Confined by Culture yet yearning for prosperity
Frequently we host visitors from different organisations and institutions who arrive to assimilate the kind of work we undertake as an organisation with the indigenous communities. The visit is usually an exposure trip during which they observe, interact and learn about our areas of work. Last week we hosted three groups of women from Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, Dhaatri Trust based in Hyderabad and Sakhi Trust from Hospet. Dhaatri and Sakhi Trusts work towards empowering women and children. They facilitated this exposure trip for women from the communities they closely work with. Most of the women who visited were single and some were students. These were women that were confined by culture but are striving and willing to make a difference within their communities We began the day with the campus tour. Right after our customary tea at 11 am, we asked them to assemble at ‘Mandakal’ (meeting hall) to introduce each other. Speaking indistinctly among themselves perhaps due to the frigid weather that they were yet to acclimatize to, the women marched down to the meeting hall with curiosity. Later, after we introduced ourselves, we headed out to take them around. Our spin offs Last Forest and Aadhimalai that work towards fair trade and empowering community-based enterprise, caught the attention of these avid minds. In some way, they could relate to it. Even though we had to translate into three different languages, it was gratifying to see these young women showing keen interest. As we were conversing, translating and moving from one building to another, one of the women from a community from the Panna Tiger Reserve mentioned that NTFP collection from their forest is a primary source of income and helps the families get 10 to 15 days of work in a month. People collect Tendu Patta, Harda, Baheda, Amla, Char, Mahua etc. However, she pointed out that sometimes they are deceived. She said “We are not aware of market rates of the produce that we collect. The traders buy it from us at a cheaper price but sell it for a much higher price”. They also stressed on how being part of a National Park, there is restriction in harvesting NTFPs. And hence it has affected the income of people dependent on the forest for their livelihood. This has forced the local inhabitants to work as daily wage labourers. After briefing them on all our programme areas, in response to their hesitant request to learn about beekeeping, we gave a practical demonstration with the help of our beekeeping expert, Justin Raj. They spent the next couple of days visiting two of our production centres, at Pudukad and Hasnur, studiously taking notes to remember the process, to help them replicate it back in their communities. It was overwhelming for us to engage with a group so earnest and we believe that we have imparted relevant knowledge that will benefit them and their communities. These women weren’t looking for opportunities but were creating them.Read more
Forest Rights Act Community Training at Sengalpudur & Anaipalam,Coonoor.
Their forest, but are they aware of their rights? Since the enactment of the Forest Rights Act 2006, there have been gaps in the implementation, which hasn’t brought much justice to the tribal communities. There haven’t been notable interventions to measure the effectiveness of the law. To what level has it made an impact is an unanswered question. Although it is claimed to be a big step by the government to undo the historical injustice committed against the indigenous and forest dwelling communities, the implementation has been disappointing. This, however, is a process that eventually faces a number of challenges. It has been noted that much emphasis is given to few provisions of the act rather than the whole act. Keystone has realised that it’s important to assess to what extent the communities have understood the law, and if they have – how we can help them access the right envisaged under the law. The livelihoods programme at Keystone conducted training on FRA at Sengalpudur (Irula settlement) and Anaipalam ( Irulas and Kurumbas), both in the Coonoor Taluk. There are a total of 104 families residing in these villages. The Village Officer and Revenue Inspector of Coonoor were also present at the session. The focus of the training was on different aspects such as, helping them understand about each document (Form A, B & C) and what it stands for, training the Gram Sabha (village council) to be more sovereign, helping the Forest Rights Committee (FRC) in mapping the land they use, submitting forest rights claims via the Gram Sabha and following up with government officials on the status of these claims. Claiming their CFR is a complex process and lot of evidence is often demanded by the officials. In order to obtain the evidence, they need to approach Revenue and Forest Departments. These procedures are difficult for the communities to handle. Therefore most of the time the claims are found pending because of lack of evidence. A raft of studies done by the World Bank say that local communities are best equipped to safeguard valuable forests, and those with strong land rights are the most effective. The indigenous communities play a crucial role in protecting the critical ecosystems that are gradually degrading in the Nilgiris. Keystone will continue to provide support to the indigenous communities through trainings that will involve every stakeholder, to utilize the law in a much more effective way for the welfare of the communities and individuals.Read more
