Strengthening linkages

Discussions on Forest Rights at a Gram Sabha

Putting information to work for better interventions

K
eystone has been working in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) over the last 20 years (since 1993) with indigenous communities on eco-development initiatives. During the last couple of years, seven thematic areas have taken form, derived from the original idea of a holistic approach to the issues of livelihoods, conservation & enterprise. These areLivelihoodConservationOrganic Market DevelopmentCulture & PeopleEnvironmental GovernanceTraining & Information and Finance & Administration.

Meeting with the Governor of C...

This was a pleasant surprise for all of us – a mail from the principal secretary to the Governor of Chattisgarh, inviting us to visit him. He had seen the programme Amazing Indians and felt that there was a connect that could be cultivated for the state, particularly with non timber forest produce (NTFPs). I needed `help’ and that came in the form of Sneh and Madhu as we travelled to Raipur and spend a couple of days (11th and 12th March), with them, visiting, sharing and discussing various aspects. On the 10th evening, we had a meeting with the Hon’ble Governor, Mr. Shekhar Dutt,  who had retired from the Govt as the Defence Secretary. Mr. Amitabh Jain, the PS to the Governor and Ms. Sanjeeta Gupta, Conservator and GM of the CG State MFP Federation, accompanied us. We then visited the local Sanjivini shop (retail outlet) as well as the NWFP Mart (deals with forest produce on a wholesale basis). Honey seems to be the best seller even there. On 11th, we had an opportunity to visit the Hastshilp Vikas Board and have a look at the initiatives being taken them – the potential is immense. Later in the afternoon, we had presentations with the top brass of the CG Forest Department - . Sneh – Local livelihoods & NTFP . Madhu Ramnath – Conservation values in NTFP Management . Mathew – Marketing & Certification of NTFP The next day was a long one with a visit to Bilaspur (honey processing center), Sanjeevani and NWFP Mart and then to Donganala (vanaushadhi processing center) – interesting as the DFO was a product of the Mettupalayam Forest College and extremely pleased to meet Madhu, of whom he had heard so much (a legend!!)  To sum up, CG Forest Department has made a lot of efforts and definitely one of the far sighted departments in the country. Countless trainings on sustainable harvesting, efforts on conservation, value addition have borne fruit. However, with mining being a major issue in the state and declining species in the wild, much more efforts need to be initiated before the richness of the state is lost. Branding and marketing skills sharpening would also allow the message of conservation to reach out to the larger public.

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PGS workshop in Vietnam/ADB-PG...

In October 2013 a project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)to promote PGS was launched. Under the Core Agricultural Support Program Phase 2, countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion(GMS), ADB envisages the GMS to be recognized as the leading producer of safe food, using climate-friendly agricultural practices and integrated into global markets through regional economic corridors. This attempt to introduce PGS at a regional level in the framework of this project is quite noteworthy. As Chris May, who is the main implementer of the project, says, who would have thought in 2004, sitting in Torres/Brazil at the first international workshop on alternative certification that PGS would slowly evolve and develop into such a buzzword. Now ADB is supporting it and finances pilot projects in 6 countries in the region. I was invited to come to Hanoi/Vietnam to be part of the regional workshop on 5th and 6th of March and the Vietnam national workshop on 7 March. Participants represented the government as well as the civil society. For me, the response was a pleasant surprise – even though many of thecountries in the regionhave taken only small steps at exploring organic agriculture, many of the participants knew that here was something about organic and PGS that they could take back home and show that it could work. A presentation by Ms. Sununtar Setboonsarng, Southeast Asia Department/ADB set the background for the regional workshop. It was followed by a presentation by Chris May who gave a brief overview on PGS and then it was an opportunity for me to share how the process has moved in India; how IFOAM has recognized PGSat a global level and how the Indian civil society and governments have moved simultaneously on building the PGS platform.Presentations from all the other countries – Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and China (2 provinces) gave a glimpse of efforts being made in their countries. The different experiences provided the participants with an opportunity to understand various approaches taken in different contexts. The presentation by Karen Mapusa on the efforts of POETCom (Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community) was excellent. Vitoon Panyakul’s attempt in Thailand is noteworthy – he was there in Brazil in 2004 but had sort of withdrawn after that. This revival bodes well for the region. There was a field visit on the 2nd day and it was encouraging to see the confidence with which the Vietnamese farmers spoke about PGS. Many of the women farmers were there for the national workshop. I hope that the enthusiasm remains with the participants as they head back to their countries and organizations. The next project-activities planned are the national workshops in Laos and Thailand in May.  

