Regional Media Briefing Workshop on 'Ecology as a Source of Sustainable Livelihood'

Bhubaneshwar, December 22-23, 2004

The topic selected for the workshop was ‘Ecology as a Source of Sustainable Livelihood’, and the event was held at the Panthnivas (Orissa State Tourism Development Corporation) conference hall on December 22 and 23.

The rationale behind organising the workshop was to brief journalists on the subject of ecology as a source of sustainable livelihood. It is a revolutionary idea long held and propounded by CSE. The workshop, it was believed, would help disseminate and demystify this subject and the idea behind it to local mediapeople, who would then write about the issue in a more balanced manner. Orissa, an immensely natural resource-rich – but also economically very poor – state, was an ideal venue for discussing the subject.

The subject of the workshop was chosen after careful deliberation. A recently published cover story in Down To Earth (‘Jobs’, November 30, 2004, Vol 13, No 13), based on a study conducted by CSE, provided the framework for the subject. The study and the cover story argued that years of planning and economic growth in India have not resulted in employment generation; instead, the numbers of jobless have surged – especially in rural India. Growth-induced employment generation is, therefore, not the solution. Ecology and forest-based activities offer the only option for achieving our employment targets.

Participation for the workshop was invited from journalists from the states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Blessed with an abundance of natural resources, each of these states supports a large segment of population which is dependent on a variety of forest-based activities. It was felt that the subject of the workshop, therefore, would be of special relevance for them.

Applications for the workshop were called for through e-mailers and adverts in Down To Earth and the CSE website. A poster was also designed and displayed in all the prominent newspaper offices and the local press club in Bhubaneshwar. Personal letters to editors of prominent dailies in the four states and Delhi, inviting their recommendations for participants, were e-mailed and faxed.

We received a total of 36 complete applications – 18 were from Orissa, seven from Andhra Pradesh, six from Chhattisgarh, two from Delhi and one each from Bihar, Jharkhand and Karnataka. Of these, 23 were shortlisted to attend the workshop. Six of the shortlisted belonged to states other than Orissa.

Of the 23 shortlisted participants, about 21 participated in the event. Senior journalists and reporters from The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), NDTV, The New Indian Express, Asian Age, Dharitri (Oriya), Vaartha (Telugu), Hitavada (Hindi) and Prabhat Khabar (Hindi) were present; so were a number of freelancers contributing to publications and agencies such as Samaj (Oriya), Sambad (Oriya), The Statesman, Tehelka and the Women’s Feature Service.

The workshop agenda was divided clearly into the two days: the first day was devoted to across the table discussions on various aspects of the issue, and the next day to a highly instructive site visit. The first day’s proceedings began at 9.30 AM and concluded at 6.00 PM, while the next day’s site visit extended from 8.00 AM to 5.30 PM. The workshop agenda on day one, which began with short introductions from Souparno Banerjee, Coordinator, Media Resource Centre, CSE and Ranjan Panda, was broken down into three broad sections:

  • The crisis, which enumerated the entire issue of ecological poverty and the erosion of sustainable livelihoods -- focusing at length on the causes, the nature and the proportion, the statistics etc. Richard Mahapatra, Coordinator, Poverty and Environment unit of CSE spoke on this issue.
  • The opportunities, which looked at the immense potential that lay in tapping forest-based resources and activities for generating employment. Richard and Manoj Pattnaik, Head, Forests and Governance, RCDC, Bhubaneshwar, were the speakers. Manoj gave a good presentation on the market values and economics of trade in various forest products in the four states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and AP with live examples to help journalists in better understanding of the issue.
  • The challenges for the media, an interactive session in which the participants shared their experiences in development writing and debated on how to meet the challenge of low coverage of development issues. While every speaker was ruing the problem of finding space in newspapers on issues of development, S S Nanda, Sambalpur Bureau Chief of the Oriya daily Dharitri, had the solution: while s/he is reporting his usual and accepted beats and stories, the journalist must, he said, be ready to beat the system by finding ways and means of reporting on such issues whenever s/he can, through whichever medium s/he can. This was corroborated by NDTV correspondent Purushottam Thakur, who told me that he tries to do such stories whenever possible, while he is in the field covering more popular issues. Richard, Ranjan and Souparno conducted this session.

