Creating Forests: The Story of Abdul Kareem

In the wake of deforestation and unbridled development, cynicism and despondence may be natural reactions. Although negative emotions may eventually be a catalyst for action, some individuals have planted trees entirely alone and unpressured, with no gain other than seeing Nature come into being. One such story began in 1977, featuring a lone Indian, Abdul Kareem.

Abdul Kareem

Strolling near to his village in Kerala, Abdul was painfully aware of the barren hillsides and on impulse purchased 5 acres of desolate rock with a miserable well. He was instantly popular with the villagers, but only as a source of comedy. One year later, with dreams of a sacred grove (kauvi), he began to plant mature saplings between the rocks. He would load up jerricans a kilometre away and attach them to his motorbike, driving back and forth manually watering each tree. The first plantation unfortunately perished, so he proceeded with a second, and these perished too. The dream was using all surplus cash from his travel business and his family was starting to panic. However, with the third planting several saplings survived and started to grow and Abdul purchased another 32 acres of barren and dusty rock, much to his family’s amazement.

A forest created by one man

For 3 years he nursed the saplings using his motorbike and then one day the level in the well began to rise. He also placed little water pots amongst the saplings to attract birds and promote the natural scattering of seed. Over 25 years he eventually planted 800 species of trees and 300 medicinal herbs, not once weeding, gathering leaves or pruning, and never using fertilizers or pesticides, simply allowing Nature to function. Hare, fowl and small game moved in, along with large beehives. The well could now supply 100,000 litres a day and the water level adjusted quickly, indicating his forest had dramatically altered the water table.

Abdul Kareem and his flowing well

Good news spread and Abdul found his face in the newspapers, and the local government rewarded him with a not-so-sustainable petrol pump which became his source of income. When asked about his creation and his efforts he simply said “Deep inside everyone of us is a call to the wild” and that “much of the impatience, discontent or violence around us is due to the lack of opportunity to reconnect with where we came from. For sanity and generosity of spirit, we should be able to witness Nature at its unceasing, rejuvenating work.”


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