World Water Day 2017 celebrated at Keystone

23 March 2017, Kotagiri: Keystone celebrated World Water Day with 24 primary school students from Satyakaathi School and Victoria Armstrong Memorial School in Kotagiri. The students, from LKG to Std V, were central to the programme organised by the Water Resources team. The UN theme for World Water Day 2017 was “Why waste water?” The idea that domestic greywater or ‘waste’ water is actually a resource is capturing the imagination of people worldwide. Some families channel this water into their gardens and save potable water. Others are creating small replicas of wetlands in their backyards and discharging greywater from kitchens and washrooms into them. The wetland plants are specially adapted to absorb nutrients from water and end up removing most of the dissolved matter as the water slowly flows through it. There was a speech competition held for the children on the importance of water and its conservation where Rubini (LKG) and Sashumathi (UKG) stole the show quite early on. Wearing boards with messages of “Don’t Waste Drinking Water” and “Grow Trees, Get Rains”, they spoke eloquently on their topics, even quoting Thirukkural. Other children spoke on various other topics related to water, including its properties. They highlighted the fact that although 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, only 3% of this is freshwater that can be used for drinking. The judges, Anita, Sara, and P. Chandran, were impressed by their confidence and the obvious happiness with which they strode up to speak before an audience of around 50 persons. For many of them, this was the first opportunity to present before an audience outside their school. This World Water Day activity was supported by Arghyam. After the programme on campus, the children went down the hill to Happy Valley where they saw for themselves, the spring and habitat restoration project. At Happy Valley, the children were joined by local residents and Mr. Vaapu, Chairman – Kotagiri Town Panchayat. Leo, Deputy Director- Keystone Foundation, spoke to them about how the now-reforested section of Happy Valley was a barren land just 10 years ago. A huge community effort in 2006 with three local schools, residents of Happy Valley and Keystone Foundation resulted in the cleaning of the area and planting of more than 1000 saplings in a single day. Currently, there are 430 trees belonging to 27 species native species in the restored area. Since 2006, the restoration site, which is one of the catchment areas for the spring flowing through the valley floor, has been carefully tended to. Periodic cleaning of invasive species were done and saplings that had died were replaced. Leo emphasised that all the trees in the restoration site were native species like Naval, Bikki, Koli and Kolamaavu which actively absorb rainwater and release it slowly over a period of this. As a result of this, the community noticed a significant improvement in the spring flow. The quality of water had improved and, whereas earlier the spring would dry up in summer, now it was flowing throughout the year. The residents moved through the restored area and were happy to see the healthy growth of trees. Everyone present was struck by the difference in temperature inside and outside the restored patch. Mr. Vaapu said that he was very happy to have been involved in with this initiative when it had begun. He commended the residents for their effort and asked them to ensure that the area around the spring be a trash-free zone. Gokul invited everyone present to reflect on the impact that this small restored area and find other spaces where the Happy Valley model can be reproduced to revive and sustain local water sources. View the gallery here

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Radio Kotagiri celebrates International Women’s Day with the launch of “Science for Women’s Health and Nutrition”  

