Last Forest was a dream that came true in 2010, when it was registered as a separate entity. Incubated by Keystone Foundation, it had it’s place in the structure and work that Keystone began in the Nilgiri hills, nearly 25 years ago. Most times, when development projects come into being, the funding process provides avenues for capacity building and training. Most civil society organizations withdraw when it comes to dealing with the market or even if they make an effort, it is always with apprehension. Many others would like to sustain with constant infusion of project funds.
For us, it was important that we work towards a model that was sustainable and be an example for the development circles. In the initial years, it was a hard effort but even then, we reached out to SIDBI, Chennai to support the marketing work with honey hunters. This was something unique for them – they had never been approached for funding a project like this. It took nearly 2 years before they were convinced and provided us funds to set up a honey processing facility. The loan repayment, over three years, was a reminder of the challenges that lay ahead. For sure, there was project support in the initial years but our intent was clear – the market needs to be engaged and in a manner that was positive and a win-win for all concerned.
For the first few months, every time a batch of honey came in, a vessel to store it was bought – the local Post Office Manager became our supporter, allowing us to weigh the honey in his office. The price of honey offered to the honey hunters was nearly 300% higher than the prevailing market rate – there was no market study at that time but we knew that the amounts being given to the community were a pittance. With no design experience but our own good senses!, the labels were designed and the first bottles of honey were ready for the market. It took evenings of visiting local houses with a box full of bottles, on a rugged Yezdi bike – convincing the local people that that here was a bottle of honey that was awesome and worth every penny that they paid. The Taj Hotel, Coonoor was our first corporate customer – a milestone for us. As the market expanded and the local indigenous communities brought in more and more honey, we were faced with a new dilemma – honey that was bitter in taste. Went beyond anything that one would have imagined – how could honey be `bitter’. We were ready to dump nearly 700 kgs of honey as were at our wits end. In walked a friend (and today, an investor!!) who was vowed by that tasted – we have never looked back. `Bitter honey’ became a small brand by itself as folks walked in to taste and buy this awesome product.
In the initial years, everything was under one roof – the entire value chain from production to processing to value addition to branding …… the list can be endless. And we struggled with our twin objectives to give the best prices to both the producer and the consumer. We struggled for a solution. It was then in 2007, we had an intern from Ernst & Young, UK who spent 3 weeks with us. His key input – separate the marketing functions from the production activities. It was too large a chain to manage. Hence, what were known as Organic Market Development (OMD) and Production Centre Development (PCD), metamorphosed into different institutions. This did not happen overnight – however, his suggestion made sense and we worked on it.
It was in 2010 that Last Forest Enterprises was incubated and took shape. Today, 9 years later, the story continues – the potential is immense and as we continue to navigate our way into a challenging market, we invite you to be our partner and stakeholder. It is a for-profit social enterprise that has close links with its sister organizations, Aadhimalai and Nilgiri Natural History Society. These organizations together try to address issues of conservation, livelihoods and enterprise in a holistic manner.
Last Forest intervenes by being a market intermediary for wild forest produce that is harvested by indigenous communities. Honey is one of the key forest produce. Honey is harvested by these honey hunters at great risk but with tremendous tradition and culture encapsuled into the activity. The honey has been sustainably harvested for thousands of years and the only way for this symbiotic relationship between the communities and the forests around them to be available for generations to come is by providing them an ethical market; a market for honey and value added bees wax by-products.
Based in Kotagiri in the heart of Nilgiri mountains, we provide marketing solutions to primary producer groups and communities that are working on forest and agriculture produce which are natural, wild and local. We cater to the entire supply chain of procurement, quality check, brand, promote and sell organic, fair trade, and indigenous products. Here you can find honey, a range of beeswax products such as candles, soaps, and lip balms, spices, herbs, millet, coffee, essential oils and more. Last Forest procures from over 45 groups across the country and sell through over 100 outlets including three retail shops in the Nilgiris that are owned by us. For this we work with more than 150 villages impacting thousands of people.