Earth's Sheroes

by Raakhee Suryaprakash

Earth Day is observed on April 22. This Earth Day, when we are living through mass extinction of species, mostly as a result of mankind’s actions and greed, the theme aptly is “Protect Our Species.” Climate change, deforestation, poaching, trafficking, habitat loss, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides are some anthropogenic activities that have resulted in multiple extinction events, “widespread and rapid decrease in the biodiversity on Earth.” What mankind has caused, perhaps mankind can work to actively reverse. Here’s where the action of Earth’s Sheroes comes in.

These Sheroes of Mother Earth, some prominent, many lost in the annals of time, are those who have worked tirelessly to ensure a place in the sun for species other than humans. They have epitomized all that’s humane, where “being human” has destroyed flora and fauna indiscriminately. Monoculture has been the bane of biodiversity ever since agriculture was formalized. “Slash and burn” expansion of agricultural land into virgin forests have put biodiversity at risk as well.

From the original tree-huggers, the women of the Himalayan foothills who started the Chipko Movement in what is today the Indian state of Uttarakhand, who hugged trees and put their bodies before the axe, to Vandana Shiva the founder of the native seed bank Navdanya to Greta Thunberg and her “Fridays for Future” protest to make governments take climate change seriously there are many working to protect the earth, the bounty of nature: biodiversity, and her environment.

Rachel Carson, the American Marine Biologist and ecologist, helped take the environmental movement global with her powerful writing. Dr Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees helped familiarize a larger portion of society with them giving them a better chance for survival. Inspired by Dr Goodall’s work Dr Supraja Dharini of Chennai’s Tree Foundation (which is also associated with Roots and Shoots International Network, of the Dr Jane Goodall Institute) has worked tirelessly to converse the turtles that nest on the shores of Bay of Bengal by involving local fishing communities in the Turtle Taskforces which have given Olive Ridley sea turtles a fighting chance to survive our invasion of their nesting sites and marine habitats. Tree Foundation’s Community outreach and enhanced environmental awareness building and education have helped make it easier for many marine species and biodiversity to survive.

 Many winners of India’s fourth highest civilian honour the Padma Shri have gone to women who have planted trees, protected native species and protected forests – the home and foundation of biodiversity. Most recently, Jamuna Tudu a.k.a. Lady Tarzan of Jharkhand who has worked to prevent deforestation and conserve forest from the timber mafia and the greed of miners and corporations with her "Mahila Van Suraksha Samiti” a private band of women forest guards. Karnataka’s Saalumarada Thimmakka is another such “Mother of Trees” who has planted many avenue trees. Odisha’s Kamala Pujhari has helped preserve traditional and native crops such as paddy, cumin, sesame and is another award winning “protector of species.”

Also from Odisha is Sabarmatee, who through the NGO Sambhav has created a food forest over 90 acres in just three decades while also conserving native seeds.

The power of these Earth’s Sheroes is in the ripple effect they’ve inspired. Many urban professionals have been inspired to do their bit to help conserve nature and natural resources and preserve biodiversity. Apps for monitoring one’s personal carbon footprint, such as Mumbai’s Sunita Rajesh’s OnyPlanet.In have helped create awareness of our impact of the planet. Urban farmers and terrace farmers have taken on the cause of preserving native seeds and champion organic farming and even finding markets and networks for rural organic farmers like Divya Shetty of Indian Super Heroes. Also through her other initiative Pepaa, Divya Shetty is making products from 100% recycled palatable paper, such as pencils and pens and corporate gifts such as calendars.

 Zero-waste lifestyles, composting as well as vertical gardening, backyard forests and forest gardens have grown in popularity exponentially due to inspiring Eco-Sheroes.

Use of the Japanese Miyawaki Technique have helped grow trees fast in small urban plots thus improving tree cover and providing islands of shelter for a variety and bird and animal species in harsh megapolises while also reducing the impact of air pollution. While NASA may have said that India and China have helped green the earth, our forests and urban tree cover is constantly under threat of agricultural and so-called developmental activities. By following these false gods we are at risk of extinction ourselves. Hence we need to create a greater awareness of those helping preserve Mother Earth as they are the one’s giving us a fighting chance at survival.