Keystone Foundation was initiated in 1993 with an office in Pondichery. In 1994, a state wide survey on apiculture in Tamil Nadu was conducted by the core members of Keystone. The survey brought the team to the Nilgiris, where a number of hunter-gatherer communities were practicing honey hunting and subsistence agriculture. In 1995, Keystone set up an office in Kotagiri and in 1996, Keystone set up its first retail outlet – The Greenshop which was a marketplace for products made by the tribal communities.
Honey and beeswax were procured from the honey hunters of the Nilgiris at a fair price. These were processed at the Keystone Office and the products were retailed at the Greenshop. In 2004, a project to do value addition on Non Timber Forest Produce was initiated by Keystone.
Semmanarai village was identified as the first field area to set up a resource centre to do value addition work at a village level. Semmanarai is a resource rich area in coffee, pepper, silk cotton and honey. This location also had a lot of honey hunters. The village headman contributed land for setting up a centre. Beeswax related work was started and training was given to over 20 villagers.
In 2006, another village named Bangalapadigai was identified for doing value addition work. Villagers from Bangalapadigai, mainly women, were brought to the Semmanarai centre for an exposure visit. They were trained in processing amla, silk cotton and shikakai. The village panchayat in Bangalapadigai donated land for setting up the resource centre.
In 2008, a village named Kurumbadi near Coonoor, gave land and building for setting up a processing centre. Due to several administrative barriers, the operations were shifted to a nearby village called as Pudukad. The women in the centre were trained to make pickles and work on making soaps and lip balms.
The same year, a village survey was conducted in Hasanur area, near Sathyamangalam. People from Dhimbam village near Hasanur were brought together and given exposure visits in Kotagiri and Semmanarai. Support and encouragement from the Divisional Forest Officer of Sathyamangalam led Keystone to collaborate with a local NGO – Thalavadi Adivasi Munnetra Sangam (TAMS) and Minor Forest Collectors’ Association to start a centre named Thumbithakadu. Training on sustainable collection of NTFP was given to the forest gatherers in the region.
As the value addition operations started to gain strength, it was felt that all the value addition activities must be brought under a single umbrella. The need to bring this under the control of the tribal community of the region was also felt as an imperative. The Farmer Producer Company as an organisational model was also gaining popularity across the country. On consultation with the leaders of the tribal communities in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and legal consultants, it was decided to register a Farmer Producer Company named Aadhimalai, in 2013.
Today, Aadhimalai is a collective of 1609 shareholders who feel empowered as owners of a unique company procuring and processing over 30 Tonnes of NTFP and agri produce, and having over 50 different varieties of products.