How a small team and 10,000 trees transformed this village in Maharashtra

Posted by Ankush Vengurlekar in CyclingActivist, Inspiration, Society
January 11, 2018

June 1, 2009

I have a new job. I’ve been newly appointed as Senior Manager – Agribusiness at Tilaknagar Industries Ltd. My job description is vague, but I’m told that I have to, among other things, work on improving the environment surrounding the factory in Shrirampur, Ahmednagar.

I am slightly anxious about working with an 80-year old company situated in a region completely unknown to me. Just as I am familiarizing myself with the organization and its system, I was told by an advisor that I was to plan the plantation of 1 lakh trees in Shrirampur on account of World Environment Day, which was on June 5.

Fresh from my experience of working on my farm and having planted at least 5000 fruit trees, I worked out the costings and presented to him. Judging his response, I didn’t think he had anticipated the magnitude and the subheadings for which costs needed to be borne.

Unable to bear the huge cost of planting 1 lakh trees, the target was changed to 10,000 trees. The next realisation was that unlike Konkan, where I had studied and worked for ten years, the rainfall in Ahmednagar is scanty. I farmed in a region which had an average of 3000 mm rainfall, whereas here, it was barely 300 mm. A lot of questions and doubts arose – How would we water the saplings? Who would do it and for how long?

A landscape officer helped procure saplings of forest trees from the nearby forest nursery. We celebrated the planting of the saplings with the local media involved and local dignitaries gracing the occasion. This was the company’s step towards a new avatar- a socially and environmentally conscious entity.

A fortnight later, we heard reports that almost all of the 10,000 saplings have been feasted upon by the local stray goats. Between thoughts of despair and regrets on not having foreseen this, I realized that it was a necessary lesson for some of us who thought they could just plant saplings and forget about them. What ensued was a systematic operation of raising the saplings in our nursery so that they grew taller than the reach of the goats and the creation of tree guards to protect the saplings. Local artisans made the tree guards in the form of bamboo mats, which we then tied around the saplings.

A private, organizational activity of tree plantation had now become a noticeable, obvious venture, with 10,000 tree guards lining the roads.

We interacted with the locals and urged them to take care of the trees surrounding their houses.We requested them to ward off goats and report to us if any sapling was eaten by them so that we could replant it. We employed a local young boy who ran a water tanker business by signing a monthly contract with him for watering and weeding the trees.

A lot of officials from the company were sceptical and mocked my team and me,  commenting that we were wasting money and this activity wouldn’t result in anything substantial. Fortunately, my team and I had the support of the advisor who had asked me to plant the trees. I worked at Tilaknagar Industries Ltd. for five years and the trees by the main road would always be something we all cared for.

January 2018

Last week, I visited the place after four years of quitting the job. Even before I witnessed it first hand, a friend told me that the trees I’d had fought for and planted have flourished into a forest. I had my doubts about it, thinking he may be exaggerating, but when I neared the place with nervous excitement, I was astounded.

I found myself staring at a canopy that befitted a forest. A road which was almost impossible to walk or ride on due to the soaring temperatures in summer has now become a haven for birds, stray animals and people. We actually did it – we turned a barren piece of land into a sanctuary of trees and life itself.

The feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming. I teared up while posing for pictures with the trees. Ex-team members shared stories of how the rainfall in the region is better than the nearby regions. This time, I knew they weren’t exaggerating. Change is possible, even when it is just a small team of people working towards it while fighting all odds and challenging the hierarchy of their superiors.

Change is us. It is you and me and the small actions that we take on a day to day basis.These small actions one day grow into a forest. My new year began on a more positive note than I’d have ever hoped for and I urge each one of you to stay positive.

Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, you will feel helpless. Yes, the odds will be stacked against you. Don’t give up, you and your resolve will prevail. I hope that you find the power of your resolve and stick to it because, in the end, the joy that change brings is glorious and unmatched by anything else.