Former pharmacist leads volunteers to restore forests

A former pharmacist is leading a network of nearly 40,000 volunteers who are planting trees around the country in efforts to reverse deforestation and turn Thailand green again.

Born and raised on a farm in northeastern Kalasin province, Nopporn Nontapa always loved forests and wanted to work for the Royal Forestry Department. He graduated from Kasetsart University, which specializes in agriculture and forestry. But 30 years ago, when he applied for a position with the Department, the quota of openings had been filled.

At the time, Thailand’s forest cover was steadily being sheared away by the expansion of farms and towns, and by loggers out for profit. The situation had become so severe that the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej spoke about the issue and encouraged leading businesses and people to plant trees and protect the environment.

Nopporn, meanwhile, had begun working as a researcher in pharmaceutical science at northeastern Khon Kaen University. The internet was just taking off in Thailand, and so in his free time, he began posting on websites about how to plant and care for various species of trees. He said his posts started attracting people who cared about sustainable tree planting, rather than making money from cash crops.

“I started by giving,” he told the Mongabay website. “It’s easier than taking.”

Nopporn launched a website called Khundong as a knowledge platform for tree-planting information. Eventually, he decided to go offline and actually grow a forest.

He began collecting seeds, then started giving away the seeds for free. He provided others with similar interests with seeds from 200 different species while teaching them how and where to plant and care for them.

Today, he has a Facebook group named “Khundong … 24-hour tree seeds,” with nearly 40,000 followers. He also conducts volunteer-led workshops, fundraising, conservation activities, and provides scholarship opportunities.

In 2016, Nopporn set up a tree-planting school on land donated by a member of Khundong. Nopporn charges a small fee to sustain the school.

“I never thought I’d be doing this much. I never thought I’d run a tree-planting school or create a nonprofit community. I never thought I’d become an expert about forestry for Thailand,” he said.

Mongabay wrote of Nopporn that, “the seeds he gave away have now grown into forests across Thailand, and the knowledge he had shared has flourished with foresters nationwide, both to be passed down to future generations.”

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