Jadav "Molai" Payeng planted his first tree on the river island of Majuli at the age of 16. He's now managed to plant an entire forest.
The river island of Majuli is located in the North-Eastern state of Assam in India. In the middle of the Brahmaputra River, the island has been shrinking over the past few years as the river continues to grow. At present, it is listed as the world's largest river island in the Guinness Book of World Records. While it has this accolade to boast of, 40 years ago, the island was a barren desert. It was only in 1979 when forestry worker Jadav "Molai" Payeng decided to improve Majuli's ecosystem that it flourished into what it is today. Payeng, 16 at the time, vowed to plant a tree on the island every single day. It has been four decades since he made the vow and the island has since been transformed into a forest reserve, thanks to his efforts.
The idea first came to him when he encountered a large number of snakes that had died due to excessive heat after floods washed them onto the tree-less island. He then planted about 20 bamboo seedlings in order to prevent this from happening in the future. He was commissioned as a laborer to work on a project that would convert the island district into a tree plantation. The project took five years to complete. When it was finally done and dusted, Payeng decided to stay on the island in order to look after the trees that were planted and plant more trees of his own.
Soon enough, the barren island was completely transformed into a lush green forest. It is now bigger than Central Park. In addition to the several thousand trees present in the forest, it houses Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, and over 100 deer and rabbits. You can also spot monkeys and several varieties of birds, including vultures. Every year, a herd of at least 100 elephants visits the island and stays for about six months. In the recent past, the elephants have even given birth to 10 calves in the forest. The forest has been named Molai Forest in the former laborer's honor.
Payeng's efforts were first noticed in 2008 when forest department officials went to the area in search of a herd of 115 elephants. They were surprised to see such dense forest in the place of barren land and have thus made a visit to Molai Forest every year since. For his dedication, he was given the title "Forest Man of India" by Sudhir Kumar Sopory, the vice-chancellor of India's Jawaharlal Nehru University, a premier academic institution. Further to this, he was awarded in 2015 the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. He even went on to receive honorary doctorate degrees from Assam Agricultural University and Kaziranga University for his contributions. His service proves that one man's actions can indeed have a vast and lasting impact on our most precious gift of all - mother nature.