A man in India is now literally reaping what he sow after planting trees every day for 40 years and turning a barren wasteland into a thriving forest with a healthy ecosystem.
In 1979, Jadav Payeng, known as the “Forest Man of India,” started planting trees every day in his quest to revive the Majuli Island in Assam, India—the largest river island in the world. Increased flooding in India’s Brahmaputra river due to monsoon has destroyed homes and farms, and eroded more than half of Majuli’s land mass. Scientists say that the island could be gone in 15 to 20 years due to erosion.
The sight of snakes scorched to death and piled up on sand due to lack of shelter after an extreme flooding in 1979 pushed the then 18-year-old Payeng to create a forest.
“When I saw it, I thought even we humans will have to die this way in the heat. It struck me. In the grief of those dead snakes, I created this forest,” Payeng told NPR.
For almost four decades, Payeng spent his lifetime planting so many seeds and saplings every day in the barren land that he’s “lost count”. Payeng says that he started first with bamboo trees, then with cotton trees. “I kept planting — all different kinds of trees.”
“It’s not as if I did it alone,” he explains. “You plant one or two trees, and they have to seed. And once they seed, the wind knows how to plant them, the birds here know how to sow them, cows know, elephants know, even the Brahmaputra river knows. The entire ecosystem knows.”
His dedication paid off as he was able to revive the ecosystem in the island with the forest he created. Named “Molai Forest,” it contains varieties of trees and has attracted animals like: elephants, rhinos, deer, wild boars, reptiles, vultures, and Royal Bengal tigers. It stretches over to 1,360 acres and is 1.6 times larger compared to New York’s Central Park.
In an online documentary entitled “Forest Man,” journalist Jitu Kulita detailed how he discovered Payeng’s secret project and decided to write an article about him in a local newspaper. Payeng says that it was a turning point in his life for him and he was recognized all over India for his efforts. He even received one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri, in 2015.
Watch the full video below:
Payeng remains dedicated to his forest and plans to continue planting until he dies. According to NPR, he’s planting 5,000 acres more on Majuli, aiming to create a 500-mile stretch of flora in the Brahmaputra’s barren sandbars and islands.
“My dream is to fill up Majuli Island and Jorhat with forest again. I will continue to plant until my last breath. I tell people, cutting those trees will get you nothing. Cut me before you cut my trees!”
When asked what keeps him going, Payeng said: “No one sees God. I see God in nature. Nature is God. It gives me inspiration. It gives me power … As long as it survives, I survive.”
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