Safeguarding traditions, embracing modernity

Image: Ramya Reddy

Who we are

The Nilgiris Foundation (TNF) is a registered non-profit in the State of California, created to support and expand the work of the eco-development organisation, Keystone Foundation, in India.

Drawing inspiration from the adivasi communities of the Nilgiris who live in harmony with the natural ecosystem, TNF, a sister concern of Keystone Foundation, is working towards fostering a global movement in sustainable lifestyles rooted in frugality, creativity and originality in thinking and practice. 

Tapping into Keystone’s vast knowledge pool built over 28 years of working closely with the indigenous population of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, we are striving towards being a bridge for ideas and partnerships in the United States. We believe that building this knowledge partnership is especially relevant in a post-COVID world as we stare at the impact of human actions on the planet’s ecological stability and realise how flawed are the ways in which our societies and economies operate.

Our credentials and history

Keystone Foundation is a field-based, grassroots NGO, based in Kotagiri in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. A registered not-for-profit Trust, we have completed 28 years of work with indigenous mountain communities of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR). Our work is centred around the three pillars of Conservation, Enterprise, and Livelihood. 

The indigenous communities of the NBR are deeply connected to the land they inhabit which holds their ancestral history. Their socio-economic activities are unique and are influenced by their land and the ecosystem it supports. Keystone helps communities adapt to the modern economy while keeping these connections alive which, in turn, conserves the landscape.

Image: Ritwick C Doraiappah

Image: Deepika Vijayan

Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve

Steep slopes. Lush forested foothills. Varying summits enveloped by clouds. Everything in a haze of blue. This is the Nilgiris, or the Blue Mountains, located in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu in southern India.

Rising over 2000 meters above the sea level, and extending north to south for nearly 1600 kms along the western coast of peninsular India, the Western Ghats are home to over 30 percent of the country’s endemic flora and fauna. The United Nations has declared the area one of the world’s ten biodiversity hotspots.

Few regions in the world can boast of a time-honoured, harmonious coexistence among its many distinct indigenous groups. The extraordinary variety of their rituals, customs, and languages pays obeisance to their mountain land and her abundance. These make it a region of immense ethnographic significance, and among the most researched areas in the world, anthropologically speaking.


Image: Deepika Vijayan


TNF works towards fostering a global movement to create and occupy an environment that is both sustainable and just.


TNF exists to support and expand the mission of eco-development in India by mobilising resources, advocacy and developing partnerships in the US.

Meet the Team

More about Keystone Foundation,
its sister concerns and supporting organisations

Keystone foundation’s work in South India stems from the founding principle that small is global, effective and sustainable. It currently works in 135 indigenous communities with an estimated number of 15000 individuals. While Keystone’s focus was initially on poverty alleviation in the honey hunter community, through the dynamics of honey harvesting and marketing, the organisation 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.

Keystone Foundation corpus was started with Ford Foundation with thematic areas of: Women & Child Vulnerability Fund, Capacity Building of Staff & Community, Education Fund and Conservation Fund. The corpus was in a fixed capital with interest only being used.

Today Keystone runs programmes, activities and research within the themes of NTFP, Honeyhunting, Apiculture, Community Wellness, Culture, Capacity Building, Environmental Governance, Networks, Water & Sanitation, Biodiversity & Restoration, Organic Farming and Enterprises; each geared to directly contribute the holistic wellbeing of individuals, their communities and, by extension, the environment.

Last Forest Enterprises Private Limited is the social marketing arm of Keystone Foundation. It has Green Shops, distribution network where it markets local produce.

Aadimalai Pazhangudiyanar Producer Company is a tribal led, tribal formed, 1609 shareholders with tribal Directors who harvest, collect, value add at village level Forest & Agri produce.

Nilgiri Natural History Society is an outreach education body for the citizens, youth, students of the Nilgiris.

The NTFP-EP Networking Forum is a not for profit organisation registered as a Section 8 company (limited by guarantee/membership-based) under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. The primary objective of the company is to enhance the livelihoods of forest dependent communities and conservation of natural resources through local capacity building in the field of non-timber forest products and agroecology development in India.

Images: Ramya Reddy