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VASUNDHARA - Democratising Natural Resources Governance

Our Approach

Vasundhara is a research and policy advocacy group that works on environment conservation and sustainable livelihood issues.  Our organisation was initially conceived to support and strengthen community-based initiatives to protect and conserve forests in the state of Orissa.  Though several thousand self-initiated community forestry groups existed – with elaborate and diverse institutional arrangements for forest management and conservation – until the 1990s they were not discussed or acknowledged on any front. 

The late 1980s and early 1990s marked the large-scale implementation of social forestry plantation with huge SIDA assistance; by aiming at creating village woodlots, the State emphasised plantation, rather than nurturing community efforts.  At this time, Vasundhara’s founding members were undertaking an assignment on social forestry plantation.  They saw numerous community forest protection initiatives in the western regions of the state, and were inspired by them and their potential to usher in new avenues for people-resource interaction and community-based natural resource management. 
Vasundhara was informally formed in 1991 to work for institutional and policy changes in community forest management.  The organisation was registered under the Societies Registration Act in 1992.  The first two years were focused on research aimed at a critical understanding of these community forestry efforts.  Subsequently, Vasundhara got involved in networking efforts with forest protection groups, people’s organisations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).  We also assisted various NGOs in their forestry activity planning for coordinated efforts aimed at strengthening community-based forest management.

Over the years, while working and retaining our focus on community forestry, Vasundhara has developed a more explicit focus on the sustainable livelihood of the marginalised sections.  We are also embarking on a more direct action on different environmental and biodiversity conservation issues.  The interface of conservation and livelihoods now forms the core of our interventions.

Role & Mission


We see our role as a process facilitator and catalyst in developing a supportive and enabling environment for community-based natural resources governance.  Equally important is our role in building local capacities to strive for changes in the direction of sustainability and democratisation of natural resources governance.  All our work is guided by our core values:

  • Conservation
  • Sustainable livelihood
  • Democratisation of natural resources governance
  • Social justice
  • “Voices” of the poor / Political involvement of the marginalised

Operating Philosophy


Vasundhara’s outlook and approach is defined by the following beliefs:

  • Local communities have the greatest stake in the sustainable management of the forest and other natural resources.
  • Local communities have the capability to manage forests and other natural resources on a sustainable basis.
  • Local natural resources can be used as a base for village development and sustainable livelihoods.
  • Growing commercialisation of the humans to nature interface has its greatest impact on the lives and livelihoods of the poor and marginalised, and truly sustainable development ought to oppose this trend.
  • The devastating trend of global commercialisation can be checked by respecting and promoting indigenous knowledge systems and practices.  This will ensure the sustainable utilisation and management of natural resources by local indigenous communities.


  • To facilitate capability enhancement at the community level for the management of local natural resources on a collective basis.
  • To promote equity and social justice through community management of local natural resources.
  • To make possible the establishment of local communities having control over natural resources, especially forests, and advocacy for policy changes in this direction.
  • To facilitate mechanisms for support to community institutions, and enhance the capabilities of support mechanisms and organisations.
`Thematic Teams

To focus our efforts, we organise our programme goals around six thematic teams:

  • Community Forestry
  • Sustainable Livelihoods and Economic Democratisation
  • Biodiversity Conservation & Livelihood
  • Environment & Development
  • Land Rights, Access and Tenure
  • Community Empowerment Initiatives

We believe in a collective approach, which manifests in the form of teamwork.  The six thematic teams function on this basis.  Within Vasundhara, the idea of building such groups was to bring about focused interventions on issues in an integrated approach to get effective outcomes.  These groups are not watertight; in fact, they are interlinked.  This process of thematic team-building not only helps in producing effective results; it also contributes strongly to the reinforcement of the organisation's goals and priorities.


Current Focus

Our work is currently focused on:

  • Community access to and rights over forests and forest products
  • Enabling policy environment for community forest management and for forest-based livelihoods
  • Non-timber forest product (NTFP) gatherers having control over markets.
  • Strengthening indigenous knowledge
  • Safeguarding customary and traditional rights over natural resources
  • Forests and local natural resources for rural development
  • Environment and biodiversity Conservation

Looking Ahead

Networking, learning from each other, and strong feedback loops are critical in improving the effectiveness of those who would like to see a more just and democratic society.  With this in mind, Vasundhara plans to consolidate our work and interventions in different areas.  We will focus on collaborative learning processes at different scales with different actors.  As reflective practitioners, we would like our learning to feed into other social processes more directly.  We also strive to play a greater role in fostering learning, reflection, and critique amongst civil society actors. 


Democracy, Equity, Social Justice and Ethical Development

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