Guidance towards better health
There are several factors that contribute to maintaining good health. By good health, we mean both physical and mental health. Which is largely disconnected in today’s world. We fail to understand how physical health can lead to increased risk of developing mental health problems and vice versa. The challenge is to approach health holistically and break the notion of physical and mental health as separate problems. The ‘Health & Nutrition’ programme works closely with the indigenous communities of the NBR. The team visited two programme areas, Pillur and Nilambur to conduct meetings with women in the communities on menstrual hygiene, a topic that is not often discussed. At both the meetings, women ranging from 17-40 years of age were present. In rural areas, dialogues on menstrual health, stems out of taboo.This meeting paved the way for the women to speak freely to obtain advice on menstrual hygiene. The team advised them on hygiene practices that should be followed. The participants raised the issues of lack of access to menstrual hygiene, a problem that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, these products are likely to become costlier with the imposition of a new tax on the same. The team also conducted training in Nilambur on mental health for five ‘nalam’ workers, otherwise known as volunteers of the health programme. They were taught how to handle or identify such problems if it prevails in their community and the means through which it could be dealt with. The team imparted knowledge about how food plays an important role in the prevention of mental health problems. The programme continues to provide nutritional support by providing Ragi and urges the community to pay heed to what they feed the ailing. To take it forward, a series of meetings with the same agenda is to be held in the coming months. Rural healthcare is one of the biggest challenges faced in our country with over 70 percent of the population living in rural areas. Keystone Foundation through this programme wishes to improve the accessibility and quality of health care for the indigenous communities in the NBR.Read more
Attempt to make Farming and Beekeeping go hand in hand
Apiculture was reintroduced as a major programme after the programme restructuring had taken place earlier this year. We decided to offer more trainings on apiculture to students, tribal and non- tribal farmers and others to help them understand the importance of bees and educate farmers to integrate bees into their farming practices, so they can benefit from the pollination services. The plan to offer a series of training’s and courses is to be implemented from this month, through which we wish to teach the basics of bees, apiculture, and the use and maintenance of equipment and to promote beekeeping as a recreational hobby. As a part of this series, an introductory training on beekeeping was conducted at the beginning of this month at Ooty. The training took place at the Hill Area Development Programme (HADP) hall. In the beginning, the training was planned for a specific target group – tribal farmers of the Nilgiris. Since the word had spread, many of them were keen to attend this training. Around 42 tribal farmers (Women & men), organic farmers and horticulturists attended the training. The Project Director of HADP, Deputy Block Development Officer (BDO) and officials of the SC/ST Welfare Department were also present. The HADP department is planning to provide bee boxes to the tribal farmers to maintain an apiary in their respective farms. Keystone was asked to conduct this training in association with the HADP to educate the farmers on the significance of bees and the role that they play in pollination. Justin Raj (Subject Manager – Apiculture) and Robert Leo (Deputy Director) of Keystone conducted the training. They spoke on various topics like types of bees, the science of bees, pollination, hive maintenance, handling equipment etc. Farmers who attended the training were mostly practising beekeeping or had a small apiary in their farm, although some of them did not. Conventional farmers were able to relate how using pesticides will affect their apiaries and cause damage to bee colonies. We hope many were encouraged to make a transition to organic farming. Keystone has been supporting farmers by providing tools, equipment, bee boxes and training. At present, there are 29 bee colonies in our programme working areas out of which 16 are maintained by farmers who practise beekeeping. We wish to increase the practice of beekeeping by conducting more trainings, each of it directed towards a specific group to make it more effective. For those of you who are interested in learning and understanding the role of bees in ecosystem, follow us on www.Facebook.com/keystonefoundation/ to get more updates on trainings and events.Read more
Radio Kotagiri conducts eye camp