  9 March 2017, Kaithala: Radio Kotagiri launched its project, Science for Women’s Health and Nutrition, to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th. Supported and catalyzed by the Department of Science and Technology, Govt of India, the project seeks to explore Community Radio as a tool to reach out to marginalised women who have limited knowledge of health and bring them regular information on various aspects of the subject. The event was held at the community hall in Kaithala, one of the four sites where this project is being implemented. The other sites are Thavittamedu, Thirichkadi and Pudu Kotagiri. Dr. Shiny Rehel, Programme Coordinator – Keystone Foundation and PI for the project, introduced the project as an initiative to engage with the community, especially the women. She said that the aim was to instil confidence in women of these areas, encouraging them to speak up about issues and develop solutions though networking, discussions and consultations. The project was launched by Dr. Poornima from the Nilgiri Adivasi Welfare Association, and Poongudi, Officer with Integrated Child Development Services, GoI. During the inaugural address, Dr. Poornima said, “It is important for women to understand that they should take care of their own health along with caring for their family. They have been ignoring their need for physical and mental wellness for too long now.” Ms. Poongodi, Officer with the Integrated Child Development Services, elaborated on the need for proper nutrition for children to thrive and also touched upon different methods of storing and cooking that can negatively impact the nutritional value of a food item. Radio Kotagiri, the first Community Radio Station in the Nilgiris had started preparing for this project as far back as November 2016 when, based on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, training had been given to community members on generating baseline data via questionnaire survey, establishing a rapport with the community, eliciting responses, and honing powers of observation. The baseline survey showed that a significant knowledge gap existed in the communities’ understanding of even the basic aspects of health such as balanced diet, precautions against diseases, and particularly the need to take care of themselves. Based on the needs as perceived by the baseline survey, Radio Kotagiri will be broadcasting one new 30-minute programme on Women’s Health and Nutrition every day for a year. Radio Kotagiri has trained 12 women from Kotagiri to conceptualize and produce radio programmes. Working in groups, these women have already created more than 40 programmes on a variety of topics including personal hygiene and teenage health issues. Besides the usual debates and group discussion, the women has used creative methods like radio drama and song duels (paatu-edirpaatu) to keep the listeners interested in the issues in question. One  of the issues that the project is addressing is the severe mental stress that women today are living with. Pavitra Vasudevan, Subject Manager – Health, Keystone Foundation, spoke on that subject during the launch. During her interactions with the community, she had understood that women today are overstressed because of increased workload and lack of community support. She spoke of women tending to concentrate on only their responsibility toward the family while neglecting the need to cater to their own mental wellness. She encouraged the women in the community to reach out to one another, not just in times of distress, but also to share their day-to-day life. Dr. Parthiban, Chief Medical Officer at the Kotagiri Government Hospital, was unable to attend the event but passed on his good wishes saying he was convinced that this project would have a positive impact on the community. He said that, “People come to us without having even a basic understanding of health. Programmes such as the ones that have been developed will definitely give them that knowledge and make it easier for us to give them quality care.” Jeyanthi and her team at Radio Kotagiri have been working very hard to ensure that the programmes maintain a high standard of quality. They have been brainstorming with the groups preparing programmes, helping them with background research, and facilitating discussions with subject experts. As a result, the women are now expanding their horizons and identifying issues and linkages that they had overlooked before. Conveying his congratulations to Radio Kotagiri on this initiative, Mr. Vappu, Chairman of the Kotagiri Town Panchayat, said, “There are many welfare schemes for women that are not successful because the women do not come forward to discuss their problems. I am very glad to see such an initiative by Radio Kotagiri where women have taken up the challenge and responsibility to address the health, nutrition and sanitation issues that impact them as well as their surroundings.”

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16 children from Vazhaithottam participate in Conservation Education Programme

7 March 2017, Vazhaithottam: Conservation Education conducted a programme with 16 children from Vazhaithottam on Saturday, 3rd March. Justin and Shiny spoke to them about the biodiversity in and around their area going on to lay emphasis on water and water sources and the importance of conserving them. Vazhaithottam is a village in the Sigur plateau about 10 km from Masinagudi. Rainfed agriculture is the mainstay of the communities here along with daily wage labour. This year, with the rains failing, Sigur has seen a dry spell that has taken a heavy toll on crops. With not much of flowering taking place, there has been a decline in the number of pollinators and consequently fruit setting has been inadequate leading to poor harvest. Once the children had understood about interactions and linkages within the ecosystem, they then went on to listing the flora and fauna that they had seen. With Justin’s help, the students browsed through pictures in identification books to list out plants and animals such as birds, butterflies, moths, and snakes that they have commonly seen around their homes. The children were then asked to depict what they understood of their surroundings in their own way and they came up with songs, dances and, most interestingly, a skit that eight of the children had conceptualized in 15 minutes! Although the concept of food chain has been touched on during the introduction, Shiny and Justin did not expect that the sequence of events that the children put together in their skit based on their understanding would portray the food chain as closely as it did. The children named themselves elephant, tree, grass, deer, ant, bird and tiger. A blue dupatta twisted into a circle formed the waterhole around which all the action took place. As the elephant pulled down the tree, the deer came to eat the leaves and grass around it. As it was eating, a tiger came to the water hole and ate the deer. The children could not resist incorporating an old fable to their skit and so one of them was the scavenging ant who fell into the waterhole and was rescued by a bird dropping a leaf on the water! Then the fallen tree, now a new plant, stands up again while the elephant and tiger come to drink from the waterhole. Keystone’s Conservation Education activities aims to create awareness and sensitivity within children regarding their surrounding biodiversity and also inculcate a sense of curiosity regarding the various linkages, direct and indirect, that connects each entity in the ecosystem. This programme left Shiny and Justin feeling content that the children had indeed understood the concepts that they had tried to put across. Thus far, we have been using our core funds to implement the conservation education programme. But this places limits on how much we can do and how many children we can reach out to. If you like what you are reading, then please do come forward and Support Conservation Education.

