As a 16-year-old, Forest Man Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng had seen scores of dead snakes, victims of a major drought more than 4 decades ago on the largest riverine island in the world, the Majuli island, on the Brahmaputra river. The child had then wondered that the same face could befall humans one day.
That moved him to start planting saplings near his home at that tender age. He dedicated his life to the task for over 40 years; the Forest Man has alone planted trees that cover nearly 550 hectares, or around 1350 acres.
The unassuming Jadav Payeng gave up his schooling to give all his attention to the afforestation drive. Born to a buffalo trader, he belongs to a remote tribal community in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.
He started by planting seeds and saplings on the dry sandbar of the Brahmaputra river. Tribals of nearby people suggested that he plant trees that could withstand the tough climatic conditions. He started with 25 saplings and a few seeds.
His story first came to light in 2010 when Jitu Kalita, a wildlife photographer, and freelance journalist wrote about his achievement. International recognition followed and people from around the world started visiting his forest which is home to over 120 bird species, including many migratory ones.
Forest Created By Forest Man Home Even To Large Animals
Even large animals, such as tigers, elephants, and tigers, from the Kaziranga forest reserve, enter the man-made forest. The Forest Man says that a large herd of elephants makes the forest their home for close to 3 months every year.
Payeng plants the saplings in the three months leading to the monsoons that arrive on the subcontinent in June every year. He devotes the rest of the year to collect seeds from the forest. He says that poachers remain the main threat to his forest. He is aided by the local Forest Department who help him guard the forest.
He says that teaching the next generation about the depletion of our forest cover was necessary. They need to love nature. He says that the forest could now take care of itself if not touched by man.
The Forest Man is a recipient of one of India’s highest civilian awards, Padma Shri for his distinguished contribution. His beloved forest is named ‘Molai’ after him. His story is a part of ecology classes even as far as the US. He has been invited to visit Mexico to help Fundacion Azteca, an NGO that aims to plant 7 million trees in the country. He will share his rich experience with the Mexicans.
Image Credit: Jadav Payeng