Meet Jadav Payeng, the Forest Man of India

Environment activist, Jadav Payeng features in the first episode of Earth Champions on Sony BBC Earth
In frame: Jadav Payeng
In frame: Jadav Payeng

India’s green cover stands at 24.62 percent, and talks around environmental conservation are increasing more than ever. With many environmental activists, like Greta Thunberg and Julia Steinberger, among others, working towards a better future, we also have someone here in India who has been working towards a similar cause. Known as the Forest Man of India, Jadav Payeng, from Jorhat in Assam, has single-handedly planted and tended trees on a shoal and converted it into a forest reserve.

Being an environmental activist, he was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2015 for his endeavor to protect the environment and his contributions to expanding green cover. It was only fitting that when Sony BBC Earth announced the return of its much-awaited IP, Earth Champions, Jadav’s story was featured in the first episode. We got chatty with Jadav to know more about his work, what he feels about Earth Champions and lots more…

Can you tell us more about your work and how it started?
I was around 19 when I noticed that a large number of snakes had died due to excessive heat in my area. They were washed onto a barren piece of land. That was a moment that changed me. I planted around 20 bamboo seedlings on the land and looked after them. I continued to plant more trees to convert the area into a forest. Now, the forest (Molai forest) is home to a number of animals like Bengal Tigers, Indian rhinoceros, deer, and rabbits. It is also home to monkeys and several species of birds. When it comes to the trees, we have Gilmour, moj, koroi, Ichimoku, and several others. I come from a tribe in Assam called Mishing. Earlier, my family and I used to live in a house that I built inside the forest but now we live in Mishing Gaon which is near Kokilmukh Ghat. I travel every day to the forest and look after the trees and plants.

You were conferred with the Padma Shri in 2015. How did it feel to be recognized for your work?
It felt amazing! I don’t work for accolades or recognition. I just work to make this world a better one so that the coming generations don’t have to suffer. I am thankful that I was recognized for the work I do. I just want to inspire the younger generations to work towards making this planet a better place. When I was
awarded the Padma Shri, it was a motivation to the people who knew about my work.

What challenges did you face when you started your work?
I didn’t have any helping hand when I started planting trees. It was pretty much just me. I didn’t get much help from the forest department. They neither helped me grow the forest nor did they pay any attention to me when I told them about endangered rhinos visiting the forest. It was only much later that they believed and started helping me.

Tell us about the importance of having shows like Earth Champions?
It’s very important to have such shows because talk about conservation is becoming increasingly important with each passing day. We now know the importance of saving trees and planting more of them. Shows like Earth Champions make people understand the various issues we face, and they also provide a platform for people like me to tell our story and the work we do. I am thankful that my story is out there now and that more people know about my village and the work we do here.

What is your message to youngsters when it comes to environmental conservation?
I just want more of the younger generations to take some time from their lives and work towards environmental conservation. It could start with something very small, like planting a seed on your own balcony or garden. That could make a big difference. I am happy that a lot of youngsters are now coming forward and talking about environmental conservation. It just gives me hope that the future is in safe hands. My focus now is to spread the forest cover to another sandbar on the banks of the River Brahmaputra and convert the area into a tropical paradise.

Earth Champions is now streaming on Instagram. @sonybbcearth

X: @al_ben_so

Related Stories

No stories found.