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Keystone celebrates World Wetlands Day 2017 with school students

10 February 2017, Kotagiri: Keystone celebrated World Wetlands Day with school students from Kotagiri. Gokul, along with Ranjith and Rilson, Community Resource Persons for the Water programme, engaged with 30 students from Satyakaathi School who visited the campus. The students were given a talk on the wonder and importance of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve with emphasis on wetlands and their conservation. After the movie on the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, ‘A Fragile Treasure’, the children were taken for a walk through Happy Valley and the adjoining wetland which is one of drinking water sources for Kotagiri town. Habitat restoration in Happy Valley began in 2006 and has been an ongoing Keystone project for 10 years now. After having seen the restored patch and the spring box for themselves, the children were able to understand how much care and time it takes for nature to heal herself. The Water Resources team also visited St Mary’s Home School, Vishwashanti Vidhyalaya Matriculation School and International Community School. The movie, “A Fragile Treasure” was screened for the children after discussing the importance of wetlands with them. Drawing competitions on the theme of wetlands was organised where almost 60 children from St. Mary’s and Vishwashanti schools participated in them. Wetlands are ecotones or borders between land and water zones that are usually covered by shallow water for long periods. Wetlands are natural water treatment plants and the wetland plants (rushes, sedges, ferns, etc.) are adapted to be able to removed dissolved salts and organic compounds from surrounding water. While this link has always been understood and accepted, the need for more and more land to be made available for development infrastructure, realty and agriculture is creating an unimaginable pressure on the wetlands and they are shrinking rapidly. Also, the kind of pollutants found today in water is no longer the traditional organic kind. This is hampering the wetland’s ability to filter out the contaminants. This year’s World Wetland Day was themed ‘Wetlands for Disaster Management’. Against the backdrop of the water scarcity that Kotagiri is facing now because of urbanisation and shrinking or damaged wetlands, we hope that these school interactions supported by Arghyam will leave a lasting impression on these young minds about the importance of conserving wetland and their catchment areas.  

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Leo wins the Sir JC Bose Memorial Award 2017

28 February 2017, Coimbatore: Robert Leo, Deputy Director, was awarded the Sir JC Bose Memorial Award for his work in the field of designing for appropriate technology, reviving traditional organic agriculture, and promoting Apis cerana beekeeping. Leo received the award today at a function held at the Bharatiar University in Coimbatore, along with seven other recipients. Leo has been an integral part of Keystone since before its birth. His passion for making science and technology ‘usable’ started as far back as his schooldays when he was in his native village in Kodaikanal. When the stream flowing through the village dried up, he dug a narrow deep trench from a river 1.6 km away to the village. He filled the trench with sand and covered it up with soil. This way, the trench was not visible on the surface and water from the river percolated through the sand to trickle into the village. This was almost 40 years ago, but the water is still flowing through. Through his years with Keystone, he has been dedicated to reversing the damage caused by unchecked urbanisation and commercial farming. He has designed and produced, by himself and in collaboration with institutions, over 40 pieces of equipment or structures ranging from gooseberry deseeder and honey extractors to solar powered dryers for hygienic value addition of forest and agricultural produce. These equipment are mostly in use at the Aadhimalai Production centres in Hasanur, Banglapadigai, Pudukad, Semmenarai, and Pillur. Leo is particularly attached to apiculture and is constantly striving to improve bee boxes and maintenance protocols to prevent insect attacks on colonies. His dream of having an apiary at the Keystone campus last year was put paid to by marauding bears that destroyed 14 of 18 hives. He has now assigned himself the task of developing a bear-proof bee box to revive the Keystone apiary. Keystone has earlier be lauded for its Appropriate Technology initiatives when it was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 2013 for the Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development. About the Award itself, the Sir JC Bose Memorial Award (earlier known as the Achievement Award) was instituted 14 years ago by the Indian Science Monitor. Indian Science Monitor, a no profit research institute, was founded in 1990 with the objective of transmitting relevant scientific data from ancient, medieval and modern science to the scientists and the concerned citizens. It also aims to generate awareness among the public about the impact of Science and Technology on the society and encourages young scientists by recognizing their achievements. In 2010, the Achievement Award was renamed after Sir Dr. JC Bose and aptly so, as he was a man with diverse interests as are many of the awardees. While Dr. Bose’s contributions to physics and botany, the coherer and crescograph, are well known, little do people know that he was also the pioneer of Bengali science fiction. In 1896, his sci-fi story titled ‘Nirrudeshar Kahini’ (‘Story of the Missing’) about how a cyclone is calmed using a bottle of Kuntalini hair oil, won first prize at a short story competition. The Kuntalini Puraskhar Short Story Competition was organised by the makers of the hair oil. The only condition for the writers was that Kuntalini hair oil would have to play a part in the story. Winners of subsequent competitions included Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Mankumari Bose, and Probhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, exalted company indeed!

