In 1979, when Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng was sixteen years old, he saw flood waters in Assam’s Jorhat district strand scores of snakes ashore the Bramhaptura sandbar.
“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 […]” Payeng told the Times of India.
Witnessing the death of these reptiles made a life-changing impression on Payeng. Recognizing the importance of forests to all life, he took it upon himself to transform the Bramhaptura sandbar in 1980. Against all odds, he has planted 1,360 hectares of green forest over the past three decades. He simply began planting bamboo seeds and went from there, the forest is now known as ‘Molai woods’.
The one-time desolate sandbar has become home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including endangered species such as the one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger. It is an ecosystem made up of thousands of trees, over a hundred deer, rabbits, apes, buffalo, and innumerable bird species including some rare vultures. A herd of 100 elephants pay annual visits to the forests as well, each visit lasting up to six months.
It was not until 2008, when these elephants strayed into nearby villages, that the state forest department in Assam learned what Payeng had accomplished.
An awe-inspiring commitment to maintaining and replenishing biodiversity is becoming ever more critical, which is why Payeng’s accomplishment is deserving of the highest accolades. Half of the land in India is affected by desertification. Loss of vegetation is a threat to India’s wealth of biodiversity, water security, and fertile land, and it increases the likelihood of natural disasters and food shortages.
Continuing to set a heroic example for us all, Payeng now plans to take on another 500 hectare sandbar. He says “it may take another 30 years but I am optimistic about it”.
Author: Kirsten Zeller/ RESET editorial