The Indian Man Who Planted a Forest to Save an Island

Part conservation effort, part labor of love, Jadav Payeng has single-handedly reforested a small inland island in India by planting a tree a day for more than 30 years.

Oct 17, 2017

Snakes dead from dehydration tipped off Jadav Payeng that something was terribly wrong.

The small inland island of Majuli, in India’s Brahmaputra River, was dry and lifeless, save for 150,000 people who lived there.

Determined to do something about it, Payeng started planting a tree each and every day. Since 1979, he’s single-handedly planted a forest larger than New York’s Central Park, vibrant and vital enough to lure back tigers, elephants and other wildlife.

Payeng has received the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award in India, and has been the subject of at least one documentary.

Did You Know?
Jadav Payeng was just a teenager when he began his green revolution to save his island home.
2. Flash floods were washing away important topsoil, furthering the environmental damage to the island in the Brahmaputra River.
3. Day by day, Payeng began planting one tree every day, starting in 1979.
4. To water the trees in a dry area, he built small platforms out of bamboo to allow water to drip down.
5. Now the forest is bigger than New York City’s Central Park.
6. He started with simple trees but now plants stronger, “higher value” trees like teak because the soil is stronger.
7. The original goal was to plant 200 hectares of trees; the forest now covers 550 hectares (1,360 acres).
8. Wildlife, including tigers, a herd of at least 100 elephants, deer, apes and rhinoceros now call the Molai forest home.
9. All of this work went unnoticed until 2009, 30 years after Payeng began his quest.
10. But he’s not stopping now: Payeng has begun planting another forest on a nearby sandbar.

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This article by Amber Healy was first published on

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