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A volunteer making sure the young sapling is safe and sound at one of Tree Stories’ drives. (Tree Stories)

Mumbai millennials helping reverse climate change one green step at a time

Young people in Mumbai are switching careers and becoming sustainability professionals in hopes of preserving the city’s green spaces

By Akhila Menon , in City Environment , on March 8, 2021 Tags: ,

Inspired by climate-change urgency, some Mumbai-based millennials are taking up ecologically sustainable ventures like organic farming while others are leading planting drives to help restore the city’s ecological balance.

Husband and wife Sharayu and Yogendra Godbole, both avid environmental enthusiasts and trekkers, spent a lot of time watching the gradual loss of green coverage in their suburb back in Mumbai, disheartening. So six years ago, when they moved back home from the United States, they founded Tree Stories, a tree-planting organization.

It was originally a weekend project that the duo balanced with their corporate jobs, until they moved to rural Maharashtra to take on the project full-time.

“We wanted something permanent that we could safeguard so we bought our own land and started growing a forest,” says Sharayu speaking of the patch of protected forest they’ve invested in on the outskirts of the tribal village Walvanda, about a 120 kilometres outside of city limits.

Sharayu and Yogendra Godbole, founders of Tree Stories. Photo: Tree Stories

In their quest to help restore ecological balance to a city that has been rapidly losing tree cover, they conduct again, the vast majority of readers will have no idea what this means exactly planting drives in the state and offer ecological services to others who are interested in repopulation of forests on their land.

Young saplings awaiting planting at one of the plantation drives. Photo: Tree Stories

During their first planting drive in 2019, the Godboles were joined by 70 volunteers, millennials and old, and managed to plant 600 trees in a single day. With some help from the forest department of Jawhar, they studied and differentiated between local and foreign plant species on their property and, additionally, they have begun collecting seeds of rare indigenous trees that are disappearing from Mumbai’s forests.

Today, Tree Stories continues to grow. The Godboles have planted more than four thousand saplings and thousands of seeds on their land. According to Sharayu Godbole, since their first drive they’ve also had hundreds of volunteers visit them on the weekend to contribute to the plantation drives.   Such citizen initiatives have never been more important, with green spaces in decline and the city cutting its budget for open spaces by 75 per cent.

A cluster of freshly planted saplings soaking up the monsoon showers. Photo: Tree Stories

The Godboles aren’t the only ones who have been moved to action.

Vedant Rao, a 23 year old civil-engineer convinced his parents in September of last year to adopt more ecologically sustainable farming methods to the family farm outside the city limits.

Stuck at home because of the pandemic, Rao had time to research new-age organic farming practices. He had noticed the rising demand for organic food and made the decision to turn his passion into a business.

Vedant Rao inspecting some freshly delivered produce from the farm at his organic store, The Produce Company, in Mumbai.

“The trend of organic farming is relatively new and the generational notion that farming with chemicals and fertilizers is the only way to produce substantial crops has been tough to break,” said Rao. It was an uphill climb for Rao, having to undo the damage from three generations of monocultural agricultural practices that had leached the nutrients out of the soil of the 20-hectare farm.

To kickstart this process, Rao began enriching the land with nutrients and organic fertilizers. Four months later, luscious, shiny fruits and greens appeared.

Fresh organic greens at Rao’s farm in December 2020. Photo: Vedant Rao

Now, Rao drives down to the farm at least twice a week to supervise the farming activities.

These efforts by young people come in the wake of some effort by the national government to encourage ecological conservation practices. In 2018, the government founded the National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-Being.

“The mission is to enhance biodiversity science, which is currently very neglected and fragmented in India. Indians are still very land and biomass-based in our livelihood, and biodiversity plays a large role in our everyday lives,” said Ravi Chellam, Wildlife Biologist & Conservation Scientist in a press release by the National Centre for Biological Sciences.

Climate-change awareness is finally catching on in Mumbai, whether it is tree-planting or growing organic produce, young people are taking action to protect the environment.

“The farm has always been a sanctuary to me,” says Rao, “and it should stay that way.”