His Island Was Disappearing. For 40 Years He’s Planted a Forest Larger Than Central Park to Save It.
Lifestyle| | By Jason Owen
In 1979, Jadav Payeng set out to accomplish something nobody thought possible. His home – an island – was disappearing and he knew there was only one way to save it…by planting trees. What’s blossomed from his endeavor has captured the attention of millions all over the world.
Payeng lives on what is considered the largest river island in the world, Majuli, in India, but his home has been threatened by floods and erosion for decades, not too mention human activity. But instead of watching the vast swaths of vegetation vanish, Payeng, alone, set out to replant trees.
“At first planting was very time consuming. But now it’s much easier because I get the seeds from the trees themselves,” recalled Payeng.
Through his perseverance, Payeng has managed to create a forest oasis nearly 550 hectares, or 5.5 kilometers. For scale, New York City’s Central Park is 341 hectares.
With the renewed vegetation, wildlife returned and the ecosystem once again began to flourish. In a video from National Geographic, they say 115 elephants now live in the dense forest (for three months of the year), along with rhinos, deer, and many tigers.
Despite his success, Payeng is not yet finished.
“My dream is to fill up Majuli and Jorhat (neighboring land) with forest again,” said Payeng. “I will continue to plant until my last breath.”
The story of this “modern-day Johnny Appleseed,” as Nat Geo calls him, was turned into a short film, Forest Man, that was directed by William Douglas McMaster and won Best Documentary for the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014.
Watch the entire story below.