The concept of Keystone emerges from the nest-building behaviour of certain birds. These permanent nest structures serve as habitat for many life forms. The nests become essential parts of their ecosystems, a centerpiece which many different species benefit from. Such keystone species become crucial in providing opportunities for other beings to grow and evolve. The Keystone Foundation is born out of this simple ecological principle of the interdependence of natural systems, and strives to provide the opportunity for the growth of all life in the NBR.
Keystone believes in the mantra “small is effective/small is global” and hence, is focused on the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, where it currently works in 135 indigenous communities with an estimated number of 15000 individuals.
While Keystone’s focus was initially on poverty alleviation in the honey hunter community, through the dynamics of honey harvesting and marketing, the organisation grew and began to have an impact outside of the honey hunting community and poverty alleviation. Today, Keystone’s mission has led it to diversify its programme base to encompass all aspects affecting the wellness of indigenous communities.
Read more in the TreeFall Gap
Today Keystone runs programmes, activities and research within the themes of NTFP, Honeyhunting, Apiculture, Community Wellness, Culture, Capacity Building, Environmental Governance, Networks, Water & Sanitation, Biodiversity & Restoration, Organic Farming and Enterprises; each geared to directly contribute the holistic wellbeing of individuals, their communities and, by extension, the environment.
The Community Newsletter (Nilgiri Seemai Sudhi) and Community Radio (Radio Kotagiri 90.4 MHz) has been instrumental in bringing communities closer to each other.
Looking to share the accumulated knowledge of 23 years of working in the field, Keystone regularly conducts external trainings and undertakes consultancies on request. The subjects range from sustainable harvesting and value addition of non-timber forest produce (NTFP), biodiversity assessment and eco-restoration, eco-tourism support, socio-economic surveys, to vocational skills such as carpentry, electrical planning, and wildlife filmmaking. Read more about them HERE.
Our work is expected to lead to the following outcomes for which the organization will be held responsible and accountable:
1. Increasing awareness of conservation and ecologically sound principles in all aspects of our work.
2. Increasing the availability of viable, natural resource-based, sustainable livelihood options for indigenous people.
3. Ensuring village groups and institutions take responsibility for managing existing programmes.
4. Sustaining traditional cultural practices.
5. Knowledge development through research and action projects, that are owned by stakeholders, and put into practice.
6. Indigenous people being put in positions to participate in dialogue with decision makers.
7. Influencing policy & decision making towards environmental governance.
8. Promoting organic & fair trade principles in market based interventions.
In keeping with the philosophy of being a ‘keystone’, the foundation has been responsible for conceiving, developing and nurturing three organisations that work together to increase social cohesion within indigenous communities, strengthen the natural resource production base, and protect biodiversity in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve.
Keystone began in 1994, when four of its core members set out on a state-wide survey of apiculture throughout Tamil Nadu. Trudging miles of mountain paths and dusty roads with backpacks, this field survey gave a precious opportunity to look at the situation of 11 indigenous communities across 15 hill ranges in Tamil Nadu.
The details of honey hunting techniques, forest vines used, associated traditions and rituals, social systems and economic dependence on apiculture was a fascinating eye-opener. More importantly, they reflected on changes in land use, dwindling forest cover, introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and other ecological degradation, posing a growing challenge to the indigenous communities whose lives were centered around honey hunting. Exploring and addressing indigenous issues of development and natural resource conservation from a local perspective was the key to our discovering a different approach to this growing ecological dilemma.
Previous work in honey gathering with the Paliyan adivasi community in the Palni Hills from 1990-1993 suggested that this traditional activity could be an effective entry point to work with indigenous communities. The Paliyan survey brought the Keystone team to the lower Nilgiris, where a number of hunter-gatherer communities practice honey hunting and subsistence agriculture. A potential area for future work and learning materialised and the Nilgiris, as a region, became the area where Keystone would begin work.