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Varun Of ‘Talking Earth’ Made Us Talk To Trees, And They Asked For Help!

  • IWB Post
  •  April 22, 2017


It is a social media age, so the trees have to talk the YOLO language too, to shout out the cry for help. So, when you see a hash mark on a tree next time, it is something more than just a hipster swag.

Varun Hemachandran founded Talking Earth to save trees when the government decided to chop down 800 trees to build a flyover in Bangalore. Varun teamed up with other youngsters and started mapping trees with a hash. Every hash identified the tree in danger and invited the help from communities.

We gave a ring to Varun to talk the Earth.

Tree mapping with hashtag

Indian Women Blog: How do local communities participate in ‘Talking Earth’?

Varun: We basically target a specific area and train the people in that community. Once that is done, people themselves take charge of the trees around. They then inform us about the situation in the area, like suppose if a tree being cut down. After this, we simply pass on the information to NGOs or other environmental organizations.

Indian Women Blog: How many trees you have already mapped?

Varun: Well, it’s not that much. In Bangalore, we have mapped around 2000 trees, and the data is similar for Chennai and Delhi.

Tree mapping with hashtag

Indian Women Blog: You are also inviting volunteers. What skills are you looking for?

Varun: Foremost, it is the time commitment. We want people to stay with us for at least 6 months to 1 year. Other than this, we are also looking for people who can work with data analytics and data visualization.

We train volunteers in specialized tasks such as how to map trees, how to put it in the app, how to scale the height of the tree, etc.

Tree mapping with hashtag

Indian Women Blog: Do you consider covering the rural areas under your initiative?

Varun: Yes, of course. However, the rural section is a challenge because people there don’t have time. So we’ll have to stay there to catch the moment. Currently, we are raising funds to send out our volunteers.

For the farmers, we are planning to launch an SMS platform that will be known as Maitree. The farmers will be able to ask any question, and we will reply with the data on the subject.

Tree mapping with hashtag

Indian Women Blog: If you were to give a hashtag to a tree, what would it be?

Varun: I think we’ll go with #maitree, which we are already using for our project ‘Talking Trees.’

Indian Women Blog: What kind of conversations does Talking Tree overhear?

Varun: Haha, people have quite weird questions to ask a tree. So basically, we have a set of 10-15 people of all age groups. We ask them about the questions they’d ask a tree, or questions they think people may ask. For that, we have framed the chatbot with answers to those questions. People usually ask trees, ‘how are you,’ ‘who are you,’ ‘did you have lunch/dinner,’ etc. But let me tell you some people go crazy and ask such things as ‘are you single?’, to which ‘Talking Tree’ replies, ‘I am single,’ ‘I am pollinating’ or ‘I am asexual.’

Tree mapping with hashtag

Indian Women Blog: And, is there any question that you always wanted to ask a tree?

Varun: Laughing. Well, that’s interesting! I would go to the oldest tree and ask, ‘If you were to write a book, then how would it start and how would it end.’ Because you see there are trees that are 300 or 400 years old, and they have seen everything around for centuries. It would be great to know about the candid past.

Indian Women Blog: How does ‘Talking Tree’ work?

Varun: We have integrated a device in a tree, which is not visible to anyone. This device replies to the questions people ask, and it has various sensors that give us information about the trees around like if the tree is in danger. It also has GPS integrated to detect the exact location of the tree.

Tree mapping with hashtag

Indian Women Blog: How do you motivate builders to preserve trees?

Varun: There were two builders who had given advertisement in a newspaper regarding tree plantation. They picked up random trees for random places. However, each tree requires a different nourishment. For example, eucalyptus can absorb 90 liters water a day, thus it should be planted in areas with abundant water supply. Otherwise, it can lead to the ecological imbalance. I believe we need to educate people so that they don’t create extra problems. Also, lots of Bangalore citizens keep informing us if builders are cutting trees in any area. We then connect them to the environmental organizations.


Tree mapping with hashtag

Indian Women Blog: Do you have childhood memories on/around trees?

Varun: Not really. I grew up in Dubai, in the desert. In my childhood, whenever I visited India, I never wanted to go back since this land has so much beauty. But now this beauty is fading away. Our cities are becoming like Delhi. In Delhi every day, 8 people die because of air issues. This is an alarming call for us to save trees.

Tree mapping with hashtag

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