International Day of Forests

From creating forests in just 800 sq ft to nurturing 300 acre-woodlands that are replenishing water tables, meet today’s green warriors who are fighting deforestation and global warming.

Over the last few years, people have been walking into forests, to just ‘be’—because, according to the Japanese, shinrin-yoku or forest bathing (soaking up the natural environment) lowers stress and improves working memory. But we may not be able to do that much longer, as green cover is decreasing the world over; in India alone, over 25,000 hectares of forests are sacrificed annually for ‘non-forestry activities’ like mining and power plants. And need we talk about the more tangible effects of deforestation — like the severe drought we are facing or temperatures hitting record highs?

The government is taking steps, of course. Like the initiative last July, when nearly eight lakh volunteers got together in Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, to plant 50.4 million saplings along roads, railways and on public land. It went down in the Guinness records and the world applauded. But mass plantation drives alone aren’t enough, because the eco-diversity created isn’t enough to bring about long-lasting impact.

What we need are efforts that will replicate our natural forests. Take what Dr Akira Miyawaki is doing in his country. After discovering that native tabunoki trees had protected the land during the 2011 tsunami (where the large tracts of pine forests, a non-indigenous species, had failed), the Japanese botanist and ecologist began the Green Tide Embankment — a project to create a forest with 40 million trees that will grow in 20 years.

India has its own success stories. Like Narain Singh Negi, who planted more than nine lakh trees in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli village, creating a man-made forest that is still growing in biodiversity. And Jadav Payeng, who created over 1,360 acres of forest on land that did not have a single tree. Today, he is a Padma Shri (2015) awardee, given the title ‘Forest Man of India’, but what he is most proud of is that his ‘Molai forest’ in Assam attracts herds of elephants, deer and greater one-horned rhinoceros, besides five Bengal tigers.

“The fact that we breathe is a good reason to plant trees. We are indebted to Nature for our oxygen. If we don’t plant and preserve our forests, I’d like to know which business will produce oxygen to help the entire world breathe?” asks Payeng, who has already started greening barren islands in the Brahmaputra River.

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