Gallery: Indian Man Single-Handedly Plants 1,360 Acre Forest


Deforestation and desertification are critical problems in India that have led to barren land, increased soil erosion, decreased agricultural production, and devastated local wildlife. However one Indian man has made a stand – by single-handedly planting and cultivating a 1,360 acre forest that is home to a complex, thriving ecosystem.

Jadav “Molai” Payeng started his project 30 years ago when he was still a teenager. Then, in 1979, flood waters washed a large number of snakes ashore on the local sandbar in Jorhat, some 350 km from Guwahati. When the waters receded, Payneg (who was 16 at the time) noticed the reptiles had died due to a lack of forestry.

“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,” said Payeng, who is now 47, to The Times of India.

Payeng chose to live on the sandbar, starting a life of isolation as he began work to create a new forest. Planting the seeds by hand, watering the plants in the morning and evening, and pruning them when required, he cultivated a huge natural reserve. After a few years, the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket.

“I then decided to grow proper trees. I collected and planted them. I also transported red ants from my village, and was stung many times. Red ants change the soil’s properties . That was an experience,” Payeng recalled.

Over the years, the reserve has seen a huge variety of flora and fauna blossom on the sandbar, including endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger. “After 12 years, we’ve seen vultures. Migratory birds, too, have started flocking here. Deer and cattle have attracted predators,” claims Payeng . Unfortunately, locals reportedly killed a rhino which was seen in his forest, something that Payeng clearly disapproves of.  “Nature has made a food chain; why can’t we stick to it? Who would protect these animals if we, as superior beings, start hunting them?”

Amazingly, the Assam state forest department only learnt about Payeng’s forest  in 2008 when a herd of some 100 wild elephants strayed into it after marauding through villages nearby. It was then that assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time.

“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch in,” says Saikia. “We’re amazed at Payeng. He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.”

Via The Times of India


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  1. sequentialSartre December 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

    It’s not that dubious a claim, considering the math. As a tree planter who has worked in BC & Alberta , we tend to plant 1600 trees per hectare, density-wise. An average veteran planter will plant around 100,000 trees every three month season, which works out to about 62.5 hectares of forest or a little more than 153 acres. At that rate, it would take less than 9 years to plant 1360 acres. Now, planters up here don’t have to take care of the tree after we plant them, but we also are only working 1/4 of the year. This man certainly could have done all of this himself.

    Never doubt the strength of an individual’s power to make a difference, given enough determination and will.

  2. vlixen6 December 2, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Dubious claim, if you consider the maths behind it.

  3. Syed Isfaque Hussain June 12, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Great Work..amazing..

  4. simon alexander cook December 31, 2012 at 2:29 am

    Inspiring article and lifetime achievement – however aerial photos or maps showing this transformation would be more informative.

  5. Yash May 10, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Great and absolutely amazing. My million salutes to Jadav Molai Payeng for his single handed dedication and perseverance in creating Haven in sandbar.
    I think he should be awarded Noble prize and all highest civilian awards in the world.
    God bless him and his work.

  6. gopalsane April 30, 2012 at 7:39 am

    This is great work by an individual! I salute to his dedication!

  7. shaukat April 26, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I congratulate and admire Mr Jadav Molai Payeng great effort for creating forest and he should be honoured for this work. He is truly poineer in his work. Hope his county and his villagers appreciate his hard work.
    Mr Payeng is the hope and shinning star in the environmental disaster period we are going through.
    Wish him all the best
    shaukat. Environmental Artist
    Founding member of The university rainforest Society

  8. fliparies April 7, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    This reminds me of the story, The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono illustrated by Frederic Bach Great Story

  9. link777 April 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    A man in Burkina Faso (West Africa) performed the same feat over a similar time period:

    The government of Burkina Faso had a different response:

    “… despite saving Gourga from becoming a desert, Sawadogo may end up losing both his land and his forest. The Burkina Faso government is in the process of repossessing Sawadogo’s land for development.

    He acquired the land through the traditional system and does not have a title deed, and the government has already started with their construction plans.

    In the new land plan the government claims ownership of Sawadogo’s forest and fields…The only way Sawadogo can retain his land is if he buys it back from government. It is an option that he feels is both unfair and unaffordable. Sawadogo would need 100,000 Euros to buy back the forest alone. “This is unjust,” he said. “I’ve worked so hard for this and now the government is punishing me.”

  10. chard121 April 5, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    I wonder how he came to own this land.

  11. sicsok April 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    This made my day and will inspire for a lot more!

  12. ChristopherBlackwell April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    There are those that do, and those that merely whine about things.Obviously this is a man that does.We culd definitely use a lot more people like him.

  13. PhillipG April 4, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Great article. We need more people like this. I took the barren 3 acres around my house and planted over 300 trees and bushes, put in a 1/2 acre pond, and planted many other plants to provide food and shelter for animals. Now 5 years later. I have seen opossum, racoons, squirrels, rabbits, bobcats, fox, coyotes, armadillos, turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, eagles, hawks, owls, and many other types of animals. I would love to convert 1,360 acres into a thriving forest.

  14. pbhatia April 4, 2012 at 3:31 am

    Brilliant!!!! very inspiring!! 1360 Acres is Massive!!

  15. Jill Fehrenbacher April 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    This is the best story I’ve read today! Inspiring!

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