Radio Kotagiri (90.4 MHz) was granted a project by the Department of Science & Technology to raise awareness on “Health and Nutrition” for women in our region, earlier this year. As a part of the project, our radio team planned and administered an eye camp for the residents of Pudu Kotagiri and the neighbouring habitations on June 20th, 2017. The camp was held at the local community hall; which made it convenient for the residents to know about and attend the camp. Junior Chamber International (JCI) representatives for the Kotagiri region helped our team get in touch with Lotus Hospital & Institution, Mettupallayam. One doctor along with five attendants and nurses carried out the entire check-up from 10:00am – 2:00pm. The camp turned out to be beneficial for the locals, especially the elderly. A total of 78 people, mostly women took part in the camp. Due to this event, we were able to provide aid to the people. The team are planning to reach out to the population that are suffering from inadequate access to basic healthcare. Substantial effort is being directed towards to organizing more such similar events at Kotagiri in the coming months, which will pay more attention to women and the elderly.Events focused on spreading awareness to women are being conducted in villages surrounding the Kotagiri region at least once a week. Through this we hope to make an impact and serve the people that are uninformed about the significance of health, and the consequences of neglecting health.Read more
The genesis of Keystone Foundation is rooted in honey; it was the focal point of the journey undertaken by our founders of Keystone that culminated in setting up a base in Kotagiri and beginning the work with honey hunters in the NBR. Through honey, we influence people’s lives through Last Forest Enterprise Pvt.ltd & Aadhimalai Pazhangudiyinar Producer Company Ltd; spinoffs of Keystone Foundation. They support the communities that traditionally practice honey hunting and act as intermediaries bringing their products to the market for a fair price, while ensuring sustainability of the bee population. On the 20th of June, we launched the website honeyportal.keystone-foundation.org. The idea behind this venture is be able to gather and share knowledge on honey, honey bees and their connection to the indigenous communities across India whose history, life, culture & traditions are related to it. The website is split into four sections, namely Honey, Honey Bees, Research & Conservation, and Indigenous Communities. The first section attempts to give the reader a clear understanding, right from the evolutionary history of bees, their morphology to their distribution. Similarly the section on honey describes its notable attributes, and the use and trade of honey in India. The last two segments give a summary on two Biosphere reserves, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the Similipal Biosphere Reserve, and the indigenous communities residing in those forests. In future we are keen to extended and document more areas rich in biodiversity that helps the honey bee species flourish. This is just a beginning of the Honey Portal; we hope this website will serve as a hub for individuals and organisations interested in this field. This was achieved with the help of Audra Bass, a fellow from the American Indian Foundation(AIF), who gathered inputs and ideas from different people and sources, that where consolidated to make this website possible. Visit Here http://honeyportal.keystone-foundation.org/Read more
A small step to save the earth.
It is the epitome of irony, the earth that helps all organisms to flourish, needs to be saved. The World Environment Day is celebrated every year on the 5th of June, to raise awareness on growing concerns, global warming and climate change being the most recent. It was conceived in the year 1974 after the first major conference on the environment was held at Stockholm, Sweden, based on the theme “Only One Earth”. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) set this year’s theme as “Connecting People to Nature”, with the intention to urge governments, organisations, communities and people to contribute towards the environment. After a handful of ideas were suggested as activities for the World Environment Day on 5th of June, we at Keystone set out, leaving our computers in their sustainable environment and moved to ours. We picked saplings of native plants from our nursery, and took them out to be christened on a small patch of land at the crest of the hill, beside the forest encompassing the groves hill road. To our surprise, guests who were attending a meeting held at our campus tagged along to celebrate with us, which fortunately related with the theme to increase participation. Later, for our second activity of the day, we descended to ‘Happy Valley’, a wetland restoration project of Keystone. We gathered sickle and hoes, to clean up the area that grew dense over the period. We preached the magnitude of the day and instigated locals to join us, and succeeded. We split-up in groups and segregated tasks to make it more efficient. After two hours of toil, the quest was accomplished.It is a joy, to feel the warm earth, getting your hands dirty benefits the heart, skin and immune system. Let us collectively create a better foundation for our future generations; after all we are not apart from nature, but a part of nature.Read more
A fight for their rights!
