Drive down to Puliyamkulam village, 30 km on the NH7 between Kasargod and Payyannur, and you pass Kareem’s forest park. It is home to 300 varieties of trees, herbs, shrubs, creepers and rare fruits. It all started way back in 1977.
Born of illiterate, lower-middle-class parents, Kareem had studied only up to the higher secondary. But he grabbed the opportunity thrown up by the Gulf boom of the 1970s. What sowed the dream of creating a forest near his village was the greening of deserts in the Gulf countries.
Recalls Kareem: "It was an impulsive decision. I decided to buy five acres of barren land. People were bewildered when I bought another 27 acres. But it was a buyer’s market since owners of the rocky terrain didn’t have much use for the land and were happy to sell it at the price I offered." Kareem began to plant saplings of wild trees in spaces between laterite rocks. But the shoots shrivelled up. For three consecutive summers, he carted water in containers slung on either side of his bike.
He discussed conservation efforts with experts, dug up rainwater pits and set up embankments to store rainwater. "Nature took over. Birds came, carrying seeds with them. Weeds, rare herbs and medicinal plants sprouted. I just stood aside and watched," says Kareem. Now, wading through the thickets and branches, the 59-year-old says the greenery is the only enterprise that defies the law of depreciation. "As years go by, the value of this stretch of forest will only keep appreciating."
Environmentalists, botanists and nature-lovers flock to the forest to understand how Kareem grew plants on a barren, rocky terrain. Recognition started coming his way too. The father of India’s green revolution, M.S. Swaminathan, once stopped by, and has been a frequent visitor ever since. In 2005, the ioc released a full-page newspaper ad in its ‘India Inspired’ series, extolling Kareem’s efforts, and followed it up by gifting him a fuel station to sustain his conservation efforts.
Kareem now lives in a cottage deep inside his forest, with his wife and children. He has so far resisted offers to convert the forest into a holiday resort.
Contact Abdul Kareem, Puliyamkulam, Parappa, Kerala- 671533 Phone: 91-467-2254233; 9846972974 EMail: firstname.lastname@example.org