Jadav Payeng: The Man Who Grew His Own Forest
As we settle into 2018, the New Year provides us with the opportunity to start fresh, to make some changes in our lives, a few resolutions that we will try our upmost to keep, but most likely, give up by the time February roles around. What if we took a different approach? Rather than making large dramatic changes to our lives, that can sometimes seem unattainable, maybe we should start off by addressing the little things. Every small change adds up to a significant impact over time, and it’s this view that we can take with us when looking at the environment and the world around us. You may think, “what can I do to impact the environment?” or “how could I make a difference?” but one persons efforts truly can make a difference, from refusing to use a straw in your drink to walking to work rather than taking the car. All these tiny changes help to make a greater impact, and over the last 40 years, one man in India is clearly proving this point.
Jadav Payeng lives on the largest river island in the world, Majuli, which is situated in the middle of the Bramaputra River In India. The island has experienced severe soil erosion over the years and during the monsoon season, the river destroys homes and farms, eroding hundreds of square kilometres of land, with over half of the islands landmass being eroded away since 1917. Payeng was only 16 years old when he noticed that snakes were washing ashore dead. Floodwater and soil erosion had washed away the majority of vegetation from sandbars and stripped away grasslands, reducing the cover and protection for local snake populations. This led to a knock on effect amongst migratory bird populations and localised extinctions of other native species.
“I asked my elders, what would they do if all of us die one day, like these snakes. They just laughed and smirked but I knew I had to make the planet greener...”
Rather than just sitting and waiting for the next monsoon or strong river flow to erode away and destroy his home and surrounding lands, Payeng took it upon himself to make a change, a small change that in time would lead to a greater outcome. He decided that he would plant trees, and everyday he would travel to a certain area and plant one tree. Forty years on Payeng now has a forest measuring 1,400 acres, huge in comparison to New York’s Central Park, which measures only 843 acres. His forest has not only brought stability to the land and reduced soil erosion but has also brought with it an abundance of wildlife. Tigers, deer, rhinoceroses and up to 100 elephants have moved into the forest, with vultures returning to the area for the first time in 40 years.
But with this great feat came some challenges. As the forest grew in size it became vulnerable to the outside world and Payeng had to protect it from its greatest threat, Man. People wanted to destroy the forest for economic gain but this would leave the animals vulnerable and ruin everything that Payeng had done.
Luckily, Payeng managed to protect the forest and his remarkable story began to spread, how a simple man made a small change that impacted the world. A small documentary film was made about Payeng and his forest called “Forest Man”. William D McMaster who made the film said
“We hear stories all the time about environmental destruction, and we’re numb to it. Millions of acres of destroyed rainforest is nearly impossible for a person to imagine, but what Payeng has done is to show that a single person can make a measurable, positive impact on the environment...”
A simple man from humble beginnings, with very little to his name, dedicated his life to protecting the environment in which he lived. He now has a thriving forest full of animals and a protected landscape for many generations to come. Payeng has proven that one small action can lead to a greater outcome.
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