In the last 40 years, one man from Majuli island in India has been able to single-handedly create a huge, beautiful forest bigger than New York’s Central Park by planting a tree every single day. Jadav Payeng was alarmed by the devastation caused to the land after a bout of extreme flooding and drought in 1979.
Focused on saving his homeland and preventing further soil erosion, Jadav who was then just 16 years old decided he would plant a sapling everyday on the then bare land. 39 years later, Jadav is now the proud owner of a lush woodland that covers 1,360 acres. What’s more is that the vast woodland is home to Bengal tigers, rhino, vultures and 115 elephants.
In 2007, a photo journalist by the name Kalita, was out taking pictures of birds around the Brahmaputra river, which flows around Majuli Island, when he accidentally discovered Jadav’s beautiful creation.
In his documentary, Forest Man, Kalita recalls, “I saw something strange… it looked like a forest far in the distance. I began walking towards it and when I reached it I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had found a dense forest in the middle of a barren wasteland.”
Kalita was amazed by Jadav’s story and took time to learn and further understand his lifetime’s work. He then went on to publish the story in a local paper. The story was then picked up nationally and Jadav was soon hailed as the ‘Forest Man of India’.
Jadav and his wife are both farmers and get their upkeep from selling cows’ milk to the locals says he will continue planting his saplings until his last breath and has a goal of covering 5000 acres.
While planting has gotten easier now, Jadav says the difficulties he currently faces include threats from poachers and illegal loggers. “Humans consume everything until there is nothing left. Nothing is safe from humans, not even tigers or elephants.. I tell people, cutting those trees will get you nothing. Cut me before you cut my trees.” He said.
Jadav’s work has been recognized far and wide and in 2015 he received a Padma Shri civilian award from the Indian Government.
“Payeng has already shown the example that if one person can, at his own effort, do this kind of plantation, then why not others.” Dr Arup Kumar Sarma from the Indian Institute of Technology said.