Mexico organisation ropes in Assam’s forest man to replenish its forests

Mexico’s Fundación Azteca has signed on Jadav Payeng — famous as the ‘forest man of India’ — to aid the country’s efforts on sustainable conservation.

From single-handedly nurturing a forest to earning the moniker of ‘forest man of India’, there are many feathers in Jadav Payeng’s cap. The latest is a collaboration with the Mexican non-profit organisation, Fundación Azteca, with whom he is sharing his knowledge as an environmental activist and the gumption needed to grow a forest.

Payeng’s story of how he grew a forest, perturbed by the erosion he witnessed at a sandbar in his home in Assam’s Majuli island as a 16-year-old, is well documented. From one sapling to lakhs of trees, Payeng’s forest, sprawling over over 550 hectares, is home to a variety of animals, and an inspiration to people across the world.

In 2014, he was awarded the Padma Shri, and earlier this March, the 128th Commonwealth Points of Light Award, an honour from the Queen of England. Last week, he signed a contract with Fundación Azteca, the social wing of Mexican organisation Grupo Salinas. The organisation, which has worked in the fields of environment and education for more than two decades, wants to bring Payeng’s knowledge from Majuli to Mexico.

It is something the 65-year-old is more than happy to give. “Not just Assam — but the world is my home,” he said, after returning to Assam from Mexico on Thursday. “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.”

According to Nagaon-based naturalist Rituraj Phukan, who accompanied Payeng to Puebla for the La Ciudad de las Ideas festival where he was invited as a speaker last week, the collaboration takes Payeng’s knowledge to the global stage. “It begins in January 2021, and will involve Payeng sharing his knowledge with different civil society organisations, including the youth in Mexico. He will also participate in a number of environment programs and summits of the organisation,” he said. A tweet by the Embassy of Mexico in India said that the alliance with Fundación Azteca will lead to new tree planting in Mexico.

Payeng, who has travelled for several conferences in the world, including Paris and Taiwan, said, “Humans have cut enough trees, done enough damage to the world. Now it is our responsibility to save whatever is left. I want to share my knowledge and guide the new generation in the right path. It is they who can help create a new, green world.”

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