Gowda Speaks The Language Of The Forest
Tulsi Gowind Gowda, a 72-year-old environmentalist from India, has planted more than 30,000 trees and has been involved in environmental conservation activities for more than 60 years.
As a member of the Halakki indigenous tribe in Karnataka, Gowda comes from a poor family. Now 73 years old, she never received a formal education, but she is respected as the Encyclopedia of the Forest because of her impressive knowledge of trees, herbs and plants.
Karnataka is a state in South India known for its popular ecotourism destinations. Since she was 12, Gowda has nurtured and planted thousands of trees to help restore and protect the region.
As a young adult, Gowda cared for the seeds that were grown and harvested at the Karnataka Forestry Department. She specifically cared for the seeds destined for the Agasur seedbed. Gowda worked at the nursery alongside her mother for 35 years. She retired at the age of 70.
At the nursery, she worked to aid the afforestation efforts of the forest department by using her traditional knowledge of the land. She has not just planted saplings that will grow to help the world at large, but she has also worked to prevent poachers and many forest fires from destroying local biodiversity.
At the age of 73, Gowda continues to nurture plants and shares her vast knowledge with the younger generation to help spread the importance of environmental conservation.
In 2020, she earned the prestigious Padma Shri award for defending critical ecosystems. President Ram Nath Kovind presented Gowda with India’s fourth-highest civilian award at a special ceremony. After winning the award, Gowda explained that she is honored to have received the Padma Shri, but she values the forests and trees even more.
In addition to her extensive tenure at the Karnataka Forestry Department, Gowda has received numerous awards and recognition for her work in seed development and conservation. In 1986, she received the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award, also known as the IPVM award, which recognizes pioneering and innovative contributions made by individuals or institutions in the field of afforestation and wasteland development.
In 1999, Gowda received the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award, sometimes known as the Kannada Rayjotsava Award, and it is the “second highest civilian honor of the Karnataka state of India.” The Karnataka Rajyotsava award is given yearly to citizens over age 60 of Karnataka State who is distinguished in their respective fields. In 1999, Gowda was 1 of 68 people to receive this award and she was 1 of 2 people to receive it for contributions to the environment.
Gowda is known by environmentalists as the “Encyclopedia of Forest” and by her tribe as the “tree goddess” because of her extensive knowledge of the forest and all of the plants that grow within it. She is renowned for her ability to identify the mother tree of every species of tree in the forest no matter its location. Mother trees are significant because of their age and size which make them the most connected nodes in the forest. These underground nodes are used to connect mother trees with saplings and seedlings as the mother tree exchanges nitrogen and nutrients. Gowda is also a master of seed collecting. Seed collecting is the extraction of seeds from mother trees in order to regenerate and regrow entire plant species. It is a very difficult process as the seeds must be collected at the peak of germination from the mother tree in order to ensure the survival of the seedlings and Gowda is able to decipher this exact time. This extraction of seeds is particularly useful within the Karnataka Forestry Department as they describe their four main goals as “regulatory, protection, conservation, and sustainable management.”
It is astounding how Gowda gathered her extensive knowledge of the forest. When asked about it, she says that she “speaks the language of the forest.”
Her tribe, the Halakki Vokkaliga, also has a deeply rooted heritage where the matriarchy is connected to nature and is in charge of caring for the land. Gowda’s lasting commitment to her community, citing the fact that Gowda has planted and identified over 300 medicinal plants that have since been used to treat ailments within their village.
Although Gowda has retired from the Karnataka Forestry Department, she has dedicated the rest of her life to teaching the children of her village about the importance of the forest as well as how to find and care for seeds. Outside of environmentalism, Gowda has also championed women’s rights within her village.