Together with the indigenous people in the Nilgiri Mountains, the Keystone organization works to improve the quality of life and improve the local environment in the small mountain villages. Nilgiri – the blue mountains – is known for its rich flora and fauna and lies on the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India. Among other things, there is the unique mountain rainforest shola here. Up to 2600 meters in height, indigenous people of the Kurumba, Irula, Cholanaiken, Kattunaiken, Toda, Kota, Sholiga and Urali tribes live. Together, there are about 30,000 inhabitants. Sometimes the Badaga people group is also considered indigenous people, they are a larger group of about 200,000.
Keystone was formed in 1994 by the spirits Mathew John, Pratim Roy and Snehlata Nath. They tired of life in the big city and wanted to turn theory into practice where it was really needed. From the beginning, they worked with wild honey hunters and also had beekeeping courses. Over time, the work has evolved to include the development and marketing of several organic products which are then sold in their own stores, called “Green Shops”. Through seed banks and cultivation, traditional crops are preserved that are both beneficial and adapted to the mountains. Irrigation projects are also being carried out as well as reforestation of forests. Since it is expensive and complicated to certify eco-products in systems similar to Swedish KRAV, an attempt is instead made to introduce a system of participatory internal control. The benefits of this system are more than the purely economic ones because the farmers form groups where they exchange experiences and knowledge. To include the full spectrum of life in the mountains, Keystone also works with local leadership issues and indigenous peoples’ culture.
At Keystone you don’t care about this with differences – everyone is already so different! Different religions, castes, ethnicity and level of education come together at the Kotagiri office. When Keystone is hiring, they make sure to attract the hard-to-find groups of women and indigenous people. To make the organization as interesting an workplace as possible, it is run flat, and room for further development and extra benefits is offered to the staff.