Voici l’histoire d’un homme que l’on surnomme « Forest Man ». Depuis plus de 30 ans, Jadav Payeng œuvre patiemment au reboisement de son île natale. La forêt de Jadav fait aujourd’hui 300 hectares, soit l’équivalent de 400 terrains de football réunis.
C’est en 1979 que cet amoureux de la nature âgé de 16 ans décide de redonner vie à son île de Majuli, un banc de sable géant qui a été l’une des plus grandes îles fluviale au monde dans le nord de l’Inde, près du fleuve Brahmapoutre.
Une action indispensable puisque l’érosion a réduit la superficie de l’île de moitié au cours du dernier siècle.
En effet, à la sueur de son front, Jadav consacre sa vie depuis cette époque à la protection de la terre de ses ancêtres. Une terre qui abrite encore aujourd’hui plus de 150 000 habitants.
Conscient de cette situation désastreuse, cet apprenti botaniste a pris le taureau par les cornes et s’est mis à planter à la main mains des milliers d’arbres et de plantes sur plus de 300 hectares.
Le déclic lui vint en 1979 lorsque il fut témoin d’une scène qui bouleversa sa vie à jamais.
A la suite d’importantes inondations en 1979, des centaines de serpents d’eau s’échouent sur l’île et meurent d’épuisement, déshydratés. Ce terrible spectacle lui fait prendre conscience qu’il faut agir pour le bien de sa communauté mais également pour celui de la faune sauvage.
« Il n’y avait pas d’arbres pour protéger ces serpents. Je me suis assis et j’ai pleuré. J’ai contacté le ministère des Forêts et leur ai demandé s’ils pouvaient planter des arbres. Ils m’ont répondu que rien ne pousserait ici et m’ont conseillé la plantation de bambous. Ce fut dur mais je l’ai fait. Et tout seul. »
Après plus de 30 années d’un travail de dur labeur, les résultats tombent : de nombreux animaux en voie de disparition sont retournés vivre dans la région (un troupeau de près de 100 éléphants, des tigres du Bengale, et une espèce de vautour qu’on avait pas vu sur l’île en plus de 40 ans.
Cette histoire est venue jusqu’aux oreilles du réalisateur William Douglas McMaster qui est parti à la rencontre de Jadav pour nous offrir un documentaire magnifique sur le travail du « Forest Man » :
La vidéo est en anglais et nous espérons que vous pourrez comprendre avec votre niveau d'anglais plus les quelques explications que nous vous avons donné. Autrement, un sous titrage est disponible en anglais, en italien et en portugais ; merci de prendre contact si vous avez la possibilité de nous aider à ajouter le français à la liste...
Jitu: This is the town of Jorhat in the remote northeast of India. I suppose Jorhat is not really that different from any other city in India. People here work very hard. They keep their heads down and push ahead. They don't look back.
Life here is difficult for some and even more difficult for others. My name is Jitu Kalita and Jorhat is where I was born and where I live. My house is located just outside of Jorhat.
This is my nephew. He's suspicious of cameras. In Jorhat, I do many different things, but mostly I'm a photographer. I love photographing nature. I take shots of the beautiful birds and wildlife that live in our part of India. In my house, I keep some of my photography awards, but I don't like to show them off.
A few kilometers north of Jorhat lies one of the largest rivers in India, the Brahmaputra. Millions of people live along its shores. Every year, during the monsoon, the river floods everything in sight, destroying homes and farms and eroding away hundreds of square kilometer of land.
One of the worst affected areas is Majuli Island. Majuli is the world's largest river island and it's home to over 150,000 people. Since 1917, Majuli has lost over half its land mass to erosion and the rate of erosion has recently accelerated.
This is Majuli Island. Since I was a child, Majuli has been a place of wonder for me. Once, I ran away from home and came here. I spent days exploring and drawing pictures of the plants and animals. To me, Majuli is heaven. Scientists recently announced that in 15-20 years, Majuli Island could be completely gone.
