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Nilgiris Field Learning Center

A Project of the Keystone Foundation & Cornell University


The NFLC is a radical collaboration between communities living in the Nilgiris, development practitioners and researchers. Since spring 2015, groups of students from both, the Nilgiris and Cornell, have travelled to different field sites around the biosphere to learn about community, environment, health and wellness. Students work in pairs and their research around various issues related to sustainability can be broadly categorized into Community Wellness and Health, Environmental Governance, Ecology, and Water and Waste.

The community wellness research projects explore the relationship between individual and community health, access to medical resources in and around the village, and changing traditions. Working with the communities and learning about how health relates to people’s daily lives in the past and present, leads to interesting ideas about how health care may adapt for the future. The primary data collection methods are ethnographies, household surveys and semi-structured individual interviews in the communities. Observations of the research teams in the community also led to interesting insights about how community shapes one’s worldview concerning health and well being.

Research Projects




The environmental governance projects explore land use and governance in tribal villages on the peripheries and in forested areas. Many people‘s livelihoods are linked to working in forests administered by the Indian Forest Department. By using a range of research methods, including observation, interviews, and household surveys, students study how people in these communities utilize forest land and on the peripheries for food, farming, and trade. While not yet implemented in Tamil Nadu, the contested 2006 Indian Forest Rights Act (FRA) promises to recognize the legitimacy of individuals’ and communities’ claims to land and several projects have examined expectations and preparation for a futire where rights are secure. Projects have also sought to understand why fallows persist and the role insecure land tenure plays in shaping use of forest land.

Research Projects




The Waste, Water, and Recycling project focuses on water and waste practices and infrastructure in villages and expanding small towns of the Nilgiris. Some practicesare rooted in culture and tradition, while others are influenced strongly by changing consumption patterns, government policies and new programs. The research projects have followed peri-urban, rural and urban settlements along a transect toexplore water and waste production and disposal as well as private recycling networks, which collect materials from households and towns and transport them to even larger recycling centers in the plains. As in other NFLC projects, a range of methods are used for data collection and analysis including mapping using QGIS.Research carried out by NFLC students has informed local efforts so communitiescan work with the local government to better deal with waste.

Research Projects


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