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Reforestation seems to be the buzzword among environmentalists all around the world these days.
Perhaps, no other single person in the world has contributed as much effort as Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng toward the noble cause.
Popularly known as ‘the Forest Man of India’, he has been reforesting a considerably large area in the heart of a barren wasteland since 1979.
The Molai forest
Jadav began by planting 20 bamboo seedlings on Majuli island, near Kokilamukh in the Jorhat District of Assam, India.
The lush green area is now known as the Molai forest (named after him, of course) and it spreads about 550 hectares on the river island.
That is more than five times the size of Putrajaya Botanical Garden, the largest of its kind in Malaysia.
Born in 1963, Jadav started his project at the young age of 16 when the social forestry division of Golaghat district implemented a tree plantation scheme on an area covering 200 hectares in Aruna Chapori.
He was one of the workers involved in the project which took five years to complete.
When his fellow workers left the site, Jadav chose to stay there to take care of the young trees they had planted.
More than that, he planted more trees all by himself and determined to turn the formerly barren area into a forest.
Home of Bengal tigers
Now, the Molai forest is the home of animals like Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, deer, rabbits, monkeys, and a variety of birds, including vultures.
Around 100 elephants visit the area every year and they usually stay there for about six months.
Thousands of trees
The trees are growing into the thousands now and bamboo alone covers 300 hectares of the Molai forest area.
Other trees include arjun (Terminalia arjuna), ejar (Lagerstroemia speciosa), goldmohur (Delonix regia), koroi (Albizia procera), moj (Archidendron bigeminum), and himolu (Bombax ceiba).
Jadav’s solitary effort at reforestation was only known to the public 29 years after he had started it.
Forest department officials discovered the Molai forest while they were searching for a herd of 115 elephants that had damaged property in the nearby village of Aruna Chapori.
They were surprised to know the existence of a large and dense forest in the area and since then, the officials visited the site frequently.
There was an attempt by poachers to kill the rhinoceros living in the forest in 2013.
However, they failed to do so after Jadav alerted forest department officials about the illegal activity.
Some items used by the poachers were then seized by the officials.
Jadav’s contribution to reforestation didn’t go unnoticed.
He was named ‘the Forest Man of India’ by Jawaharlal Nehru University vice-chancellor, Sudhir Kumar Sopory at a public event organized by the university’s School of Environmental Sciences on 22 April 2012.
Besides that, Jadav was honored with Padma Shri, the fourth-highest award for civilians in India in 2015.
He also holds honorary doctorate degrees from Assam Cultural University and Kaziranga University for contributions.
The story of Molai
The life and work of the Forest Man of India were featured in a documentary titled ‘Foresting Life’ directed by Aarti Shrivastava in 2013.
In the same year, William Douglas McMaster produced another documentary about Jadav’s lone effort.
The documentary, Forest Man, was named the Best Documentary award at the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase in the American Pavilion during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Indian writer, Vinayak Varma also immortalized Jadav by making him the main character in children’s book, Jadav and the Tree-Place.
The book was published by an open-source platform, StoryWeaver and funded by a grant from the Oracle Giving Initiative.
Nurturing forest people
Despite Jadav’s relentless effort, reforestation has not been given serious consideration by the world community.
Timber companies keep cutting down trees in the forests without sticking to the promise to replant them.
What we need to do is to educate the younger generation on the importance of reforestation in conserving the Earth’s sustainability.
Let them grow up to be the ‘forest people’ who will make the world green and lovely again. – RED ANGPOW