Inspiring story of Abdul Kareem restoring nature’s delicate balance

Dear Shekhar,

This article found in “” may be of interest to you and the readers.

Since 1986, P Abdul Kareem lives inside a 32-acre forest, which is host to hundreds of bee-hives, snake pits and nests. Point out any wild tree to him and he comes out with its local and botanical name instantly. Of course, it’s not something one needs to be surprised about. For, Kareem is not just the owner of the forest but also its creator.

Kerala’s Forest Research Institute sends scientists to study the trees planted by him and the state’s textbook committee has introduced a chapter on this ‘man-made forest’ in the sixth standard textbook. Agricultural scientist, M S Swaminathan, who once stopped by, has been a frequent visitor ever since. And Kareem was one of the 20 persons honoured in 2009 by Limca Book of Records as “People of the Year”.

In 2005, Indian Oil Corporation 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. However, behind Kareem’s success lies a strong will and years of hard work, propelled by a dream. When Kareem first set his eyes on the lateritic hillside during his weekend getaways at his wife’s house in Puliyankulam, the entire stretch was barren. In 1977, he bought five acres of land with an almost non-functional well for Rs 3,750.

Next year, he planted mature saplings of wild trees, but all of them withered soon. The second attempt too was unsuccessful. However, in the third attempt, several saplings survived and started growing. In those days, Kareem used to fetch water in cans on his motorbike from a source a kilometre away – several times a day. He cared for passing birds too. He put small water-filled pots around the land to attract them. They brought in more diversity to his land, discharging varied seeds through droppings.

He planted 800 species of forest trees and 300 medicinal plants. He has never weeded his land, never cut a tree, never swept or set on fire the leaves ever since. “The most important revelation for me was the impact of humus on the hard rock. The fallen leaves form a thick layer on the rocky surface and get decomposed over the years. This accelerated the disintegration of laterite into small gravel and slowly to fine soil which in turn helps seeds spread by the insects and birds to grow roots and germinate,” he says. He kept away all fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. He dug rainwater catch pits and raised walls with boulders across the slopes in order to capture soil carried by run-off water.

Soon, the ground water rose to a comfortable level. He stepped up his efforts. Weeds grew amidst the rare herbs and medicinal plants – many not chosen by Kareem. In 1982, he bought another 27 acres of rocky land and today, “you dig five metres and you’ll get water here,” says Kareem.

With hare, fowl and other small game appearing in the forests and sack-sized beehives emerging, Kareem built his house inside the forest in 1986. From a tank in the forest, he can now pump 100,000 litres at one go and the level will bounce back in a few minutes. Today, Kareem supplies drinking water to the 100-odd families from the two wells and four ponds in his forest, situated in Puliyankulam.


6 thoughts on “Inspiring story of Abdul Kareem restoring nature’s delicate balance

  1. देदीप्यमान
    in the nature,connected.
    here a human nourishing mother nature.

  2. Truly inspiring… one point you start this real ? But then miracles do happen !! Long live Kareem.

  3. Very inspiring and informational!! A gentle reminder that there are so many heroes like Abdul Kareem working silently towards helping mankind and mother nature.

    During my visit to Periyar and Eravikulam National Parks, Kerala in 2008, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they were plastic free zones. Tourists weren’t allowed to bring in plastics and dispose inside parks, a feat that National Parks in USA are struggling to achieve !! Alarmed by the rise in plastic litter, the world famous Grand Canyon National Park, USA decided to ban sale of plastic water bottles inside the park last year but had to halt the decision because of the fierce resistance it met from Coca-Cola, one of the major donors to the park. The reason for Coca Cola’s resistance? Shops inside the park sold bottled water “Dasani” , a product of Coca Cola. Now given the huge popularity of the park (about 5 million people visit the park each year), loss on revenue sales from Dasani was a significant one for Coca Cola , thus triggering a red flag. Fortunately the park has overcome the obstacles now and the ban on bottled water was announced by the park authorities in February, 2012. Following the footsteps of Zion National Park, USA, Grand Canyon National Park would now have water stations inside the park and tourists are expected to refill reusable bottles.

    This story encourages each of us to take some baby steps towards preserving our natural resources. There was a time when I would get annoyed at my parents at their obsession towards carrying water from home when heading to railway station. I thought it was much more trendy to just buy one at the station. With time I realized how cool my parents were and how uncool I was in my approach !!


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