grantees » Sakuntala Dehuri

Sakuntala  Dehuri, India

Born in a remote Adivasi village of Orissa, India, Sakuntala had to walk 8km daily to get to her high school. That never stopped her though, and with a Master’s degree in hand and her natural leadership capabilities, Sakuntala has become one of the most empowered women of her area. She strives tirelessly to encourage the active participation of women and other under-priviledged groups in decision making processes, and united 30 village forest protection committees under one umbrella organization for effective advocacy and knowledge-sharing. Sakuntala also works with Gram Swaraj, an NGO based on participatory approaches to the sustainable development of forest dependent tribal groups in her native Mayurbhanj district through non-timber forest products (NTFPs).  NTFPs allow people to gain economically from the products of the forest without the harvest of trees, such as honey, resin, medicinal plants, etc., and encourage a sustainable relationship with nature. Sakuntala specifically focuses on the capacity building of NTFP gatherers and the regeneration of their forests.  

Using the JWH initiative grant, Sakuntala completed an internship at the Keystone Foundation. She learnt a lot of about the value addition of NTFPs and value chain analysis methodology, in order to increase the benefits for NTFP gatherers. She gained a better understanding of honey and honey-bee conservation, which proved essential for her work with traditional honey hunters. Sakuntala also conducted numerous exchange visits to other NGOs to learn from their techniques. She learned about the creation and management of cooperatives for primary collectors to get better prices for their produce, about the diverse uses and application of bamboo and Neem, a medicinal plant with an enormous variety of uses including being a natural pesticide, and about land and forest rights. She says, “before this I had only theoretical knowledge about NTFP value addition and market access. My visits to different places increased my creativity and thoughts and have inspired me to work more vigorously and effectively. Now I am a part of a larger network.All of her newfound knowledge led to what Sakuntala feels is her greatest acheivement yet, the creation of an apex organization of women NTFP gatherers called Tejaswini Mahila Sammukhya, “which eventually will play a key role in development of successful NTFP enterprises.” All in all, Sakuntala continues to work for gender equality, sustainable development and conservation. She says, I dream of a greener world. More specifically, I want to play a larger role in the protection and management of the Similipal biosphere reserve which faces a severe threat of destruction.



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