JAN 26, 2017 9:23 AM PST

The Forest Man: one person's spectacular contribution to the world


There is a man who lives in India who has single-handedly planted a forest in the middle of a wasteland that is now larger than Central Park. His name is Jadav Payeng and he lives in Jorhat, in the northeast corner of India where one of the country's biggest rivers flows. The river's name is Brahmaputra, and in the middle of it sits the world's largest river island, Majuli Island, home to 150,000 people. Every year the Brahmaputra floods and destroys people's homes and washes away land. Since 1917, more than half of Majuli Island has been eroded.

Payeng began planting his forest in 1979 and it now covers an area of more than 550 hectares (for comparison, Central Park in NYC is 341 hectares). In this beautifully filmed short documentary, Payeng says "In the beginning, the planting was very time consuming. Now it is easier because I get the seeds from the trees themselves." He says that the biggest threat to his forest comes from men who will try to cut down the trees for economic gain. Now that the forest is dense, it is the perfect habitat for wildlife as well, and 115 elephants live there for three months of the year, also vulnerable to poachers and loggers. Deer, rhinos, tigers, and vultures have also returned to the area to live in the forest.

Although local governments have tried to enlist Majuli Island as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the application has been rejected. Payeng has ideas for how to save it. One of his ideas entails planting coconut trees which can be used to generate economic opportunity for the community, counteract erosion, and fight climate change. He has yet to receive support for this idea from the Ministry of Agriculture. Nevertheless, Payeng has hope for Majuli Island and says, "I will continue to plant until my last breath."
About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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