Meet the man who replanted a forest all by himself


In the north of India, Jadav Payeng has been replanting trees on a river island since 1979. Today, “his” forest is rich in wildlife, and Payeng is the subject of an inspirational documentary.


Deforestation is a rampant disease everywhere in the world, and more particularly in developing countries where the population often lacks other sources of firewood or ways to make a living. Deforestation threatens habitats and decreases biodiversity, exposes the population to floods, contributes to soil erosion and aridity, etc. It also has adverse effects on carbon sequestration and is thus a factor in the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

To curb deforestation, the first rule is to manage forests sustainably, using no more resources than nature can regenerate. But sometimes, when things have already gone wrong, you just need to go ahead and re-create a forest. That is what the Livelihoods fund is doing in Guatemala, India, Indonesia and Senegal, for instance, by planting mangroves or fruit trees to help restore ecosystems and provide sustainable livelihoods for the local populations. These large-scale projects aim to make as big an impact as possible.

Changing the world, one tree at a time

And then there are individual initiatives, carried out by people who have faith, enthusiasm and impressive energy. Jadav Payeng is one of them. For the past 35 years, he has been planting trees by himself on Majuli Island, in northern India. Majuli is the largest river island in the world, but it is barren as a result of deforestation and the ensuing soil erosion. Over the decades, it has lost a good proportion of its area and is very vulnerable to floods during the monsoon. Jadav Payeng has made it his life’s work to turn it into a tropical wildlife refuge.

Payeng’s story began in 1979, when he was just sixteen. After seeing wildlife dying from exposure along a barren sandbar near his home in northern India’s Assam region, he began planting vegetation to transform the landscape. Decades later, the lush ecosystem he created is now a safe haven for a variety of birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants — species hit hard by rampant habitat loss throughout the region. With his wife and three children, Payeng makes a living in the forest he planted, rearing cows and selling milk in town, reports TreeHugger. His forest now covers 1,360 acres on Majuli, and he reportedly has ambitions to start planting a new one. Payeng has been the subject of several documentaries, the latest of which was released in October 2013, and has won a series of awards at film festivals including Cannes. Forest Man is a 16-minute story that is definitely worth watching: inspirational, and full of hope.

Photo from Jitu Kalita

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