Keystone Foundation along with VRDP, CIOSA, TPFLR & Samanvaya, hosted and participated in a workshop on the Forest Rights Act & Livelihoods in Tamil Nadu, on the 1st of June. The object of the workshop was to layout the problems faced by tribals of having liberty towards the land that they have been occupying and their communities’ rights over the use and management of forests and minor produce from them. P.Chandran, Additional Coordinator for the Livelihoods programme at Keystone, speaking at the event, said ‘there are a lot of rejections of claims by the gram sabha, majority of them being wrongful and based on invalid grounds”. Furthermore he stressed on issues concerning the Nilgiri Adivasi people and how their primitive but harmonious existence in forests is endangered, due to lack of effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act, since its enactment 11 years ago. At the workshop, stakeholders and crusaders working towards this cause spoke at length about several issues faced by forest dwelling communities prevailing in Tamil Nadu, that remain unresolved, in respect to the Forest Rights Act. Keystone has been actively advocating for the indigenous communities’ rights since 2009. According to our data, in the past year 1300 claims by tribal families have been submitted in the Nilgiris, which includes villages from Kotagiri, Konavakarai , Arakode & Sigur. Only after numerous meetings and persistent demands, the gram sabha announced to accept 750 claims among those 1300, by June 2017. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is home to many indigenous communities. These communities rely on the forest which is of fundamental importance for a range of reasons like habitational space, for cultivation, grazing their cattle and gathering non- timber forest produce as a source of livelihoods. The inadequacy of the state’s administration to secure their rights, is gradually leading them to move to urban spaces in search of basic amenities and better wage opportunities for their mere survival.Read more
Wayanad Nature Interpretation Center
June 9th 2017, a nature interpretation centre has been completed in the Muthanga forests, one of the ranges of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. Kerala Forest Department proposed this initiative and Keystone had to bid for the contract via the government e- tender mechanism. The department gets more than 1000 visitors on a daily basis and has a nature interpretation that was done in 1991. The present day managers of the sanctuary were keen to have more updated center with additional displays. Keystone furnished all the details required for the bid and waited for the response. On 26th October 2016 we were officially notified that our contract has been awarded and we were to proceed with the work. Since then, zealous effort and creativity was channelled towards this project to set up a nature information center in 1500sq. ft of space surrounded by forest and rivers and wildlife. Sumin George along with the designer and printer Chandrasekar (TextnGraphics, Ooty) have put together wall mounted state of the art posters, stunning photos and information of the diverse species, services and functions of Wayand Wildlife sanctuary. Information regarding the role and efforts of the department in managing the sanctuary have been prominently displayed. Wall murals made of terracotta designed by local artists of Wayanad harmonizes with the bamboo furniture from Uravu (an NGO that promotes bamboo), have been added to the space. Carpenter Rajendran, along with his assistant Murugan, painter Sasi and electrician Mani all worked together under the guidance of Sumin to complete the installations. The high quality painting and printing was done in Delhi and airlifted to Wayanad – a highly precession driven and demanding task considering the material (600kg of glass, poster boards and wood) arrived at Coimbatore air cargo and had to be transported over the mountains to forests in Kerala! Wayand forest managers are keen to hire local youth as nature educators, who will be trained by Keystone staff, to run the center and maintain it. We are certain that it will have immense influence and will serve as an informative place for people, visitors, sightseers, enthusiasts. We anticipate that the centre will speak for the ones without a voice, to showcase the important of wildlife and instigate many not leave it to perish, but save it to cherish. We are filled with gratitude for the previous Wildlife Warden Roy Thomas IFS for initiating the idea and the current Warden Dhanesh Kumar IFS for implementing it, Muthanga Range Officer Ashalatha and all the staff and EDC members of the Wayanad Wildlife Division for their tremendous support and encouragement during the course of the setting up of the center. The dates of the Inauguration of the center will be announced soon and will keep you posted on that.Read more