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Workshop on pollination and pollinator conservation conducted in Kolikkarai

24 February 2017, Kolikkarai:  On Wednesday, Shiny Rehel conducted a workshop on pollination and the pollination services afforded by bees and other insects. The workshop was conducted in Kolikkarai village where 10 honey hunters from the Irula community in both Kolikkarai and Kolithorai villages participated. Kolikkarai and Kolithorai are two small villages situated within a private coffee estate in Mamaram. While the villagers also practice seasonal honey and non-timber forest produce (NTFP) gathering, most of them are not aware of the link between bees and a good harvest of fruit and vegetables. Shiny started out with explaining the basic structure of a flower and, using a hibiscus flower, showed them the structure and function of each part. The participants were able to use a field microscope to have a magnified view of the anthers and stigma as well as the nectary.  Once Shiny explained the link between pollen and the development of fruits and seeds, the honey hunters realized the importance of the role that pollinators play in their daily lives. Studies have revealed that 80% of food crops are pollinated by insects, largely honey bees, and should bees go extinct, the human species would probably survive for just a few years longer. The honey hunters have an instinctive appreciation of bees and their relation to flowers, largely formed by observation over the years. As the generation of traditional honey hunters grow older and less able to handle the strain of hanging from a thin vine ladder suspended 200 ft above the ground, the younger generation are starting to take on the mantle of conserving tradition. Aari K is one of the oldest honey hunters in the village and now his son, Anandh, goes for honey hunting in his stead. With pollinators across the world on the decline due to loss of habitat and food sources, monoculture, poisoning by chemical pesticides, etc, it becomes crucial that more and more people are sensitised to the effect of these changes as it applies to the environment and, more closely, to them. Tribal communities have traditionally practiced mixed cropping which provides foraging space to different kinds of pollinators. The benefits of this practice were highlighted and emphasis was given on continuing this practice which directly benefits the people. Shiny also discussed examples of the effects of pollinator decline as has been seen in China where apple crops have to be pollinated by hand using a brush. A similar situation was seen in Himachal Pradesh, India where apples had to be pollinated by hand for a number of reasons, including lack of pollinators. By the end of the session, the participants were able to understand the importance of plant diversity in maintaining a healthy pollinator population. It is only as late as two decades ago that people have had their attention drawn to the environmental support services provided by pollinators. An international study showed that the approximately $2.8 billion almond industry would not exist without pollinators. As more and more people become aware and vocal about the negative impact of biocides, the tussle between persons concerned about the environment and fertilizer/pesticide companies can only spread wider. But regardless of the economics, there is a very real danger looming ahead. Quoting 1Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, in the opening chapter, “A Fable for Tomorrow”: “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.” ———- 1Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin, New York.

