Nestled amongst the high ranges of the Nilgiris in Southern India, Keystone strives to bring about positive transformation in the lives and livelihood of indigenous people. A motley, professional bunch of 30, from divergent cultures and thoughts, one hand grappling a GPS and the other coming to grips with the adivasi way of life, Keystone is an idea that is being implemented – on a daily basis – to enhance the quality of life and of environment through ecodevelopment.
The Keystone Path
Keystone works primarily in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) covering the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. NBR is a unique, biologically rich and ecologically fragile region of India. There exist numerous parks offering sanctuary to wild flora and fauna, geography has nurtured isolated adivasi groups dependent upon natural resources for their livelihood, high hill ranges serve as a fountainhead to parched throats in the drought prone plains. Yet, much has changed over the past. Large swathes of forested hills have been ruthlessly exploited, much of the original land use altered. NBR faces an unprecedented crisis of survival today. Located at the heart of these changes, Keystone has been working with indigenous people in the field of Environment and Natural Resources over the past decade. The organisation was born more than a decade ago when four young folks while surveying the hill regions of Tamil Nadu realized that there are only a handful of development groups with a mandate of working with both conservation and basic needs issues.
The challenge has been and continues, to synchronize social, economic and ecological systems and introduce effective strategies that would work in hill ecosystems while ensuring that the pristine environment of the Nilgiris remains preserved.
As an ecodevelopment group, Keystone strives to:
∗ Increase conservation perspectives
∗ Increase availability of alternate livelihoods for adivasi people
∗ Enhance the economic status of adivasi people
∗ Sustain traditional practices
Our primary interventions are in the field of –
Natural Resource Management ensuring that conservation becomes a mandate of communities living close to forest areas and not just an intervention by outsiders. NRM is a tricky issue with overlapping concerns such as sustainability of the resource, increasing population and indiscriminate extraction of resources. How do we achieve a balance between divergent interests of people? Through interventions that closely and positively affect the person residing in the village. Interventions such as Beekeeping, promotion of Traditional Agriculture, documenting, studying and value adding Non Timber Forest Products and conserving Water Resources such as wetlands, rivers and drinking water sources.
Enterprise Development where we have strived to find the right mix between extraction and exploitation. This search for a middle path led us to develop our philosophy of Value Addition as a key balance between conservation, enterprise and livelihoods. We are also involved in motivating adivasi farmers to ‘grow your own food’ by providing Participatory Guarantee and Marketing support for sale of organically grown produce.
Institutional Development & Local Governance to develop community governance and strengthen decision making institutions. It is our belief that village institutions must have the capacity to handle their resource judiciously and whether economically or culturally, these institutions must be strengthened. Strengthened so as to serve as a platform of economic and social growth for the future generations.
As an environmental group focusing on eco-development, Keystone has traversed a long distance in its quest of developing a progressive adivasi society and devising strategies that fit into the overall ecology of the hill district.