Visit to Keystone Foundation, Nilgiri Hills

Nikethana reports on our recent team trip to the inspirational Keystone Foundation in the Nilgiris, Western Tamil Nadu.

From May 20 to 23rd 2017, 25 people – 12 women from the Nadukuppam Women’s Enterprises and 13 members of the Pitchandikulam Team (and three of their children!) – visited Keystone Foundation in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu. Keystone Foundation has been working for more than 20 years in the Nilgiris with indigenous communities on eco-development initiatives. The Foundation’s work has been concentrated in the areas of apiculture, micro-enterprise development, non-timber forest produce, land & water management, revival of traditional agriculture and other issues concerning indigenous communities.

The trip was incredibly inspiring, with the team spending a day in Ooty visiting the Botanical Gardens and the Flower show, followed by a visit to the Greene Shop and Place to Bee, a slow food restaurant, both running under Last Forest Enterprises, a marketing initiative of Keystone.

The next day, we left on jeeps into the hills to visit Bangalapadigai Center, a production unit of Last Forest where a local Irula women’s group collects non-timber forest material for a fair price from the communities around and creates value added products like Amla candy and chips, Shikakai powders, silk cotton bedding, beeswax balms and candles, and coffee powder. It was a wonderful exchange between our Nadukuppam women and the women from this unit, each sharing about the benefits and challenges of their work and lives.

On our last day with Keystone, we spent the morning at the Foundation’s base, exploring the work and chatting with the staff. In the morning, in a collaboration with Eco Femme, a social enterprise in Auroville, the women from Pitchandikulam team and Nadukuppam spent an hour with the Keystone women staff discussing sustainable menstruation.

Simultaneously, some of the other Pitchandikulam staff helped with some hands on work in Keystone – digging a mini-dam for Keystone’s rain water harvesting expansion initiative and planted some trees in the campus!

The morning continued with the team going on a tour around the offices, exploring various aspects of Keystone’s work on conservation and livelihoods, research into water, biodiversity and human-wildlife interaction, community health and wellness, the indigenous peoples program,  and the work on community newsletter (Nilgiri Seemai Sudhi) and Community Radio (Radio Kotagiri 90.4 MHz) that links the various indigenous communities in the region.

The afternoon saw the group making a brief visit to Coonoor exploring Sims Park. The day ended with a wonderful sunset walk up the slope on the Keystone campus.

A reflection circle after dinner with two of Keystone founder directors Sneh and Pratim, and Abhishek (a Keystone team member who completed our December Ecovillage Design Education course) saw a conversation about further collaborations and exchanges between the two organizations.

The People and Nature Fund hosted by Keystone made it possible for our women’s group to go this exposure visit. We thank Keystone Foundation and its members for their warm hospitality and generosity in time and resources!


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