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TNUSSP holds orientation programme for sludge operators in Coimbatore

15 February 2017, Coimbatore: An orientation programme was held for 21 sludge operators from Coimbatore at the Hotel Mesable last Saturday, 11th February, 2017. The program began with an introduction by Sekar, Secretary of the Coimbatore Sewage Transport Lorry Association. After a round of introductions Vinitha, Environment & Sanitation Analyst – TNUSSP, explained the various roles of TNUSSP and the purpose of organizing this meeting. A copy of the Septage Management Guidelines was distributed. Participants voiced concerns and challenges that they face during the process of desludging, transport and disposal. They also suggested possible solutions that would increase their efficiency. Keystone’s first venture in an urban setting, TNUSSP has been working for the past year to understand and support the existing sanitation system in two town panchayats of Coimbatore. This orientation programme had been organized to understand the challenges and expectations of sludge operators and reinforce awareness regarding the Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) at Perinaickanpalayam. With Vinitha and Dinesh heading the discussion, the sludge operators slowly began vocalizing on the challenges they face in their daily work routine. As the discussion progressed, it was understood that the sludge operators faced challenges from competition from vehicles from other districts being registered and operating in Coimbatore. The city of Coimbatore requires 50 septage lorries but currently twice that number are operating, because of which there is undercutting of rates to attract business. This affects their income. Besides this, there is also the very steep yearly registration fee of Rs 18,000 as well as the amount (Rs 100-500) that they have to pay the farmers every time they dispose sludge in their agricultural fields. They said that many multistoried buildings and apartment complexes follow the practice of connecting their septic tanks to the main underground drains. This causes blackwater contamination of greywater in the drain which usually flows into a river or a water body. Ideally, this should be contained in the septic tank to be removed by the septage lorries to the fecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP). There is only one Sewage Treatment Plant in Coimbatore which is quite remote and the operators are mostly unable to make it to the plant within the operating time of 11 am to 4 pm because of traffic within the city limits. When constructing residential complexes or individual homes, most people do not take into account that facility for regular desludging has to be provided for. The operators said that in many areas, the containments are located in the interior of the house making it difficult for them to do their work and residential areas do not have any dedicated parking space for the septage lorries. Suggestions from them included prohibiting the registration of vehicles from other districts with the Coimbatore Corporation and making institutions and establishments must be held accountable for the exfiltration of chemical effluents into septic tanks and drainage. The second suggestion is because the operators are compelled to desludge anyway, and are held guilty at the decanting station for bringing in effluents. After the discussion and suggestion, Vinitha gave a brief presentation on the upcoming FSTP  in Perinaickanpalayam and its benefits. All the sludge operators conveyed their interest in supporting a decentralized treatment system which would be beneficial for them. The operators are fully aware of the hazardous nature of their job and cite the instance of a man who accidentally fell into a drain and died as there was chemical acid effluent from a factory nearby that had been emptied into the open drain. They wistfully say that they brave all these odds and yet are denied basic dignity while doing their job. They are frequently asked to go about their business of desludging at night when no one can see them and are generally treated without respect by the very people whose homes they are keeping clean.  The TNUSSP team is working hard to generate awareness regarding the importance of the sludge operator’s job and hopes that community mindset will change in the near future and see desludging as it is – an essential service to society.

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Food for Thought : NTFP-EP’s Regional Meeting at Kotagiri

