The Jamnalal Bajaj Awards 2013 event was recently held on 15th November, 2013 at Yashwantrao Chavan Centre, in Mumbai.
Shri Pranab Mukherjee (Honorable President of India) was the Chief Guest at this prestigious event. Shri Prithviraj Chavan (Chief Minister of Maharashtra) was also present at the event. The award for outstanding contribution in the field of Science and Technology for Rural Development was given to Snehlata Nath.

Snehlata Nath since twenty years has been working in the field of Eco-development, livelihood and sustainability among  tribal people of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.

Sneh believes that environment care  and pro-active involvement of the adivasis, addressing  their needs, respecting and considering their knowledge and experience and providing  livelihood opportunities is the key to development of the tribal communities.

To address these concerns, Keystone Foundation initiated work across 8 centers in the forested tri-junction of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The idea was to initiate activities related to eco-development which enhance the well being of the community and promote biodiversity. Projects against cash crop culture (i.e. tea and coffee) and encourage organic farming (to promote millets production) for the consumption of the tribal families is one example.1

Sneh and the team of Keystone focus on the core aspects of ecology and economy, developing appropriate technology for mountain systems, biodiversity and indigenous communities, forests, water and land, livelihoods, culture, green enterprise and environmental governance. Some of the need-based, traditional and appropriate technologies designed and introduced by the Foundation has eased the drudgery of the villagers and helped in producing good quality and value added agricultural and forest produce locally.

These inventions and adaptations include fruit/amla cutter, wax melting unit, wax sheet maker, solar wax extractor, honey filter, honey extractor, seed drier, soap press, soap mixture, soap making equipment, solar tunnel drier, solar tent, introducing mid-rib cutting technique to drain honey, beekeeping tools-swarm catch net, conservation and sustainable honey harvest practice, pollen removing technique, millet de-stoning machine, millet de-husker, solar powered water pumping system, etc. This has also promoted employment locally and increased opportunity for labour and stopped migration to urban areas.

To reach out to the community, Keystone Foundation has set up eight  centers in the Biosphere Reserve, which  promotes capacity building, product and market development, community self reliance, value addition, income generation and fair trade practices. The Production Centre Development – are centers or village units which are support systems of the Foundation. Here implementation and research go hand in hand. Sneh strives to combine ecologically sensitive development with rural enterprise. Today tribal communities have formed their groups and are managing their operation successfully through the units with the help of Keystone’s technical and marketing guidance and supervision. The plan of action for the future regarding these rural technologies, is to build an in-house facility to manufacture these as per orders.2

Natural resources like honey and bees wax have been transformed by the application of these technologies. The tribal people are involved in forest collection and women are now trained in  value addition activities like manufacturing bee wax soaps, lip balm, organic fruit jams and pickles, etc. which are promoted and marketed under the brand name Last Forest. Other livelihood activities of the villagers include organic farming and enhancing crop productivity, preparing traditional medicine from forest gatherings, soap making, revival and promotions of indigenous crafts viz. Toda embroidery,  Kota pottery, Kurumba paintings. The women are empowered and actively participate in  the overall socio-economic development of their community.

Keystone Foundation has helped villagers and farmers to promote soil and moisture conservation and organic farming practices. Projects provide insights into the ecology of forest fruits, resin yielding trees, cultivation of nutrition rich crops, water, wetland and mountain ecosystems. The conservation program is implemented through the area resource centers where communities take on the role of monitoring the quality and changes of their ecosystem.  Keystone Foundation with the support of the tribal people also have collected and preserved indigenous, traditional and rare seeds of the region by forming a seed bank.

The Foundation over the years have provided extensive training to various villagers, NGOs, government departments, etc. on several topics ranging from sustainable honey harvesting practices, beekeeping, value addition of Non Timber Forest Produces (NTFPs), organic farming to ecologically sustainable harvesting of NTFPs, Forest Rights Act for indigenous communities and advocacy. Training in Management (accounting, stocks) and business dealings are also conducted for the benefit of the villagers.

All the activities are focused on local manpower development and capacity building. Keystone has reached and impacted 5000 families of the 9 tribal communities across 89 adivasi hamlets with the help of a young and cohesive team of 50 volunteers and 35 staff members comprising professionals and local and adivasi  people. Sneh also works through NGO networks in Chattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh wherein similar work is initiated. The work is concentrated only on adivasi/tribal communities across these areas. For her outstanding contribution to make a difference in the society she was specially recognized by the Ramakrishna Mission.

Snehlata Nath aims at providing a sustainable livelihood support to the community while preserving their traditional way of life and conserving the environment.