Site visit

The following day, a site visit was organised to the village of Magarbandh (Sulia forests) in Nayagarh, about 150 kms from Bhubaneshwar. The purpose of the visit was to give the participants a first-person feel and look at a community that has revived its forests and is now thriving on forest-based activities. Led by the locally-based Jungle Surakshya Samiti, 750 villages in the district have taken over control of their forests, regenerated them extensively, are managing them and are successfully using them for their sustenance. The workshop participants were given an introductory presentation (in Oriya, which was translated by Richard and others) by members of the Samiti, after which members of the village committee spoke to them. Richard had, in fact, done a story on this same village in 1998, and he was struck by the progress that the village had made since then. Shachi is putting together a possible grassroots piece on the village and its wor.

The site visit certainly made a lot of difference – the participants could relate to what they had discussed and listened to the day before. Several of them have written to me saying that they are doing feature pieces on the village.


The general feedback that we got from journalists was that such regional workshops were crucial to help local and upcoming journalists in better understanding of environmental issues and defogging the perspective. It also helped mid-career journalists in reporting relevant issues with a different angle and the information to back it up. Media – national and regional – do not adequately report on the environment and ecological issues and their impact on the masses; one of the reasons being lack of access to such information and lack of knowledge on these issues. Hence workshops like these are important sources of news and information for the national and regional media. For instance, Satya Sundar Barik of the Asian Age said that, “Though I knew that rural economy could sustain people for few months. I was stunned after listening (to) experts (talking) on volume of trade in forest sector.”

Says Prabuddha Jagdeb of the New Indian Express, “As a mid career journalist, I joined the workshop to be enlightened about alternative and sustainable means of employment generation. As I see things now, non-farm sector seems to hold a promise to India’s current crisis – unemployment and mostly rural. I feel regular interchanges like this at the regional level can increase awareness and generate interest in the issues.”

Journalists also mentioned a need for resources for their stories. Priya Ranjan Sahu of the Hindustan Times, said that the most valuable help MRC could provide to journalists would be by providing resource material and resource persons.

Though the journalists were generally satisfied with the structure, content and presentation of the workshop, they felt that interaction between grassroots functionaries, government officials, experts and villagers would have been informative and interesting. Some even suggested the inclusion of a documentary in the schedule. Siba Sankar Nanda of the Oriya daily, Dharitri, suggested additions like “discussion about the value addition to the forest produce for larger market”.  Dr Rina Routrey, a freelancer associated with the Women’s Organisation for Sociocultural Awareness, said that focus could have been laid on issues related to the needs and changes among tribal and indigenous society which co-exist with the nature. 

They felt the site visit made them see things in perspective and relate to what was being talked about the day before. Some have published stories on the site visit and the published clippings have been attached with the report. A month after the workshop Zee News and NDTV correspondents went back to village Magarbandh and they have done stories on the forest communities there. Besides the workshop and the report by Richard have also been discussed in the Chhattisgarh Assembly, following which Richard has been asked to address the Assembly sometime in February, 2005.

However, the most valuable impact of the workshop has been a change in the perspective of the journalists about issues related to sustainable livelihood. They now know that forests can be a sustainable form of livelihood especially in rural areas. Hence they can also understand the impact of forest degradation on these communities, the Supreme Court’s order on removing encroachments from within the forests and the reason for migration to urban areas. Some of the comments are:

“One, I have been able to know many facts not reported in the mainstream media. The villager’s mindset probably given a go by. But at the workshop their case was examined from a sympathetic viewpoint. Two, it has provided me insights into how the researchers at CSE and journalists work to unveil the various anomalies in government plans and why do they go wrong at grassroots level.”
Prabuddha Jagdeb, The New Indian Express, Bhubaneswar

“The workshop helped a lot to change my perception about ecology and economy.” Satyasundar Barik, Asian Age, Bhubaneswar

“Hailing from a new state and new thrust for development mainly industrial, the workshop has given an idea to take up the issues, affecting rural economy and sustenance.”
K N Kishore, The Hitavada, Raipur

“I used to believe that mines and industry used to provide employment. But now I believe it is the forest which provide sustainable employment.”
Sudeep Kumar Guru, The Times of India, Balangir

News clippings