Young Naturalist Award 2022
Conservationist, public speaker and leader
When your parents’ legacy is an over 40-year-old thriving forest, it is little wonder that your pockets are full of seeds, your head full of big ideas, while your feet remain planted firmly on the ground. That’s 24-year-old Munmuni Payeng – daughter of ‘Forest Man of India’, Jadav Payeng (Sanctuary Vol. 32, No. 12, December 2012), who strives for ordinary things: to be a good person, work hard, help people and rewild Earth by working with nature. Armed with such seemingly humble aspirations, she makes the extraordinary possible.
She is currently one year into a rewilding mission in collaboration with local community members who have bought into her family’s dream of mothering a forest of one million native trees on sandbars close to the Molaikathoni Forest.
As the Secretary of the Forest Man Foundation, she gives direction to the environmental and social initiatives for communities living close to the parcel of land they have identified. She is also a founding member of Seuj Dhoroni (Green Earth), that communicates nature conservation at the grassroots level. Aware of the vital importance of involving the young from near infancy, she routinely organises school and community awareness programmes at Assam’s Majuli and Jorhat districts in collaboration with the Green Guard Nature Organisation.
In 2020, after seeing a post on Facebook about Nizora Phukan’s mission to walk from Charaideo to New Delhi – to raise awareness about nature conservation, Munmuni reached out to the young environmentalist and decided to accompany her between Jorhat and Guwahati, a distance of over 300 km. This offered her a unique platform to share her own vision and plans to conserve nature with an increasingly active following.
With her two younger brothers, cousins and friends she works day after day on their ambitious project to see a natural forest of one million trees emerge as a way of assuring a home to wild species being edged out from Assam’s fast-vanishing wilds. With them in their mission are members of the Bihari, Mising, Ahom and other adivasi communities. Scattered among the lakhs of trees that have already established themselves are Bombax ceiba, mango, jackfruit, and Indian jujube. Undeterred by the frequent flooding in the area and the welcome rearranging that wild elephants tend to do, the group is happy to continue undeterred, knowing that the legacy gifted by her father will continue to grow because she will never give up.