PIO-founded EcoSikh is saving the environment around the world, 550 trees at a time

EcoSikh student volunteers plant a Guru Nanak Sacred Forest in Doraha, Punjab. Photo courtesy: Instagram/ecosikh

Some people think, some people talk, some people do. It’s the last element — the action — that’s the most important; without it, the first two don’t mean much. In keeping with the Sikh tenet of seva (selfless service), the international organisation EcoSikh works on saving the environment, 550 trees at a time.

Using the Miyawaki Forest technique — created by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki — the organisation and its volunteers plant sacred forests around the world.

EcoSikh founder Dr Rajwant Singh shows the first Guru Granth Sahib Bagh created in the world (located in Moga, Punjab) by the organisation. His Instagram post says that all the trees and vegetation mentioned in Gurbani have been planted here. Screenshot courtesy: Instagram/ecosikh

“These forests are bringing back biodiversity and making the soil more vital and fertile. These Guru Nanak Sacred Forests are restoring the local ecosystem and fighting the rising temperatures and pollution,” said the Facebook page of EcoSikh, which has offices in Maryland, United States, and Punjab, India.

Sharing knowledge at COP28

In December 2023, when the world’s attention was focused on climate change and the COP28 summit in Dubai, EcoSikh was invited to share its knowledge on mitigating environmental degradation.

The organisation’s Global President and Founder Dr Rajwant Singh, who is also Secretary of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation in Maryland, United States, among other positions, wrote on social media on December 3: “On my way to Dubai for Climate Summit COP28 presenting EcoSikh work on climate solutions. Will be speaking in a panel. Happy to report that [the] EcoSikh team has planted 850 forests all over Punjab and India.”

A Guru Nanak Sacred Forest being planted as part of a CSR project in India. Photo courtesy: Instagram/ecosikh

His post emphasised that the creation of sacred forests had multiple benefits: “This is not just planting trees but restoring ecological imbalance, reviving biodiversity, building [a] healthy environment, restoring life for many indigenous communities and engaging with industry for positive impact. This is also a way to create jobs and create a sustainable future for [the] next generation.

“Thanks to all the EcoSikh team members and all the supporters all over the world — spreading the message of ‘Pavan Guru, Pani Pita Mata Dharth (Air is the Guru, Water the Father, and the Earth is the Great Mother)’. EcoSikh is just not an advocacy group but its team gets their hands dirty and believes in taking action.”

Forests represent life itself

Each sacred forest planted by EcoSikh is spread over about an acre of land. The forests are sacred not because they’re places of any religious activity; the forests are sacred because they represent life itself. Cutting down a forest is considered a “crime against nature”.

The number of 550 trees planted in each forest comes from the fact that EcoSikh took up this project to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary (November 12, 2019) of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith.

The use of native species, as the Miyawaki Forest technique requires, helps rapid growth of the plants. A full-grown forest can come up within just two years, thanks to this technique.

Appeal to good sense

Many of the volunteers of EcoSikh are quite young. That’s the age when work ethics get instilled in people and good sense — or bad — takes hold.

A Sikh family holds Green Diwali posters made by EcoSikh at a fairground. Photo courtesy: Instagram/ecosikh

The young volunteers of EcoSikh campaign against the bursting of crackers on Diwali, a popular element of Indian culture that also leads to a massive spike in air pollution. The problem is particularly noticeable in north India, where Diwali often coincides with the stubble burning season in Punjab.

Post-harvest stubble burning on Punjab farms occurs twice a year — in spring and autumn — and the smoke pollutes the air over hundreds of kilometres. Much of the infamous air pollution of the Indian capital Delhi is attributed to this practice.

In an appeal to good sense, Dr Rajwant Singh posted a YouTube video showing the scale of stubble burning. He asked that the practice be stopped and sacred forests be planted instead to heal the land, repeating the message of air, water, and earth being our source of life.