Mathew John (India)
I am a co-founder of the Keystone Foundation, a not-for profit organization based in the Nilgiris South India) for close to 30 years. Also, the co-founder of Last Forest, the customer engaging institution which provides a market platform for all products that come out from the communities. Our work focuses widely on environmental and rural development issues. Keystone works primarily with the indigenous communities in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which is a hot spot under the Man & Biosphere programme of UNESCO. As part of our work in Organic Agriculture, we encourage communities to grow traditional varieties of food crops to meet their nutritional and health requirements. They also grow cash crops to supplement their income. We organize seed banks, harvest festivals, public exhibitions, etc. so that communities and consumers realize the value of such crops and growing methods.
As part of Last Forest’s team, it is important to take the values and ethics out to the customer so that they make choices of products that are sustainable and eco-friendly. This covers a range of products like honey, bees wax based personal care, etc.
My primary areas of interest are:
• Supporting and providing market platforms for products produced and value added from small farmers, harvesters and artisans, around the country;
• Developing Participatory Guarantee Systems for small and indigenous producers.
I have been on the World Board of IFOAM Organics International for 2 terms (2011-2017) and believe that my contributions were fairly substantial and practical. I was a member of the IFOAM Participatory Guarantee Systems committee as well as a member of the Executive Committee of the PGS Organic Council (India), which was initiated in 2006.
Presently, the main focus of my work is to develop and find niche markets for produce from the forest and homestead farms. Through this marketing support, I am able to provide support to over 40 groups within India, covering a range of products. Our belief is that we have tremendous potential within our own country to produce and market organic & fair trade produce, which we need to tap.
I am also involved with fair trade activities, as I believe that both fair trade and organic hold many similar core principles. Running both processes parallel to our systems is crucial as only then does it capture the essence of our spirit within which we try to work. I have been a member of the Executive Council of Fair Trade Forum – India and was involved in setting up a brand for fair trade shops across India.
I believe this contribution allows me to bring smallholder farmers into the market value chain and by this demonstrable example, link grassroots development work to national strategies. My experience in the development sector of over 30 years will be significant to this process. My experience of working with the existing IFOAM Asia, right from its inception, will prove invaluable