• Utopia 500

What does it take to grow a forest?

A trip to northeast India will introduce you to a bewildering array of traditional cultures, mountain landscapes, and wildlife, including endangered white rhinos. Here you may meet someone even rarer: the "Indian Forest Man." Jadav Payeng, a simple farmer from a marginalized tribal group, has single-handedly transformed the landscape of Assam.


Payeng, 58, has reclaimed an island in the vast Brahmaputra River where rising floods had altered the flow and created sandbars along the river's long stretch through Assam.


Credits: Google Maps


When Payeng was only 16 years old, a flood inundated Assam and washed away his river land. He turned to his elders for a solution to this unfortunate event and they told him that only green plants could save their homeland and the animals that came with it. When he forwarded this idea to the local forest department, he was met with disappointing ignorance.

But, that did not demotivate him at the time - on the contrary, it inspired him to plant tree seeds himself.


In an interview with NDT, he said:


"I had to do something about it. Not just snakes, but all kinds of forest animals had disappeared from the area due to frequent flooding. I thought the only thing I can do is to plant trees, so I started by planting about 20 bamboo saplings on that very sandbar."


This planting spanned over 30 years and in that time he had single-handedly created a 550-acre forest that became home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinos, deer, and many other animals.

Credits: Jadav Payeng's Facebook.


Mr. Payeng's personal life also developed, he married and had five children, but he never forgot his goal of planting trees. He would travel for 20 minutes, cross the river by boat, and then walk an additional two hours to reach the same sandbar where he would plant trees every day for three months of the year.

His determination led him on his way, and today, thanks to his tireless efforts, the desolate ground where they had once seen hundreds of dead snakes due to flooding and deforestation is now a forest that covers 550 hectares. The Molai Reserve was named after Payeng's middle name, Molai.


Credits: Jadav Payeng's Facebook


His closing statement for NDT gives us much food for thought and encourages us to reflect. He stated:

"Now the forest is in such a state that the trees are dropping seeds on the ground and growing plants themselves. That's how nature works, you help it a little and it helps itself. I am proud to say that the Molai Reserve, which started with 20 plants I planted, is now the Molai Reserve which is twice the size of Central Park in New York!"




Written by Aurora Hyseni.

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