This story is part of a deep dive to celebrate Environment Day, 2022. Here, we highlight individual and community action that leads to large scale impact on the planet.  #ItStartsWithMe is the second chapter of ‘Shaping Sustainability’, an exclusive series by The Better India to give our readers an in-depth understanding of how Indians are making sustainability a priority in all walks of life.

1. Kollakkayil Devaki Amma (85), Kerala

Devaki Amma has worked for 40 years and grown a forest in her backyard, which is now spread over five acres.

Having started in 1983 with one sapling, today the forest is teeming with different varieties of plants. Amma uses organic manure and close to 1,000 trees planted by her now supply fruits, flowers and vegetables to the family. She was awarded the Nari Shakti Puruskar for her enormous contribution to the environment.

2. Sidhartha Blone and Shweta Pradhan (40), West Bengal

The couple influenced an entire community in the foothills of the Neora forests in Gorubathan village to go organic and zero-waste, and refuse plastic.

They converted the land into a permaculture-farm-cum-education-centre. Today, the communities in the area use waste from farms to make biofertilisers, use cloth bags, reuse bottles, recycle their waste, and make personal care products using the resources available in the forest.

3. Patanjali Jha, IRS Officer, Bengaluru

Patanjali Jha has been managing a 100-acre food forest for the past 20 years.

It is home to trees like neem and babul (Acacia), guduchi (giloy) creeper, and citrus plants like kafir lime, mosambi, gondhoraj lime, some seedless varieties, as well as the regular lemon. Inspired by the food forest, around 150 farmers in and around Khalghat have replicated the model on over 4,000 acres of land, earning huge profits, while saving the environment.

4. D Saravanan (52), Tamil Nadu

This environmentalist has dedicated nearly 25 years of his life to turning barren land into a green luscious forest spread over 100 acres. This is now known as the Aranya Forest and Sanctuary in Poothurai village, Tamil Nadu.

The forest has over one crore trees and 900 species of indigenous plants like Diospyrus Melanoxylon, Gloriosa superba, Memecylon Umbellatum and Derris Ovalifolia. It is also home to six man-made water bodies, 240 varieties of birds, 54 butterfly species and 20 species of snakes.

5. Dusharla Satyanarayana (68), Telangana

Dusharla grew up in the village of Raghavpura in Telangana where he spent his childhood observing the land around him. He then dedicated his life to turning it into a lush 70-acre forest with five crore trees.

“I started spreading seeds to generate a forest,” says Dusharla. He dug a canal to harvest rainwater and channelise it to irrigate the plants, and built ponds where lotus, fish, frogs and tortoises live in abundance. Everything that is grown in the forest is consumed by the fauna that thrives here.

6. Pradeep Sangwan, Himachal Pradesh

Pradeep started ‘Healing Himalayas’ after leaving the city and moving to Himachal Pradesh in 2009. Along with volunteers, he has cleared almost 4,00,000 kg waste from the pristine mountains.

Pradeep and his group set out with jute bags and scour the mountains, returning with heaps of discarded waste they find along the trails. The waste is sent to two recycling plants in the state, where it is used to generate electricity. This is done with the help of the villagers.

7. Malarvizhli Akka, Tamil Nadu

Although she is no more, Malarvizhli’s memories live on in her contributions to the village of Chinnapallikuppam. Her efforts helped a village restore 6 crore litres of water.

In 2016, while exploring the village, she saw a large pit at the foothills and decided to revive it into a pond. She piloted the project where the villagers made efforts to create barrages etc. In 2020 the village received significant rains and today, the pond remains filled with water throughout the year, with a water storage capacity of 6 crore L.

8. S Sathish (35) Tamil Nadu

This Ramanathapuram forest ranger officer has worked for over five years to protect the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park in Tamil Nadu. So far, he has protected 100-acre of mangroves and saved 40,000 turtles.

Sathish noticed that illegal smuggling and poaching of sea cucumbers were prevalent in the National Park. He curbed this through targeted and responsive patrols. He also collected seeds of mangroves and planted them on 65 acres of land. With help from locals, Sathish has collected 40,000 eggs of the Olive Ridley Turtle and submitted these to the local hatchery.

9. Villagers of Vadner Bhairav, Nashik

Residents of Vadner Bhairav joined hands to save 50 crore litres of water and have exported 600 tons of grapes.

In 2010, when the village was facing a severe water crisis, the villagers constructed over 1,000 farm ponds and 150 barrages to arrest and percolate water. Their efforts helped them save over 50 crore litres of water, and the surplus resource allowed them to shift cultivation to grapes, and export 600 tonnes of the fruit, which also helped increase farmer income.

10. Father-daughter duo Radha Mohan and Sabarmatee, Odisha

Radha Mohan (77) and his daughter Sabarmatee worked towards turning a barren land in Odisha’s Nayagarh district into a lush one, now spread across 90 acres with 100 varieties of vegetables and more than 500 varieties of rice.

They have also built three rainwater harvesting ponds in the area, while conserving 5,000 acres of forest area, which is home to more than 1,000 species of plants. “Although I was continuously criticised for what I was doing, I knew that their definition of impossible was only my gateway to more possibilities,” says Radha Mohan.

11. Varghese Tharakan (45), Kerala

The village stood and watched amazed as this farmer went on to destroy his 12-year-old rubber plantations to grow jackfruit organically, and in the process conserved 6 crore litres of water.

When Tharakan told people about his unique water conservation method termed ‘Underground Water Balancing System’, which would prevent floods and solve water problems in the region, they laughed. Eight years later, they are replicating his farming model to grow jackfruit.

12. Bichitrananda Biswal (37), Odisha

Fondly known as ‘Bichi bhai’, he has been working for the past 23 years to conserve endangered Olive Ridley Turtles. Since 1996, he has saved millions of turtles.

“During the hatching season of the turtles (July to December), I used to find thousands of baby Olive Ridleys lying dead on the beach. One day, the entire beach was dotted with over 5,000 or 6,000 dead turtles,” Bichitrananda says, recalling how he started his noble efforts.

13. Late Rinchen Wangchuk and Dr Tsewang Namgail (46), Ladakh

The duo’s aim was to conserve the majestic snow leopard while ensuring that locals did not lose their livestock due to attacks by these animals.

Rinchen Wangchuk established SLC-IT in 2000 with Dr Rodney Jackson of the US-based Snow Leopard Conservancy to promote community-based conservation efforts. The venture was involved in building predator-proof livestock enclosures or corrals.

“As many as 5,000 people have directly benefited from these corrals overall. We estimated that for every 1 corral we build, which can last for 60-70 years, we could save at least 2 snow leopards,” says Dr Namgail.