Once called a madman and laughed at by members of his community, an Indonesian is now hailed as a hero after spending a quarter of a century covering 250 acres of barren hills around his home with banyan and ficus trees.
The story of Sadiman, the Indonesian who single-handedly brought a forest back to life, began in the early 1990s, but the problem he fixed can be traced back to the 1960s. At that time, large forest fires ravaged the forests on the southern slopes of Mount Lawu in Central Java, turning hundreds of acres of state-owned pine forest to ashes, and leaving barren hills in their place. For decades, dozens of villages in the Wonogiri reign struggled against drafts and famine until an unlikely hero took it upon himself to bring the forest back and create a better life for him and his community.
Sadiman, a rancher in his 40s, was the first to realize that it was the lack of plants in his village that created drafts and made access to fresh water difficult. Unfortunately, for a long time he was the only one concerned with this problem as neither the authorities nor the locals were interested in doing anything about it. Worse, people called him crazy for trying to change anything in the first place, believing his efforts were in vain.
To be fair, the idea that a single person could bring hundreds of acres of forest back to life sounds crazy, but we’ve seen it many times in different places around the world. And Sadiman actually became a celebrated local hero, only it took over a decade for this to happen.
When Sadiman started spending his own money on banyan seedlings, and sometimes even trading the cattle he raised for young trees, people called him a “madman.” They just couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing, and some even thought that the trees were harboring ghosts. But despite the opposition and constant ridicule of his colleagues, Sadiman was relentless in his mission.
The Indonesian farmer planted banyan and ficus seedlings in the barren hills around his village every day. He knew that these two species were very good at holding back water and believed that enough plants could end the drought. And he was right …
It is estimated that Sadiman planted over 11,000 trees in 25 years alone, but it took about a decade for his labor to bear fruit. As the thousands of sapling he had planted matured, other plants began to develop in the area, and branches soon appeared where once there was barren, sun-tainted land.
While farmers in the Wonogiri reign were once limited to a single harvest per year due to lack of water, the abundant water sources Sadiman’s forest created now guarantee two or even three harvests a year.
When the rains fell more frequently and people finally understood the purpose of the trees, Sadiman was no longer a madman but a hero worthy of praise and celebration. He received the Kalpataru government, the highest award for an Indonesian citizen for protecting the environment, and the 2016 Kick Andy Heroes Award.
Over the years, the lush 25 hectare forest has come to be known as “Hutan Sadiman” or Sadiman’s Forest and has become one of the most popular nature tourism destinations in Indonesia. It has since inspired several other mass tree plantations in the area and remains a symbol of what can be achieved through dedication and perseverance, even by a single person.
Sadiman’s story is very similar to that of other incredible eco-warriors we’ve featured in the past. People like Satyendra Gautam Manjhi, who alone turned a wasteland into an orchard with 10,000 trees, or the photographer and conservationist Aditya Singh, who turned a patch of barren land into a green sanctuary for tigers. And who could forget Ma Sanxiao, a double amputee who planted over 17,000 trees?