Weekend Warm-Up: How One Extraordinary Man Planted a Forest Bigger Than Central Park

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At 550 hectares, Majuli is the world’s largest river island. If that phrase conjures the image of a jungly outcrop garlanded with sandy banks, it should — that’s how this island in in extreme eastern India used to look.

But decades of population growth and erosion along the mighty Brahmaputra River wreaked havoc on the island’s forests. Since 1917, over half of Majuli’s total land mass has dissolved into the Brahmaputra and washed out toward the Indian Ocean.

One way to sequester soil and absorb water? Plant trees. That’s what one hard-working Majuli man has been doing since the 1970s.

Jadav Payeng is the “Forest Man of India,” according to former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Learn how, and why, Payeng planted a forest bigger than Central Park on his home island. Spoiler alert: key aspects of the project can be amazingly simple. To expand the vegetated area, he simply digs a hole in the soil with a stick and plants a cutting.

Some tasks are more challenging. Payeng’s creation acts as a sanctuary for iconic wildlife. Elephants, rhinoceros, and tigers all reside in its confines.

small elephant in a forested grassland
Photo: Screenshot


“The biggest threat was from men. They would have destroyed the forest for economic gain and the animals would be vulnerable again,” Payeng explains. “But I will keep planting until my last breath.”


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As India faces catastrophic pollution, the country can use all the homegrown conservation warriors it can get. When the Forest Man began his project in 1979, he was just 16 years old. He and his ever-expanding forest are still going strong today.

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