Parayil Rajan, the man from Thavam of Kannur district has dedicated his life to the planting of Mangroves (Kandal Kadu), a diverse group of salt-tolerating trees that are found along the edges of backwaters and close to the sea.
Mangrove forests are home to many rare animals and plants. Besides, it has wider ecological and economic importance globally. Its service to humans is enormous. It prevents coastal erosion and acts as a barrier against typhoons, cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis. The mangroves shield the land from wind and trap sediment in their roots maintaining a shallow slope on the seabed that absorbs the energy of tidal surges.
We met Rajan in the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) office, Vazhuthacaud. Rajan introduces himself thus, “I am an inland fisherman. I am not highly qualified. I only studied till the fifth standard. My father was also a fisherman and our house is near a river. So my relationship with nature started from childhood. I started planting Mangroves at the age of 12.”
Mangroves greatly support rural livelihoods. They provide wood for building, poles, fuel and thatching material for houses. Indirectly it provides spawning grounds and nutrients for fish and shellfish. It also protects the costal areas from tidal waves.
Rajan says, “We can’t allow anybody to destroy this natural resource, our land. The construction works and other developmental works which destroy marshy lands destroy these forests. The small creatures like fishes and frogs breed in this ground. Mangroves are the main attraction for different types of birds too.”
The mangroves play a significant role in recycling and act as a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. It has the capacity to store and process huge amounts of organic matter. It dissolves nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants dumped by humans. Thus they protect coral reefs and sea grasses.
Rajan continues, “It prevents cyclones. We get pure air. Lots of birds come to this area because of this. In Kannur we have 20 types of mangroves. It has some medicinal effects and we can plant it any time.” Mangroves are one of the ingredients used in making traditional medicines. People use the foliage of mangroves to feed their livestock. The wood is used for furniture and as a source for charcoal, tannin, paper, chemicals and dyes.
The mangrove forests are globally among the most threatened habitats. In many countries, their deforestation has caused fish to decline, degradation of clean water supply, erosion, land subsidence and release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Rajan spends his life mingling with nature. He is sensitive to every change in his surroundings. The river, mangroves, fish and small creatures in the water, birds and the beauty of nature has filled his life so far. And he does not hesitate to prevent their loss at any cost, even if he has to face threats or criticism. Rajan says, “I usually go 3 or 4 kilometres inside the river for fishing. When I come back, I plant mangroves. My work and the planting go together. The specialty of it is that it grows in any season.”
Human activities like over-harvesting of mangroves for fuel and timber, land clearing for construction, mining, pollution and damming of rivers degrad mangrove habitants. According to Rajan, “At any cost we have to protect mangroves. People criticise me for planting mangroves everywhere. If it grows near anybody’s plot, they get very worried about it because, there is a Government rule banning the cutting of mangroves. So people scold me for that. If it grows in rivers, the smooth movement of the fishermen is disturbed. They are also angry with me for that. But I don’t care about it. If anybody tries to cut this and it comes into my attention, I usually inform the authorities. Through this, I am trying to protect the mangroves and nature.”
Parayil Rajan gets full support from his wife and two children. He has a nursery of mangrove plants which supplies mangroves to people who wish to plant them. Parayil Rajan is the recepient of the P V Thampi Award for his contribution to ecology.
By Renju R