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The Little Eco-Soldier



The Eco-Soldier: K.S. Sanoj with the mangrove saplings

Armed with nothing besides his green thumb 14-year-old K.S. Sanoj, an eco-soldier, wages a battle to save the mangroves in little known Cherukunnu, in Kannur, north Kerala. You can see him early morning or at even time, when the tide is low, tending to mangrove saplings that he has planted. When school is done, this ninth-class student is there on the banks of the Muttil river, that runs past his village, doing what he loves most. Sanoj has planted over 1000 mangrove seeds in the past three years.  (Forty years ago Kerala had 700 square kilomteres of mangrove forests but now it has depleted to a woeful 17 square kms.) Yes, Sanoj has quite a task cut out for him but undaunted by the enormity of it he quietly marches on.
A couple of months ago he was honoured with the 14th  P.V. Thampy Memorial Endowment Award.  However, his delight is still centered on what in the local patois is the “prandhan kandal” or the “mad mangrove”- a variety of mangrove plant that grows in wild abundance once it takes root. Son of a fisherman, Sanoj knows only too well the precious need of  the mangroves –it acts as a breeding ground and nursery for fish and a buffer zone against soil erosion and floods. It even absorbs the effluent dumped by the factories. Sanoj says simply, “My father helps me a lot. We row out into the river and plant the seeds during low tide. I know that there are juvenile fish, prawns, crabs and even migratory birds- a whole eco system- under the shade of the mangroves.” He adds that it was his zoology teacher Prabhakaran mash who taught him all about mangroves and bio-fencing. “I was taught whatever I study I should put it good use.”
Sanoj and his brother Saneesh plant the saplings

Five years ago, the Government higher secondary welfare school at Cherukunnu where Sanoj is a student, started the Students Empowerment For Environment Development Eco Club. Says co-ordinator and zoology teacher P.V. Prabhakaran, “We teach the children both agricultural practices as well as inculcate in them environmental awareness. There is half an acre of fallow land near the school. With the help of a farmer the children cultivate a single crop of paddy and once that is harvested we plant nitrogen fixing pulses. We don’t use pesticides or fertilizers-both make the land sterile and destroy the flora and fauna. The pulses and the rice we harvest we use it for the noon meal scheme. Since this is a coastal area we introduced the importance of mangroves and Sanoj immediately decided he wanted to plant the seeds along the Muttil river. He has been diligent at it planting in areas where the mangroves have been destroyed. I am very happy he has won the award because it is a recognition for his work and the other students will be encouraged to do similar things.” In the wetlands surrounding the school, Sanoj and his friends have planted mangrove seeds too. And here he has made notes about the plants and fixed them on the trees for the others to read. Quite like a mangrove garden.

Renjith Thampy, son of the late journalist P.V.Thampy, says that this is the first time the award is going to a child. He says, “The award process is an arduous one. We give it only to low-profile people who are genuine in their environmental work.” Ask Sanoj what he wants to be when he grows up and he is quick to answer, “An environmentalist. Someone who is closely associated with nature.” His dream immediately conjures up images of a greener Kerala -with the generation next committed to it perhaps the state will go back to what it was: Once upon a time.

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