Once called a madman and laughed at by members of his community, an Indonesian man is now being hailed as a hero after spending a quarter of a century covering 250 hectares of barren hillsides around his home with banyan and ficus trees.

The story of Sadiman, the Indonesian man who singlehandedly brought a forest back to life, began in the early 1990s, but the problem he helped fix can be traced back to the 1960s. It was then that great forest fires ravaged the forests on the southern slope of Lawu Mountain, in Central Java, turning hundreds of hectares state-owned pine forest to ash and leaving barren hills in their place. For decades dozens of villages in the Regency of Wonogiri battled draughts and famine, until an unlikely hero took it upon himself to bring back the forest and create a better life for him and his community.

Sadiman, a cattle farmer in his mid 40s, was the first to realize that it was the lack of plant life around his village that was causing draughts and made access to fresh water so difficult. Unfortunately, for a long time he was the only one to pay attention to this problem, as neither authorities or any of the locals cared to do anything about it. Worse still, people started calling him crazy for even trying to make a difference, as they considered his efforts futile.

To be fair, the idea that a single person could bring hundreds of hectares of forest back to life does sound crazy, but we’ve seen it happen in various places around the world numerous times. And Sadiman did in fact become a celebrated local hero, only it took over a decade for that to happen.

When Sadiman first started spending his own money on banyan saplings, sometimes even trading the cattle he reared for young trees, people dubbed him a “madman”. They just couldn’t understand why anyone would do something like that, and some even thought that the trees harbored spirits. But despite the opposition and constant mockery of his peers, Sadiman was relentless in his mission.

The Indonesian farmer spent every day planting banyan and ficus saplings in the barren hills around his village. He knew that these two species were very good at retaining water, and was convinced that enough plant life could put an end to the droughts. And he was right…

It’s estimated that Sadiman singlehandedly planted over 11,000 trees over 25 years, but it took about a decade for his work to bear fruit. As the thousands of sapling he planted matured, other plant-life started developing in the area, and soon sprigs started popping up where once there was just barren, sun-scotched land.

Whereas farmers in the Regency of Wonogiri were once limited to a single harvest a year, due to water shortages, the abundant water sources that Sadiman’s forest created now guarantee two, even three harvests a year.

As the rains started falling more frequently and people finally understood the purpose of the trees, Sadiman was a madman no longer, but a hero worthy of praise and celebration. He received Kalpataru, the highest award for an Indonesian citizen in preserving the environment, from the Government, and the Kick Andy Heroes award in 2016.

Over the years, the lush 25-hectare forest became known as “Hutan Sadiman” or Sadiman’s Forest, and became one of the most popular destinations for nature tourism 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 have featured in the past, people like the Satyendra Gautam Manjhi, who singlehandedly turned a wasteland into a 10,000-tree orchard, or 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?

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