19 January 2017, Kotagiri: The Non-Timber Forest Produce-Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) held their regional meeting in Keystone in the beginning of January. Partner organisations came from Laos, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and India came for the 3-day meeting, the last day of which coincided with the Wild Foods Festival at Keystone. Femy Pinto, Executive-Director, NTFP-EP Asia, said the Network started thinking about wild foods and the link to the community’s health and wellbeing about 7-8 years ago. This meeting, on the theme of “Coming Home to the Forests for Food”,  had 20 participants from five countries coming together to discuss the close links between indigenous people, their heritage of forest foods, and how it directly links human and environmental wellbeing. The meeting did indeed leave everyone involved with plenty of food for thought.  Femy also spoke on the significance of the logo. The Penan are one of the last remaining hunter-gathers tribes in Malaysia and they are a small population. The logo shows a Penan man using his blowpipe. This stands for tradition and way of life in the forest and shows how NTFP-EP identifies itself with the community. Prof. Ramon A. Razal, Trustee – NTFP-EP, spoke on the importance and linkages of wild foods to the overall NTFP scenario. He spoke about what characterises forest foods and also presented reports of nutrient compositions on some forest foods such as pako (Diplazium esculentum) and bignay (Antidesma bunius) that are commonly used by indigenous communities in Philippines. He discussed statistics that showed the greater the anthropogenic pressure on forests, the less healthy the indigenous population is. Forest foods have a special place in the lives of indigenous people. There are greens, fruits, staples, tubers, bulbs, shoots, mushrooms, and blossoms that yield spices, beverages and oils. The communities also collect animal products like honey, fish, snails, crabs, bushmeat, birds and bird eggs. In Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia alone, there are more than more than 50-60 plant families that are common forest foods prepared in many ways. For example, Bignay (Antidesma bunius) fruit can be eaten raw or made into jams and jellies or a refreshing drink, while the leaves are used to flavor fish and meat stews, vinegar, and salads. The participants concurred that is the need for studies on nutritional values and toxicology of wild foods and that forest dwellers are blessed with the traditional knowledge of what to eat, how to eat and when to eat. Madhu Ramnath presented an overview of wild foods and the origins of cultivated food. As man settled into farming, wild strains of many plants, eg maize and peanuts, disappeared. Farming increased and farmers shifted to sunlight demanding plants, more and more forest land was cleared and indigenous people wound up working on these farms. Lack of time combined with easy availability of subsidised rations from Public Distribution System had them venturing less and less into the forest to gather seasonal fruits and other wild food which offered essential nutrients. Over the years, this has resulted in reduced health in indigenous people as many communities have themselves observed. Divya Devarajan, District Collector, spoke on the link between governance and wild food in trying to find answers to the question of why indigenous people are having to relearn the use of forest foods. Divya spoke of processes working in parallel that were bringing about this change, the first being the residential form of education that takes the tribal children away from their families and their culture. Along with the displacement of the child during its formative years from its community, comes with the dichotomy between traditional knowledge and current school curriculum, which is designed keeping the urban population in mind and is totally out of touch with tribal children’s realities. At the end of formal schooling, the child has grown up to be urbanized but less knowledgeable person. With more and more forest land being ‘developed’ (converted) or ‘protected’ (restricted) , the forest dweller has to relocate to nearby towns or city to be able to provide for the family, The Forests Rights Act in India came up assuring long-time forest dwellers the right to residence as well as rights to collect NTFPs for subsistence and livelihood, but the processes involved and tedious and confusing. Coupled with the lack of access to forests comes the convenience of the Public Distribution System where wheat, rice, and sugar are made available to the community at subsidized rates. When the women have to spend so much time and effort to prepare millets and forage for wild foods, as well as take care of livestock and small plots of crops (jobs that earlier were the man’s responsibility), they prefer to accept what is supplied through the PDS, leading to a gradual shift in diet. Ms Bhanumathi Kalluri’s presentation on “Gender Perspective to Wild Food” made the participants think about what the distance from wild foods has meant to the indigenous woman. Bhanumathi is Director of Dhaatri, a resource centre for women and children’s rights based in Andhra Pradesh. The collection of wild food was the woman’s area of expertise and also a group activity which gave them a change from their daily routine.  When the families gave up their traditional houses and shifted to government-funded cluster housing, the woman lost her exclusive physical space where she maintained stocks of grains and wild foods. Canned entertainment from the television has eaten into the time that the women would spend in each other’s company, be it gathering wild foods, pounding millet, singing songs or telling stories – space for imagination has reduced. Divya spoke about changes to the system that might help resolve some of these problems, some of which has already started to be implemented. To address the changing diet of indigenous people in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, decentralization of the PDS system has begun in an effort to ensure that local produce is distributed via the system maintaining the traditional healthy diet of the people. Divya also gave other suggestions such as a minimum support […]

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Honey Hunters trained on sustainable harvesting and hygienic wild honey collection

