Tag Archives: Keystone Foundation

Tillbaka i Madurai

Då är jag tillbaka i Madurai, efter fyra dagar i Kotagiri där Svalornas andra regionala partner möte arrangerades. Rätt så skönt att vara tillbaka i Madurai, var det inte är lika kallt som i Kotagiri. Temat för mötet var Engendering Mobilisation and Sustainable Social Change och dessa fyra intensiva dagar var fullspäckade med diskussioner om t.ex. gender relaterade frågor och hur valen som ordnats detta år i Indien, Bangladesh och Sverige eventuellt kommer att få för konsekvenser på biståndsarbetet. Ytterligare fick Svalornas partner organisationer i både Indien och Bangladesh också delta i olika grupparbeten om hur organisationerna själva kan förbättra sitt gender arbete, ett väldigt viktigt ämne som man inte kan strunta i om man vill försöka uppnå ett jämställt samhälle. På kvällarna ordnades olika kulturella program med dans och musik samt hade deltagarna möjlighet att få ta del Keystone Foundations arbete.

Alla praktikanter deltog även i mötet och att träffa de andra praktikanterna och få höra hur de har haft det under praktik tiden, var så klart en av höjdpunkterna med att alla samlas i Kotagiri. Det är också värt att nämna att ta långa morgonpromenader i den vackra naturen och ha möjligheten att se en gaur även var super kul!

Nu är det bara att njuta av de sista månaderna och jobba vidare med uppgifterna på kontoret i Madurai.

/Michaela

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A Wildlife Special

Our work continued with a visit to the village of Dhalamukkai located about an hours drive from Kotagiri where the local savings group held their monthly meeting. The community faces a number of challenges when it comes to livelihoods, and as with many other villages in the area wildlife intrusions are a major concern. The farmers are set to start cultivating millets next year but they are worried about the damage caused by elephants and gaur. In addition, this years late rains have been a reminder that crops can fail. Read more about the Dhalamukkai visit here.

Back at the office we have settled in to the rhythm of the workplace. Keystone has a sort of relaxed but professional atmosphere where a sense of purpose, rather than rigid rules and structures, dictates the everyday workflow. It is a dynamic workplace where microscope-wielding biologists work shoulder to shoulder with social activists.

The Keystone campus is located on a hill opposite our house. Tea plantations on two sides and a eucalyptus forest on top of the hill surround it, and as is the case in most areas of Kotagiri the local wildlife recognizes human habitation as a nuisance but not an obstruction in their daily foraging. There are frequent sightings of gaur at the office and a few days ago Ida and I spotted a couple of barking deer rummaging in the tea. Coming back from the afternoon tea break a couple of days ago we suddenly realized that a wild boar was staring at us from about twenty meters away. It must have discovered us at the same time as it quickly scurried away into the tea bushes. The subsequent pig chase ended up on top of the hill with a fantastic late-afternoon view of the valley below….just another day at the Keystone office.

The Keystone campus (orange tiled roof) from across the valley

The Keystone campus (orange tiled roof) from across the valley

Keystone Office

The Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaur on the way to Longwood Shola

Gaur on the way to Longwood Shola

 

Our colleague Abishek from the Conservation programme saved a snake from becoming roadkill

Our colleague Abhishek from the Conservation programme saved a snake from becoming roadkill

 

Wild boar

Wild boar

A Besra just outside our house

A Besra just outside our house

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Coffee and savings in Dhalamukkai

Yesterday I visited the village of Dhalamukkai with Henrik and Eshweri. We attended a meeting of the villages savings group. A part from the monthly savings the topic for discussion was millets. At the moment there is no millet cultivation in the village but the farmers have decided to clear some land starting out next year. There are however some concerns on weather and animal impact. This year the rains came late in the season, which worries the farmers as they are taking on new types of crops. There are also many elephants around during certain times of the year; they along with monkeys can cause much harm to the cultivated land and to the crops.

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We ended our visit by taking a close look at a coffee nursery. The farmers of this village grow coffee and are certified by PGS Organic. That means that they pledge to grow organic, develop locally adapted standards, peer review each other, share knowledge and spread organic products to a local market.

Baby coffee plants growing under the protection of a banana tree.

Baby coffee plants growing under the protection of a banana tree.

And of course we had tea before going back to office.

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Bhangalapadugai

Ida and I, after a month-long wrestling match with Indian bureaucracy, have finally been able to go out into the field. Yesterday we went on our second trip to the Irula community of Bhangalapadugai, a village of around 45 households that has been severely affected by elephant intrusions in the last decade. The village is located about a 11/2 hour drive and 1000 meter elevation drop from Kotagiri. On our first visit we heard harrowing stories of near escapes from elephants and trampled crops. Three people have died in recent elephant attacks, a severe blow to such a small community.

 

Millet fields

Millet fields

 

Yesterdays visit was conducted as a joint venture between the Livelihoods/Environmental Governance and Conservation programs with the purpose of discussing the conditions, technical details, and eventual financial support toward the setting up of strategic elephant fences around the most exposed farmland in the area. Needless to say there were a lot of feelings invested in the meeting, considering the heavy losses inflicted by the animals. The meeting was held at the local Keystone-supported production center and a number of farmers attended. Women did attend but it was clear who held decision-making power. The gender dynamics of rural life in this part of India and how Keystone works with gender issues would be interesting to explore further, but I will leave that subject for now.