The Brahmaputra is where I take most of my photos. One day in 2009, I was exploring a barren part of the Brahmaputra by boat when I saw something strange. It looked like a forest far in the distance. I began walking towards it, and when I reached it, I couldn't believe my eyes. I had found a dense forest in the middle of a barren wasteland.
When I left the forest, I saw a man far in the distance, so I began following him. I found him by the riverside. At first, he thought I was a poacher and tried to attack me, but he stopped when I told him I was just a photographer. I asked him what he was doing in the forest. He explained that he was planting trees and that he had been since the 1970's. He told me his name was Jadav Payeng.
Jadav Payeng: "Jitu was working with wildlife and he came to the forest take to pictures of birds. Initially however, I was not convinced he was a journalist. 'This guy is a poacher looking for rhinos or tigers' I thought."
Jitu: When I discovered Jadav Payeng and his forest, I wrote an article about it in the local newspaper. Soon after, he became known throughout India. We are now very good friends.
Jadav Payeng: "His article about me was a turning point in my life. It was unbelievable. In Mumbai, the former President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam - gave me the title of "Forest Man of India.'"
Jitu: This is the Forest Man's home on Majuli Island.
Every morning, the Forest Man's family helps him prepare for his journey to the forest.
Jadav Payeng: "I started planting this forest in 1979. People say the forest is about 550 hectares (Central Park NYC=341 hectares). This place is full of trees. I have planted everything myself. At first, planting was very time consuming. But now it's much easier, because I get the seeds from the trees themselves."
[cell phone rings]
Jadav Payeng: Hello?
"Yeah? Yes, completely. Where are you? Well I am roaming around my forest . . . ."
"When the trees grew big, it became difficult for me to protect them. The biggest threat was from men. They would have destroyed the forest for economic gain and the animals would be vulnerable again.
Since it is a dense forest, 115 elephants live here for three months a year. In my forest, there are also rhinos, deers and many tigers. After 40 years, we have also seen vultures return to the area this year (2012). All species on this planet are animals, including humans. The only difference is that humans wear clothes. There are no monsters in nature except for humans. Humans consume everything until there is nothing left. Nothing is safe from humans, not even tigers or elephants."
Jitu: The Forest Man is being honored at a nearby city. Payeng has won dozens of awards for his incredible achievements. But I think he feels frustrated by getting awards. Local government has tried to get Majuli listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but their application has been rejected each time. Payeng has many brilliant ideas about how to save Majuli. He tells everyone his ideas but so far no one has adopted them.
Jadav Payeng: "If you develop the coconut industry, it will be very beneficial. I would request the Ministry of Agriculture do that. Coconut trees are always straight and they help prevent erosion if planted densely enough. So it is good for protecting the soil, for boosting the economy and for fighting climate change.
It will take 5 years to get results in Majuli and in other areas it will take 7 years."
Dr. Arup Kumar Sarma: "Payeng has already shown the example that if one person can, at his own effort can do this kind of plantation, then why not the others? I mean, if we can have economic value, if it is economically viable, if it gives benefit to the people, if we can plan it in this way, then we can do it for the entire catchment.
In fact, we have proposed these kinds of things already and we have found that it is economically viable. So that way if this kind of project can be implemented and gradually one river, another river, the whole entire basin, Brahmaputra basin, I hope that through re-forestation, we can solve the problems of flood and erosion to a great extent.
Jitu: Sometimes I wonder what ten Payengs or hundred or thousand Payengs could do. He once told me, "I worry about the fate of the world, just like everyone. I see bad things happening on my island and I do what I can to help. I am just a simple man. There are many just like me." When I asked him if he thought Majuli could be saved, he replied "Yes!"
Jadav Payeng: My dream is to fill up Majuli Island and Jorhat with forest again. I will continue to plant until my last breath. I tell people, cutting those trees will get you nothing. Cut me before you cut my trees!
Quand on voit ce qu’un seul homme peut faire de ses propres mains, je suis impressionné et j'y vois un symbole : rien n'est impossible à celui qui a la patience et la volonté. N’ayons pas peur de relever les défis de notre époque, de là où nous sommes, à notre rythme et à la mesure de nos moyens.
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