25 January 2017, Kotagiri: Keystone Foundation and Last Forest Enterprise Pvt Ltd conducted two training workshops on sustainable wild harvesting and hygienic collection of honey in Asanur and Kotagiri. A total of 110 honey hunters from different communities and areas were trained during the two days of workshop. Both the trainings were supported by Export-Import Bank of India as part of their CSR initiatives. The first training was held in Keystone Resource Centre and Aadhimalai Pazhangudiyinar CL production unit at Kalaikudam, Hasanur, on Monday for 50 honey hunters from Bejalhatti, Gali Dhimbam, Ittarai , Thadasalhatti, Geddesal, Kengerai, Borderdodde and Punanjanur villages. The second training was held the next day at the Keystone campus in Kotagiri where 60 honey hunters from Coonoor and Kotagiri were trained. Wild honey is collected from the hives of the Apis dorsata or Rock Bees by the indigenous communities every year. These bees make their hives on the branches of tall trees or on the underside of overhangs on sheer cliffs. Traditionally, wild honey collectors climb trees or lower themselves down the overhang on ropes ladders made from forest vines. They would use smoke to drive away the bees. Honey would then be squeezed out from the honey combs by squeezing by hand. Some part of the brood comb would be carried back to the village as a source of protein to the shared with the community. Many times, the empty combs and squeezed combs were discarded due to lack of time or inability to extract wax from it. In the publication Honey Trails in the Blue Mountains, Keystone says, “The honey hunter is a natural born conservationist who gazes at the forest with deference and does not take up a combative stance at it.” But market pressures and need for money over the past decade have forced many hunters to overlook or set aside traditional practices that protected bees and ensured sustainability. Keystone’s trainings over the past two decades have been focused on bringing back these traditional conservation practices and adding hygiene practices to improve quality of honey and sustainability of harvest. The training began with Shiny speaking about the biology of the bee and explaining the link between bees, pollination and fruit setting, bringing out the important role that bees play in sustaining agriculture and forests. She explained patterns of foraging and the plant species that bees prefer. Leo spoke to the hunters about several aspects of sustainable and hygienic honey harvesting. Besides reiterating facts that are part of the traditional knowledge of communities, scientific facts were shared. the process how nectar is transformed into honey and what signs to be alert for. For example, the comb should always be harvested once the cells are ‘capped’, an indication that the honey is matured, otherwise called as ripened. Harvesting uncapped cells yields honey that has higher amount of moisture.  Ideally, honey should have moisture content not more than 23%. Higher moisture with higher pollen leads to fermentation in storage. The hunters were asked to conserve brood combs as far as possible, as this would protect emerging bees and new queens. Conserving brood is a very important practice to sustain bee populations. Bees migrate to the hills during April to July and then to plains during monsoons to seek food as well as to swarm. Swarming is a natural phenomenon resulting in the division of bee colonies. If there is significant damage to brood and queen cells, the colony is weakened and cannot swarm and multiply. Elaborating on hygienic honey collection, Leo explained that the earlier practice of squeezing and twisting the comb by hand results in a lot of impurities, including eggs, larvae and excessive pollen, finding its way into the honey. The participants were told using a knife to uncap the honey cells and make clean cuts on both sides of the mid rib and place it in a fine strainer mesh net to allow honey to drain out of the comb. This honey is then collected transport in food grade jerry cans. Besides honey, beeswax is of commercial importance and is collected by the honey hunters. To extract beeswax, the combs are cut into pieces once all the honey has drained out. The pieces of comb are stirred into a vessel filled with boiling water until fully melted. The mixture is then filtered through muslin hung into a vessel of cold water and allow it to cool so that solid wax settles on top. During conversations with the trainees, Miller was struck by the number of youth who had come in to be trained. These young men from the Kurumba, Irula and Sholiga communities are sons of honey hunters and are carrying on the family tradition. Sathish Kumar (18) from Banagudi said, “This is our home, our forest. We collect honey and beeswax. When I climb down the cliff and there are 30-50,000 bees buzzing around me, I can keep calm and go through the process of collecting honey. This is a source of pride for me. This is what my father and grandfather did and this is what I will pass on to my children.” These trainings have been supported by Exim Bank, headquartered in Mumbai, as part of their CSR programme. Mr.Utpal Gokhale, General Manager-Exim Bank, was present for both the trainings and presented the participants with certificates. Seven groups were also given equipment essential to honey hunting such as ropes, knifes, filtering nets and honey collection jerry cans. Looking back on the trainings, Mr. Gokhale said, “This training gels perfectly with our objective of grassroots level development initiatives. Exim Bank had launched this (such initiatives) about 5-6 years ago precisely to intervene in such economic activities that would provide sustainable livelihoods to deprived communities at the grassroots.”

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Keystone Foundation
Keystone Centre, PB 35
Groves Hill Road, Kotagiri 643 217
The Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

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

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