Keystone Foundation approach is defined by “eco-development”: the principle that development can happen in harmony with both the needs of people and environment met through a holistic approach
Published on January 26, 2021 at 5:46 am
Updated on January 28, 2021 at 10:41 am
Keystone has been working in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) since 1995 with indigenous communities on eco-development initiatives. While the organisation’s focus was initially on poverty alleviation in the honey hunter community, through the dynamics of honey harvesting and marketing, it 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. Its major programme areas include: livelihoods, conservation, organic market development, environmental governance, training and information.
The Community Wellbeing (CWB) programme at Keystone focuses on four thematic areas – livelihoods, environmental governance, community health and wellness, and traditional knowledge and culture. The livelihoods component aims to achieve food-security along with income-security primarily through support for production of traditional crops. The preventive health and wellness programme links people’s health to their food, culture and environment, and supports revival of traditional and wild foods to improve their nutritional security. While the environmental governance component focuses on ensuring land security, the traditional knowledge and culture component focuses on reviving and documenting knowledge systems, present across all the components.
The programme works with Irulas and Kurumbas, classified as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Communities, residing in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, spread across six socio-ecological areas – Pillur, Coonoor, Sigur, Hassanur, Konavakkarai and Aracode.
Subsistence-agriculture and reliance on forests for food and medicine enabled Adivasi communities’ food and nutritional-security in the past. With access to external markets and food-systems (PDS), there was a decline in this symbiotic relationship. The COVID scenario has motivated communities to return to sustainable ways of life and Keystone Foundation’s programme facilitated this through
- Seed-distribution of traditional crops like millets, green foods and vegetables.
- Establishment of kitchen-gardens, nurseries (medicinal plants) and seed-banks.
- Promotion of nutritional practices through consumption of cultivated and uncultivated food.
- Knowledge transfer and retention on food practices and medicinal use.
COVID-19 presented a significant demand for millet seeds for cultivation and as food for sustenance. While this is encouraging, the concern at this point is the question of “what would be the scenario for sustained farming support and nutrition, when external (e.g. NGOs) support for these activities is eventually removed?”
- Number of farmers (including the younger generation) taking up revival of traditional-farming has increased.
- Change in dietary practices and sourcing of food has shifted from the dependence on external markets, to sourcing locally available clean food.
- Revival and sharing of traditional knowledge building; community cohesiveness.
Keystone Foundation has been able to reach approximately 1,500 families under its livelihood project by supporting beneficiaries to shift to a nutrition-rich diet, while also enabling landless families to receive income-support through nursery set-up of commercial crops. Under the thematic area of health, about 400 households have been impacted through the organisation’s projects focussing on the provision of nutrition-support, millet subsidies, and also support in the set-up of kitchen gardens. Moreover, 200+ families have been an integral part of the Foundation’s food festivals. Besides this, 100+ families have been a part of the organisation’s diet-monitoring project.
The establishment of nurseries and seed-banks under livelihood-interventions is to gradually devolve the maintenance and upkeep of the livelihood activities to the communities themselves. Capacity-building efforts through training and awareness programmes have ensured knowledge-retention and behaviour change to enable sustained activities pertaining to livelihood and health and ensure nutritional security.
Post-COVID-19 growth model
“What we need now is an adaptive and a calibrated approach because it is still unclear as to what kind of a world is going to emerge in the aftermath of COVID-19. People are increasingly losing their purchasing power. Frugality and sustainable lifestyles have to be the new buzzwords.”
Pratim Roy, Founder Director, Keystone Foundation