How One Man Single-Handedly Planted A 1,300 Hectare Forest In Assam

How One Man Single-Handedly Planted A 1,300 Hectare Forest In Assam

On the surface, Assam native Jadav Molai Payeng is unassuming in his simple attire and simpler philosophies. He wears the uniform of a rural existence, from the light cotton dhoti that wraps itself around his hips to his bare, calloused feet. He wears the smile of someone who has found peace in a life of solitude and shade. It’s the shade we speak of, however, that sets him apart from so many others. Scratch the surface a little and a rather exceptional side of Jadav is revealed--he is, after all, the man who grew his own forest.

His story began in 1979, when it quickly became apparent that Jadav had a streak of raving revolutionary antics within him. He was walking near Aruna Chapori near Kokilamukh when he was delighted by the number of snakes that had washed up on the shore. When he returned a few days later he was terribly saddened to see that the reptiles had all died due to excessive natural heat as there were no trees to regulate the temperature after the floods hit Assam in 1979. Despite his age at the time (16) and illiteracy, he understood the basic science behind the phenomenon and became determined to do something about it. He was the first and only person to  realize that enhanced greenery in the sandbar is the only hope for the depleting wildlife in the area. This was back in the ‘80s.

Today, Payeng has managed to grow 1,360 acres of forest entirely by himself! In 1980, the Assam Forestry Division initiated a plan to reforest 200 hectares of land in one of the sandbars of the Brahmaputra. He enrolled himself for the job and took the first few steps in a journey that was to define his life. The project came to an end at the end of five years, but he’s continued the process for the last 32 now. The ‘Forest Man of India,’ as he has come to be lovingly referred to, has single-handedly provided a new home for the hundreds of elephants, tigers, rhinos and birds that have flocked towards it.

This influx hasn’t come without its own set of problems though Payeng doesn’t see it that way. Herds of elephants and rhinos have knocked down village homes, and tigers often attack and eat the livestock from which the villagers earn their livelihood. But it seems, even as he watched his own home fall to ruins as the first-ever herd of elephants arrived in 2008, all he could think of was the magnitude of what he had done; while others were dismayed, he was overcome with joy. He had bred life back into his land. He told Shailendra Yashwant of Sanctuary India, “Man is responsible for the well-being of all animals and birds in the world.”


Over three decades later, Payeng has been written about countless times; he has flown to Paris to deliver speeches to other environmentalists, entirely boycotted officially approaching the government for help after repeated failed attempts, and has even had the forest he grew named after him as ‘Mulai’ forest. But even as he disappears into a solitary bamboo hut in the middle of the forest to spend a night amidst nature, it’s apparent that there isn’t a bone in his body that craves recognition for his selfless work. He can only hope that the story will plant seeds of a different kind in other people’s minds.

Learn more about the Forest Man of India by watching this documentary by William D McMaster here

Featured Image Courtesy Fooppers

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