 

Mapping out elephant trails

Mapping out elephant trails

 

When it comes to these types of challenges the need for a holistic approach which cross cuts programmatic and thematic areas is apparent. The meeting therefore provided a positive insight into Keystones capacity and willingness to contribute with solutions to a marginalized community in order to come to terms with a massive problem in a sustainable way.

 

Other short updates: It has rained for five days straight, the fog is so thick that we invented a new game – “cow or Gaur” – when walking past bovine shadows in the mist, my clothes are getting moldy, the rats in my room have replaced the community alarm as my wake up call. Finally, tomorrow is Diwali so hopefully we can go somewhere to escape this rain cloud that we are literally living inside of right now. Despite the severe lack of dryness I am loving the Nilgiris and all it has to offer.

 

The Fog

The Fog

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Naturrutan or Five fun facts (this being the first and with all probability the most fun)

Exploring the nature in the Nilgiris is tremendously exiting for me. I have hardly been out in the forest at all but since everything from plants in the office campus to bugs and birds in my back yard are new acquaintances I have a nature experience everyday. In the Keystone campus there is always someone close by with a book on the endemic birds of the Nilgiris or stories of encounters with some of the local mammals. My knowledge of my surroundings is humble but thanks to all the knowledgeable staff of Keystone I’m learning bit by bit. Another source of information is the Newsletter of the Nilgiris Natural History Society.

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In the first week in Kotagiri I read a piece written by Anita Varghese, working with the conservation programme at Keystone in the issue from June 2014. It was centred around trees and plants whose young leaves are red. In tropical climate the young leaves of plants are often red while turning green when aging. In temperate regions it is the other way around, the new leaves are green while the old ones turn red in the fall. The text described how the red colour works as a protection against animals that would want to eat the new leaves. You see, the red pigment makes the leaves less tasty for insects. Also, the insects cannot see colours in the red range of the light spectrum which would make the red leaves appear as dark or dead. After I read this article I see trees with young red leaves everywhere (and photo document every one of them naturally). I’m not sure why I find this particular little piece of the plant cycle so fascinating. Perhaps because the process is seemingly reversed from the deciduous trees of my native habitat.

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Hälsningar från Kotagiri

Nu har vi varit i Indien i ett par veckor och det är en hel del intryck att sortera både från Bangalore och Kotagiri. Först och främst skulle jag dock vilja skriva en kort kommentar om valet i Sverige: Vilket skitval. Jag skulle kunna skriva långt om mina tankar kring fascismens framgång och använda ord som inskränkthet, oanständighet, och uppgivenhet men jag tänker att ni inte har sökt er hit för en analys av Sveriges deprimerande politiska landskap så här får ni istället en bild på vår granne Turbo.

 

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Bangalore bjöd på inspiration och mängder med god mat. Inspiration i form av tre väldigt intressanta föreläsningar från tre väldigt intressanta civilsamhällesaktörer. Vikten av samordning och solidaritet i ett hårdnande politiskt klimat var en gemensam nämnare för dessa diskussioner. Optimismen och engagemanget för frågor gällande mänskliga rättigheter, jämlikhet och rättvisa var inspirerande och något att hålla fast vid. Den indiska kontexten är givetvis väsensskild från den svenska på många sätt, men det finns även likheter. Ett aktivt, levande, och politiskt relevant civilsamhälle blir allt viktigare, inte minst i ljuset av de senaste valresultaten i båda länderna.

 

Diskussion på Svalornas Indienkontor i Bangalore med feministen och kvinnorättsaktivisten Asha Ramesh

Diskussion på Svalornas Indienkontor i Bangalore med feministen och kvinnorättsaktivisten Asha Ramesh

 

Efter fem dagar i Bangalore bytte Ida och jag storstadsmyllret mot Nilgiris blåa berg. Det första vi ser när taxin slingrar sig upp för bergen mot vår nya lilla hemstad Kotagiri är en enorm Gaur-tjur. Det ska visa sig att detta ska bli ett av många möten med dessa enorma djur då de är ett vardagligt inslag i skogarna och teplantagen på sluttningarna kring staden. Tydligen befinner sig vårt hus mitt i deras vandringsväg så vi har fått strikta förhållningsorder om ficklampor och försiktighet.

 

Gaur (Indisk Bison)

Gaur (Indisk Bison)

 

Våran handledare Archana välkomnade oss på kontoret och gav oss en första introduktion till Svalornas partner Keystone Foundation, vår arbetsplats fram till slutet på januari. Det är en imponerande organisation med flera olika program centrerade kring naturskydd, livelihoods, kultur, och ekologisk livsmedelsproduktion samt samspelet mellan dessa. Så fort vi fixat den lite krångliga men nödvändiga registreringen hos polisen så drar vi ut i fält för att sätta igång arbetet tillsammans med de Adivasi*-grupper som Keystone samarbetar med. Ida och jag har en spännande tid framför oss!

 

Utsikten är det inget fel på

Utsikten är det inget fel på

*Adivasi är en samlingsterm för Indiens (samt Nepal och Bangladesh) urbefolkning. ”Scheduled Tribes” är den juridiska benämningen på denna väldigt heterogena grupp människor. I Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve lever ett trettiotal olika folkgrupper.

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