What can one person do to help the environment and their local community? According to the man featured in the documentary short “Forest Man,” it may be much more than you’d think.
Jadav Payeng from Majuli, India has single-handedly nurtured 1,360 acres of forest over his lifetime. How? By planting one tree every single day since he was sixteen years old. He began this mission in 1979 and his forrest is now larger than central park.
The film begins in Jorhat and showcases the wildlife photographs of the journalist narrating the film. We are then introduced to the river Brahmaputra and the flooding around it’s banks during monsoon season that destroy everything in sight, including homes and even the soil of the riverbanks.
An island in the river, Majuli, is one of the worst affected areas from the flooding. The cameras showcase the devastation from the floods and people using debris as rafts to navigate the aggressive waters. Half of Majuli’s landmass has already been lost to erosion in the last 100 years and scientists have declared that if the rate of erosion continues the entire island could be gone with 15 to 20 years. The good news is that one man is single handedly combating erosion on the island.
The journalist finally introduces Payeng, a humble man of the island. They met by chance one day as the journalist was exploring the various wildlife in Majuli and stumbled upon Payeng’s forest. He ended up writing a local article about his work which led to Payeng receiving recognition and an official title from the president of India as “India’s Forest Man”.
Payeng and the journalist have since become friends and he tells the camera how his meeting was a turning point in his life. However, his day to day routine of tending the forest has not changed. Every morning his family helps him prepare for the journey to the forest. The camera’s follow him on his daily trek to the forest while he remembers how time consuming the planting was at first. Fortunately, his work is much easier now from the convenience of previously planted trees providing fresh seeds to be planted.
Now that over 30 years have passed, some of the trees have grown very large and increasingly difficult to protect from the threats of men seeking economic gain. This is the sad reality all over the world today. The forest has also grown increasingly important to wildlife as it’s grown in size, density, and ability to shelter animals. 115 elephants even reside in the forest for 3 months of the year using the forest for protection from predators. Full time residents include rhinos, deers, tigers, and many more species that are returning to the revived land.
The forest man has dedicated his life to fixing and preventing more erosion in Majuli, he has even proposed various solutions and ideas to local and international governing bodies to get involved in the mission of saving Majuli from erosion. One of his proposals is investing in the coconut industry, the trees will help stabilize the soil on the island and the coconuts will create many economic opportunities for locals.
The fate of Majuli remains unknown but it’s safe to say that it only takes one dedicated person to begin working to protect the environment to materialize positive and important change.
By Bianca Vierra, Earth.com Contributing Writer