Sunday, April 13, 2014

An incredible story of ending deforestation, A Indian Man Plants 1,360 acre Forest Alone

A little more than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav “Molai” Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India’s Assam region to grow a refuge for wildlife. Not long after, he decided to dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site where he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem. Incredibly, the spot today hosts a sprawling 1,360 acres of jungle that Payeng planted — single-handedly.

It all started way back in 1979, when floods washed a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded, Payeng, only 16 then, found the place dotted with the dead reptiles. That was the turning point of his life.

“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” says Payeng, now 47.

While it’s taken years for Payeng’s remarkable dedication to planting to receive some well-deserved recognition internationally, it didn’t take long for wildlife in the region to benefit from the manufactured forest. Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shadeless sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The forest, called the Molai woods, now serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants — species increasingly at risk from habitat loss.

The fertile land also attracted people with little means who gradually settled on the fringes of Molai’s forest. They planted sugarcane, paddy and vegetables; slowly the village at the edge of the forest — Aruna Chapori — swelled to its present size of over 200 families. It even has a primary school now.
As the sandbar transformed into a forest, attracting all manner of small and large animal species, and providing shelter for wandering seeds of herbs, grasses and ferns to take root, Jadav remained its determined caretaker. Even the animals seem to know this since he has never been attacked by any animal.

While the young forest was quickly noticed by poachers, the Forest Department remained completely oblivious of it. The forest was first reported in 2009 by Jitu Kalita working with the Assamese dailyDainik Janmabhoomi. His reports were recently picked up by a national English daily, following which Jadav has begun to receive national and international recognition.

One has to cross two small streams by boat to reach Aruna Chapori from Missing Gaon. A tractor ride there onward takes one to the edge of Molai Kathoni. Trekking into the dense forest is a wondrous experience with Jadav pointing to a tree here, a grass or herb there that is the favourite of one or the other of his animals. In the moist mud, he shows the footprint of an elephant, and his droppings nearby. Reaching a watering hole he peered on the ground to find fresh pugmarks of a tiger! In the middle of the forest is his hut where he sometimes spends the night.

Currently he is planting orchids on the barks of some of his trees. At the edge of the forest the plantation drive continues to cover the remaining sand. Despite the conspicuousness of Payeng’s project, forestry officials in the region first learned of this new forest in 2008 — and since then they’ve come to recognize his efforts as truly remarkable, but perhaps not enough.

“We’re amazed at Payeng,” says Gunin Saikia, assistant conservator of Forests. “He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.”

Personal life
Jadav Payeng belongs to a tribe called "Mising" in Assam, India. He lives in a small hut in the forest. Binita, his wife, and his 3 children (two sons and a daughter) accompany him. He has cattle and buffalo on his farm and sells the milk for his livelihood, which is his only source of income. In a recent interview he revealed that he lost around 100 of his cows and buffaloes to the tigers in the forest, but blames the people who carry out large scale encroachment and destruction of forests as the root cause of the plight of wild animals.

Jadav Payeng was honoured at a public function arranged by the School of Environmenal Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University[11] on 22nd April, 2012 for his remarkable achievement. He shared his experience of creating a forest in an interactive session, where Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh and JNU vice-chancellor Sudhir Kumar Sopory were present. Sopory named Jadav Payeng as "Forest Man of India". In the month of October 2013, he was honoured at Indian Institute of Forest Management during their annual event Coalescence.

 A locally made documentary, Jitu Kalita’s Forest Man of India, was screened at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Jitu Kalita, who lives near Payeng’s house, has also been feted and given recognition for good reporting by projecting the life of Payeng through his documentary.

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