Nineteen years ago, when Mataprasad Tiwari took to growing trees around his two-acre plot of land, neighbours thought he had lost his marbles.
Once contemptuously called ‘paagal ka khet (madman’s field)’, Mataprasad’s patch of green — in Meegni village of Jalaun, 200 km south of Lucknow — was soon renamed ‘Mataprasad ki bagiya (Mataprasad’s orchard)’.
Among the ravines of Bundelkhand, the orchard is the only spot of perennial green.
Mataprasad (57) is no recognised environmentalist, nor is he an earth crusader. He plants trees simply because he loves them. “Our village used to look barren, I wanted to see it green,” he said.
On the no-man’s land surrounding his field, Mataprasad has grown 30,000 trees. His aim is to plant a lakh before he dies.
There are 1,050 fruit trees — mango, guava, pomegranate, gooseberry, jack fruit and more. The orchard has varieties of medicinal trees and shrubs too. Flowers grow in the spaces between the trees.
“To me, it is actually a zoological garden of sorts… so many beautiful birds, dogs, cats, bees and butterflies have made the bagiya their habitat,” said Mataprasad, who has virtually abandoned both his land and family for the trees.
He lives an ascetic’s life in a hut in the orchard, cooks his own food and leads a frugal life.
“It is not that I have abandoned my family. I do meet my wife and children once in a while. But the orchard needs me more.”
The family lives off his two-acre land — which grows maize, mustard, wheat, seasame and vegetables — around which is the orchard.
The orchard isn’t just about growing trees. It proves how trees can deal with environmental issues. It is a practical guide for water management/harvesting, soil conservation, employment generation, organic farming, low-cost farming and agro-forestry.
Till last year, Mataprasad worked on his land alone. Now, he has six people working on it. All six had no livelihood and now they get their food from the orchard.
“Soon I will start paying them as well by selling the produce. From the remaining money, I will plant more trees,” he said.