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Neighborhood Trees Campaign, 2...

Keystone Foundation and Nilgiri Natural History Society are partnering with TreesIndia @ India Biodiversity Portal for the Neighbourhood Trees Campaign, 2014. Every tree has a name, every tree has a place and every tree has a story to tell. From Earth day (22nd April) to 27th April join thousands of people across India to map, photograph and share stories of trees in our neighbourhoods! The objective is to bring people from all walks of life together to contribute and build a vibrant virtual community around the charismatic, yet so familiar `trees’. Objectives To document the natural and cultural history of all the trees in India. Have one species page for each trees found in India. To make this portal a virtual easily-searchable encyclopaedia on Trees of India. To build easy keys to identify trees, initiate campaigns to conserve, protect, and restore endangered tree species. Visit treesindia.in for more details & Register now! You can find details of a campaign near you here. Watch this space for more details of our campaign in the Nilgiris.

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Community Radio Sammelan 2014

Selvi and Pratim participated in the Community Radio Sammelan from 13th to 15th March 2014. This was organized by the Ministry of Information and broadcasting at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. The objective of the National CR Sammelan is to nurture, promote and empower Community Radio Movement in the country, so that the potential of the medium is fully utilized. A lot of exchanges of experiences by the award winning stations kicked off the meeting. Later group discussions on various topics, such as : community based disaster management, CR technical issues and solution, participatory content creation, community mobilisation, archiving and documentation of work, sustainability puzzle, CR for indigenous and marginalised communities, CR in the cities, challenges of campus CR stations, transition of management of CR to communities etc. took place. This was a wonderful opportunity for Keystone and Radio Kotagiri to get more information, insights and knowledge from other community radio stations.

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Celebrating 20 Years of Keysto...

Keystone Foundation celebrated 20 years of working with indigenous communities on Eco development initiatives in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve on the 16th & 17th February 2014 at the Keystone Foundation Campus, Kotagiri. Focusing on livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, organic marketing, culture and people, environmental governance and training and information, Keystone has come a long way and is entering the future of new innovative and sustainable work. This two day celebration brought together reputed guests and trustees from around the world, indigenous people from around the NBR along with the Keystone staff to celebrate this milestone of the organization. In addition to the celebrations, a strenuous agenda of program meetings with all stake holders that have supported and worked with Keystone over the past 20 years took place, this meeting and discussion set the road map of prospective work areas that Keystone will delve into in the future. This signified a renewed beginning and united vision set by everyone associated with the organization. The two days celebration hosted a number of reputed speakers who shed light on topics of relevance to the Nilgiris, their experiences and the work of Keystone. After inaugurating this celebration with the traditional dhupa ceremony, the founding directors took us down memory lane by talking about the birth of this organization and spoke about the interesting future that it holds. This was followed by talks by N Sundaradevan, IAS (Retd), Dr. D.K Mishra, Prof. K.C Malhotra and Dr. Nicola Bradbear. At the end of these two days, not only did Keystone gain an insight into the work it has been doing for the past twenty years, but established a renewed vision for the future.  Gallery day 1 | Gallery day 2

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A Conversation on Enterprise a...

