Development, UK, and Orissa Watershed Development Mission (Government of Orissa).

Traidcraft. n.d. Building sustainable livelihoods for collectors of non-timber forest produce (NTFP). A web-page description of Western Orissa Livelihood Development Project.

Pattnaik, M. 2006. Western Orissa rural livelihoods project: Strategy for non-timber forest produce based livelihood interventions. Working Paper No. 58. Government of Orissa and DFID, London.


1. Introduction

For centuries, rural residents in India and elsewhere have managed forests for timber and NTFPs. NTFPs provide food and medicine for humans and animals, building materials, and are also valued for their chemical properties by industrial interests. They provide a daily safety net for the poorest and landless rural residents and are a source of survival for many households during and after droughts, floods, and other climate or natural disasters. In recent years, the latter products have constituted an important part of conservation-related livelihood strategies and some have been targeted for fair trade certification schemes.

Orissa is the poorest state in India, with about 46 percent of its 36 million people living in poverty. It also has a large tribal population (Traidcraft n.d.). Many tribal and other communities depend on forests and the collection of NTFPs for their livelihoods. In Western Orissa,[51]
NTFPs are an important part of livelihood strategies of the poorest households. The NTFP sector provided more than six months of work to the people living in the villages around forests;as a whole, a family living near the forest earns more than 50 percent of its cash income from the sale of collected NTFPs (Pattnaik 2006). Women are involved in the collection and processing of many of the NTFPs. Despite their hard work to collect and process NTFPs, collectors received very little income in return. Even with policy reforms in 1996 and 2002 to break forest concession and NTFP trade monopolies and devolve NTFP trade oversight to local government, collectors still lacked capacity to engage with buyers and policymakers to assert their interests. The sector was still neglected by trade bodies and the state;not much was being done to develop products, transfer technology, or improve markets (ibid.). It is also important that forests and NTFPs are managed in a sustainable way to ensure they continue to support the livelihoods of local communities in the long term, particularly as the frequency of droughts increase in Western Orissa.

Starting in 2001, the Western Orissa Rural Livelihoods Project (WORLP) was designed by DFID to improve the livelihood status of the rural poor in 290 watersheds in four districts of western Orissa. It is implemented by the Watershed Development Mission of the Government of Orissa. Although there is a broader livelihood approach, the discussion within this case focuses mainly on the NTFP activities. The 10-year objectives for the project were to:

  • Create a favorable environment for fair trade of NTFPs
  • Encourage investment and public-private partnerships in the NTFP sector
  • Promote women’s collector or other types of cooperatives as successful alternative trade institutions for NTFPs, and ensure their control over procurement, enterprise development, and trade in NTFPs
  • Ensure sustainable harvesting of NTFPs and conservation of forest resources
  • Shift the emphasis of trade from raw materials for industries to value-added products via supply chain management.

2. Summary of Project

General description of proposal preparation

Overall, the project took a participatory approach. However, neither its consultation process for project design nor its analytical assessments are described in the available literature.

Gender integration during project design/formulation and proposal preparation

WORLP was implemented from 2000 to 2001 by the Orissa Watershed Development Mission of Government of Orissa, through funding from DFID. The project was originally designed for 290 watersheds (Phase I). Its “watershed-plus”approach was extended to 387 additional watersheds in the four WORLP districts during Phase II, after the midterm evaluation (Sambodhi Research and Communications Pvt Ltd. n.d.). The project targeted 3,000 households across four districts. WORLP built on an existing watershed management program and shifted its orientation to identify appropriate livelihoods strategies for those watersheds with maximum concentrations of poor households.

The WORLP’s NTFPs activities focused on:

  • Promoting the formation/strengthening of over 200 SHGs, eight cooperatives, and two apex cooperatives so that NTFPs collectors could work together and develop a collective voice, making them better able to negotiate with buyers and policymakers and demand their rights to a fair price and vital social services.
  • Providing training in sustainable harvesting practices, like leaving seeds, small saplings, and roots intact, and not cutting branches when harvesting fruits.
  • Promoting/strengthening village forest protection committees and area- and district-level forest protection organizations to improve forest management practices.
  • Supporting NTFPs collectors to undertake value addition of forest products so they could command a higher price, such as cleaning, grading, drying, processing, packing, and branding.
  • Providing training in business skills and fair trade.

