Maheshwari is a former daily wage labourer in the tea estates of Kottagiri, in the Nilgiri District. While tea plantations look inviting during a holiday, there is no vacation for labourers like her. They toil on the deceptively beautiful but treacherous terrain of the estates.
While the opportunities for labour are many, their wages are uncertain. For all the hard work she put in, Maheshwari earned just Rs 60 per day.
So after many years of this instability, when the opportunity for a steady income came her way, she was excited and weary. Maheshwari joined Last Forest Enterprise, a company that believes in shifting power to the producers. Since then, things have changed dramatically for her.
Today, she is on a regular payroll, earns a steady income between Rs 200-400 per day, and is able to support her son’s education
The collection of non-timber forest produce (NTFP), mainly silk cotton in a sustainable manner, is the credo of Last Forest.
The brainchild of Mathew John, Pratim Roy, and Snehlata Nath, Last Forest was incubated by the NGO, Keystone Foundation. It was primarily created as a marketing platform for the indigenous communities, and self-help groups.
Managing Director Mathew John says, “Last Forest started to support local and marginalised communities in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. We pioneered the concept of recognising different kinds of honey based on taste and bee species. We are working to empower and enrich communities and facilitate the connect with the market through sustainable practices.”