It has been an exhilarating-tiring couple of days for us. The Bhooma Devi Women’s Self Help Group has just finished catering food for a two day Traditional Knowledge Fair. In keeping with the spirit of the Fair, the food served was traditional indigenous people’s fare – a millet spread of ragi, thenai, samai, keerai with mochai, pumpkin and wild tubers and greens on the side. We had asked the group of women if they would be interested in taking up the responsibility of catering traditional food at the Fair. They had readily agreed. We at the Livelihoods Group were fairly confident that they could pull it off. This was a known skill – cooking with traditional millets. Even if they haven’t been growing, cooking or eating these very often now, they knew the textures and the flavours. From some intermittent past they seemed to be remembering these. This group of women has been one that has applied leadership, internal regulation and discipline to quickly build up a group fund of about Rs 50,000/-. Surprising for us in the beginning, given that they are Alu Kurumba women, a community that still retains much of the cultural ethos of its recent hunting gathering past. But now the surprise has given way to a quiet confidence. Working with them while they served up hot meals for 100 children and about 50 adults was instructional. Their men have been cooking for such large gatherings at community rituals but for the women the numbers were larger than they have tackled. But they quickly approportioned tasks among the seven of them and set to work. Getting them to serve almost perfect, less than perfect dishes in the interest of meeting meal timings was a challenge but they quickly acquired it. The shop-pumpkins were not nearly as firm as the ones from their own fields and the thenai had not been dehusked properly but they quickly tweaked their methods to meet the condition of the produce. Later, at the stall giving out second portions to health conscious urban folk and nostalgic community members, they were pleased. They weren’t hooting or doing hi-fives but they had taken a moment to tuck in some betel leaves. After emptying out the lemon juice to thirsty children, we were sitting on the lawn waiting for the jeep to take us back. I had been both on the sidelines as well as in the stall and I was unable to shake off a nagging thought that had been voiced across the two days – both in congratulatory as well as in doubtful tones. Were we doing the ‘right’ thing encouraging the Alu Kurumbas to enterprise? We have been trying to encourage village level enterprise among this community with mixed success and have asked of ourselves this question – Was this our need for them to ‘learn’ to apply their knowledge and skills to enterprise? Was it somehow against the grain of these ‘not-so-long-ago forest dwellers’ to ‘sell’. I asked the women with me these questions. Was it against their culture to ‘sell’? Their responses were calm and aspirational. “When we share in the village, it is different, it is as though a guest is in our home’. When we come outside, why should we not sell?” It was Ruckmani akka, clear headed as always. Janaki amma, healer, widowed mother of five, reporter and community elder took a while – “ it is not against our culture. Otherwise how will we survive?” And indeed, the Alu Kurumba have been selling for a long time. Small forest produce but always with a measure of concern for their forests. The trader is not unknown in their villages. What is different is that now they want to sell on their terms. Even as the Town Panchayat President congratulated us on ‘helping the adivasis become modern, on teaching them to sell their produce’, I thought that our greater intervention has been helping them find spaces in discerning markets.  

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Looking Back to Move Forward

“When I listen to the stories that my elders tell me it is like magic,I enjoy it and I want to listen to it all the time”- Niroshasin from Bikkapathy mund. 92 children from indigenous groups across the NBR quietly occupied the lawns of the Nehru Park at Kotagiri to tell the stories of their villages and forests. These children are were from nine regions, representing that many groups and have been part of the conservation education programs conducted by Keystone Foundation. Today Keystone has also initiated the Nilgiri Natural History Society which is entering it’s 5th year; Keystone and the NNHS organised this event together. Since January the children have met after school hours and over weekends at the area offices of Keystone to plan and make materials for the fair. They were guided by the area teams and came up with some innovative ideas and displays. The exhibits were theme based – sacred groves, benefits of the forest, wild foods, water conservation, traditional agriculture, honey hunting being some of the themes. We estimate that about 1000 adults and children visited the Fair over two days. There was non stop music from indigenous bands and the dancing it seems never stopped! Many of the schools of the district responded to our invitation and brought their children to the Fair. The children asked questions, made friends and listened with interest to the indigenous children. The indigenous children spoke with confidence and pride about their knowledge. Many of these children attend local schools and had never taken part in any public events. This was new to them and a memorable one too. The indigenous children from Toda, Irula, Paniya, Soliga communities travelled from Punanjanur, Sigur, Nilambur, Pillur, Bhaviyur, Banglapadigai, and Hasanur. For the indigenous children this was the first time they had a chance to interact with other indigenous group children to know of each others culture. The children have been part of an initiative supported by Keystone which is the ‘Village Elders Program’. For the past 6-8 years children from the villages have been going out on walks with an elder from their village and learning from them about their forest and all that is in them. One of the elders Veeraiah is a medicine man and tells the children about medicinal plants, another Madamma is well versed about bees and wild foods and shares her expertise with the children of her area. In these times the elders do not get a chance to interact with their children since they study in hostels and are out of the village most of the time. The children enjoy this time with their elders and the elders definitely feel important about their role. The traditional knowledge fair was an initiative to showcase what the children had learnt from their elders and to provide them a forum to talk about it with pride. For Keystone it was a chance to look back at the impact of the village elder program and for the NNHS a chance to look ahead to plan how these children would become ambassadors for conservation. When it was time to say goodbye to these 92 who had stayed with us for three days we felt a vaccuum,and when I mentioned this to Nadiya from Banglapadigai, she didn’t think twice and said “but why don’t you all come and live with us in Banglapadigai”. Thank you Nadiya wish we could! Gallery day 1 | Gallery day 2

