With his grit and determination, the 'Forest Man of India'—Jadav Payeng—transformed an area of over 550 hectares into a lush green forest under his own steam on the Majuli Island in the river Brahmaputra. Now, the 58-year-old who erected a forest tree-by-tree over the course of several decades is all set to carry out a similar mission in Mexico.

Payeng, who is also fondly known as 'Molai', recently ratified an agreement with Fundacion Azteca, a Mexican non-profit organization. The aim of the agreement is to plant 7 million trees and Payeng will devote 3 months every year towards the undertaking. He is all set to head to the North American nation in September this year and has been awarded a visa for 10 years.

The foresting project will involve around eight lakh hectares of land that the Mexican government allocated. With several environmental summits set to be organized by Fundacion Azteca, Payeng will also have a prominent role in them. "The world is my home and the young generation my strength. I need to change the world green for the young and the developed nations are realizing this fast," Payeng told the media recently.

Bringing A Forest To Life

Jadav Payeng
Jadav Payeng, the 'Forest Man of India'Instagram/ @sophiagholz

Payeng's awe-inspiring journey of single-handedly transforming an entire landscape into a sprawling forest took roots at the age of 16. Witnessing the sandbar erosion around Assam's Majuli Island in Jorhat district spurred him into action. Beginning with barely 20-50 bamboo seedlings in 1979, Payeng painstakingly planted trees for decades on the island which is now home to the Molai forest—named after the man himself.

The labour of his fruits was there for everyone to see when the now-forest reserve eventually became a haven for several species of animals including Bengal Tigers, elephants, Indian rhinoceros, deer, and numerous species of birds, among others. Other than precious wildlife, the Molai forest is also home to a multitude of flora species

As recognition and admiration of his contributions towards environmental activism and forestry development, Payeng has received several laurels. It includes honorary doctorates from Kaziranga University and Assam Agricultural University, India's fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, and the 128th Commonwealth Points of Light Award (an honour from the Queen of England), among others.

Living on his income earned from selling milk from the bovines that he rears on his farm, the father of three has stated that the entire world is his home and not just his native state of Assam. "And I am happy to share my experience and knowledge of nature with anyone who is willing to learn. Awards and recognitions will come and go. But I like nature, I like animals, I like trees. That is why I do what I do," Payeng told the Indian Express.

Helping Mexico Turn Greener

The agreement to nurture greenery in Mexico was signed at La Ciudad de las Ideas festival at Puebla City in December 2020. Ninfa Salinas Sada, former Mexican Senator; Dr. Andrés Roemer, CDI founder and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Social Change and the Free Flow of Knowledge; and Rituraj Phukan, Indian naturalist based in Assam, were also present at the signing.

Cesar Rivas, the Director of entrepreneurship and environmental action, Fundación Azteca, who will be instrumental in the collaboration between the NGO and Payeng, expressed hope of Payeng serving as one of the featured speakers at the Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Summit set to be held in November 2021.

"As we have pointed out, it is an honour for us to have the opportunity of boosting capacity building in favour of conservation and restoration of ecosystems, through the experience and knowledge of Mr Payeng. Specifically, we are keen on inspiring present and future generations to take action for saving our planet. In this context, we will be sending you a tentative activities calendar to achieve those goals," Rivas told News 18.

Talking about the importance of restorative measures to replenish natural resources, Payeng said, "India is overpopulated that's the concern. We need to plant trees in each free space available in the country or else things shall be difficult. The advanced countries now have realized their exploitation of nature and so they are in a corrective drive. The situation in less advanced countries is still better provided that action starts right way."