Gender integration during project implementation

  • The project collected sex-disaggregated information during a baseline survey, including both household and group information, such as SHGs, Watershed Development Committees (WDCs), as well as the composition of village specialists.
  • Several indicators set targets for women’s participation or aimed to improve their status:
  • For output activities related to organization and participatory livelihood capacities of the poorest (Output 1), the project tracked and set targets (30 percent) for women’s membership and self-reported active involvement for the WDCs and set a 30 percent minimum target for women village specialists who were trained by the project.
  • For activities to enhance and diversify the livelihood asset base for the poorest (Output 2), the project was one of the few cases for this report that tracked reductions in drudgery (35 percent reduction, reported by women, of agricultural and household related drudgery) over multiple years.
  • For project management indicators (Output 8), the project sets a target of 30 percent women field staff for two districts after the first year and in two more districts at the end of year three. At the block level, the indicator targets called for 35 percent women staff on fully staffed implementation teams.
  • There may have been sex-disaggregated data collection for other people-level indicators, but that requirement is not specified in the performance management plan (available online).
  • The project worked through SHGs, which tended to be mostly women. Through these groups, women took part in income-generating activities, gained access to microfinance and micro-savings opportunities, and the revolving and grant component of the project funds.
  • In its seventh year, WORLP included gender analysis as part of a 2008 impact assessment exercise for all activities. The consultants involved designed an interesting Empowerment Index that served as a benchmark for the impact assessment conducted in 2011 (Sambodhi Research and Communications Pvt Ltd. n.d.) at the close of the project. The index is derived from a weighted average of several component indices: involvement in livelihood activities index, access to information index, access to institution index, and household decision-making index. Project clients were compared to a control group for the three-year study window. Results of this impact assessment are described in the section below.

Key gender-related results
(Source: Sambodhi Research and Communications Pvt Ltd. n.d.)

  • Women’s participation increased to 34 percent of members of the WDCs and nearly 13 percent of the WDCs are headed by women members as president.
  • A total of 12,960 SHGs, composed of mostly women, were formed and strengthened during the project period. Of these, more than 1,500 were engaged with property rights institutions for accessing use rights of natural resources and government schemes.
  • The percentage of village specialists who were women was less than expected, 17 percent compared to the 30 percent minimum target.

The impact assessment study found:

  • Client women scored significantly higher on the Empowerment Index than non-client women in 2008 and 2011, but the increase was greater for the control group in 2011. The consultants attributed the improved scores to better access to information and greater involvement in livelihood activities for women in the project areas.
  • WORLP’s efforts to recognize women’s free time periods when scheduling project and SHG meetings paid off with greater participation by women.
  • Women clients reported change in the attitudes of male members in the family. Men have grown more comfortable with women handling cash and dealing with banks, incurring expenditure on behalf of family, meeting in SHGs and village events, and being more mobile. At the outset, men were not very comfortable with the idea of women getting engaged in SHGs and venturing out, but with time the level of discomfort has mellowed. In some households, men have increased their time spent on childcare.
  • There were also changes reported in terms of male respect for, and recognition of, women’s expanded contributions to civic life due to the government’s focus on SHGs and women’s active participation in local bodies.
  • Women’s new economic knowledge and skills also earned them greater respect within and outside their households, as did their enhanced income from SHG income-generating activities, microfinance access, and access to the revolving and the grant component of the project funds. The SHGs have provided an avenue to poor women to make micro-deposits at regular interval.
  • Nearly half the women respondents in the project villages reported increased involvement in agricultural activities. In control villages, approximately 38 percent of the women reported increase. Similarly, almost 41 percent of the women (18 percent in control villages) reported increased involvement in livestock activities with almost one third attributing the same to project activities.
  • In 2008 and 2011, about half of the women respondents reported increased access to agricultural information, around 42 percent reported increased access to livestock information, and almost one third reported increased access to information on NTFPs. These scores exceeded women in the control group in both years.
  • Women’s access to common property resources, markets, credit, and property rights institutions increased from 2008 to 2011.

3. Conclusions


  • Women’s SHG strategies were balanced by engaging women in mixed-sex WMCs.
  • Indicators aimed to not just “count beans”but to understand changes in women’s status.
  • Gender impact analysis is not very common for most projects, particularly with data from a control group. The Empowerment Index has utility for other projects that want to go beyond output and outcome indicators.

Lessons learned and missed opportunities

  • Men’s support was necessary for women’s involvement in SHGs and community-wide meetings and decision-making. However, it is not clear what the project did to engender this support for the targeted women participants.
  • Obvious people-level indicators did not appear to be sex-disaggregated nor were household indicators disaggregated by the sex of the household head or land indicators disaggregated by sex of the land owner. For indicators focused on the poorest households, it is likely that these clients should include a high percentage of female-headed households.
  • The gender analysis was conducted quite late in the process. As a result, baseline gender information on the project was taken from year 7 rather than year 1.