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Traditional Knowledge Fair

Keystone Foundation and Nilgiri Natural History Society jointly organize TRADITIONAL  KNOWLEDGE  FAIR The Nilgiris is home to more than 30 different indigenous communities or adivasi groups. Each group is dependant on the land, water and forest for their livelihoods. This dependence has lead to a deep understanding about nature that is unique to these communities. The traditional knowledge that communities have is often disregarded and given less importance whereas it is this knowledge that has helped these ancient societies survive for so long.  Traditional knowledge helps communities use their natural resources with respect and understanding. When this knowledge is lost, cultures are lost and identities fade away. Keystone Foundation has been working for many years to conserve and preserve the traditional knowledge of the adivasi communities of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The Nilgiri Natural History Society aims to promote the values of co-existence between people and biodiversity. Together we would like to celebrate Traditional Knowledge of the Adivasis of the NBR. Children play an important role in sustaining cultures and the knowledge they acquire from their elders is very crucial to this. Traditional knowledge is about the land, forests, water, climate, seasons, animals, plants, stars, beliefs etc. Many groups of adivasi children from across the NBR will present their traditional knowledge, through posters, pictures, exhibits and we would like to invite you to be part of this event. Come learn from the children about their rich traditions! DATE: February 1st and 2nd | VENUE: NEHRU PARK PROGRAM: Traditional knowledge exhibition Competitions for children Traditional food stalls Music Traditional music Dances Traditional sports and games   PLEASE COME WITH YOUR FAMILIES AND MAKE THIS EVENT A GRAND SUCCESS!  

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BioFach Japan, 2013

The BioFach Japan 2013 opened with a grand ceremony, short speeches from the dignitaries and the traditional ribbon cutting.  The EU delegate to Japan, the German ambassador, the Vice Minister of Agriculture from the Philippines and the Deputy Director General of Food Safety from the Japanese Agriculture Ministry, Chieko Watanabe san from Avanti Inc and Mathew John, IFOAM World board were present at the opening ceremony. The ceremony was followed by press conferences where Mathew could talk on IFOAM and its principles. At a seminar, Mathew spoke on the importance of indigenous knowledge in Organic Agriculture, which was well received by the audience. Later, a meeting with members of IFOAM, Japan raised issues like: present issues of concern and communication with members. The response to the stall and booths were phenomenal too, consumers continuously walked into the booths and the fair. A small interview with a journalist from The Mainichi Newspapers (Miko Myochin) – interesting questions from her – hopefully, an article in this quite well known newspaper of Japan and also good publicity for IFOAM and BioFach. Gallery  

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Reach Us

Keystone Foundation
Keystone Centre, PB 35
Groves Hill RoadKotagiri 643 217
Nilgiris District, Tamil Nadu India

Telefaxes: +91 (04266) 272277, 272977, 275297
Email: kf at keystone-foundation dot org

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