The world has long grappled with the problems of pollution, declining biodiversity, and the effects of climate change, prominently in urban areas due to the uninhibited exponential development. The source of these problems is the decimation of forest cover, and it is known that restoring forests, the natural carbon sinks and sustenance source of ecosystems, can help restore the balance in favour of the environment. However, in the context of day-by-day degradation, a 100-year wait to regrow forests to their full force with conventional methods might not be the most feasible solution. A more practical approach to solving this could be the Miyawaki method, a type of Microforestry named after Dr. Akira Miyawaki, who developed this ecological engineering technique1.
What is Microforestry?
The concept of Microforestry originates from the idea of Potential Natural Vegetation (PNV), which refers to vegetation that would grow in an area without human interference. Initially, a survey to study and identify the soil properties and PNV needs to be conducted in the locality. After the survey, plant species are selected according to their function as a canopy, sub-canopy, shrubs, and floor-level herbs. The planting site is prepared by replacing a meter of soil with nutrient-rich, fertile, and loose soil, and then plantation is carried out with high density at around 20,000-30,000 saplings per hectare. Post timely irrigation, support, and maintenance in the first few years, this method creates adaptable, self-sustaining, and diverse forests, which bloom into full-fledged ecosystems in short spans of 20-30 years, and that too in very tiny spaces2.
Benefits and Limitations of Microforests
A variety of benefits stem from these Microforests – reduction of the heat-island effect, storage of more carbon than single-variety plantations, absorption of air pollutants, increase in soil strength and nourishment, being a source of food and livelihood, restoration of flora and fauna – and given that they don’t require a lot of space to implement, Microforests pose as a lucrative and rapid solution to a whole set of Urban crises3. However, there are drawbacks. With high setup costs and high variability of biodiversity in India, it is a challenge to adapt the method to regional requirements. Hence, the amount of effort that goes into the planning and preparation for Microforests and the financial implications make popularising this method difficult. Individuals, groups, and governments are taking serious initiatives to tackle these challenges by gathering the necessary resources, finances, and awareness to propagate this method. Therefore, despite significant limitations, the acceptability of the Miyawaki method has only seen a rise over the years across the world4,
Why the hyper-trend recently?
Our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, recently commended the approach of Miyawaki forests in his radio program ‘Mann ki Baat’5. In India, currently, these microforests have been implemented in pockets of Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, and other cities, and the results have been positive. Anecdotes from people involved in the planting and maintenance of these microforests suggest that it is a genuine and implementable solution that brings visible and quick respite to the immediate environment. It is encouraging to see the government and its bodies, in addition to the NGOs, being the major promoters involved in furthering the proliferation of Microforests through this method. Take the example of Mumbai, where the Municipal Corporation (BMC), since 2020, has tied up with NGOs to create Miyawaki forests and has planted 64 such microforests across the metropolitan. The BMC has even taken a proactive step of ordering all real estate infrastructure projects (over 10000 sqm) to reserve 5% of their space for Miyawaki forests6. This directly puts the onus of maintaining ecological balance on the stakeholders responsible for tampering with it. Even states with relatively low urban crises and higher forest cover, like Chhattisgarh, are feeling the need to take pre-emptive action towards the environment. Close to its industrial belt in an abandoned open-pit mine, Chhattisgarh has planned to plant the largest man-made forest in India along the Miyawaki method7. It is such interventions and direction from the apex bodies that can drive a larger change in human behaviour amidst the need for action towards climate emergency.
The Road (in the Miyawaki Forest) ahead
Our planet is very close to the point of irreversible environmental damage, and we as individuals, groups, and nations have now started considering courses of action that we should have started implementing decades ago. In such dire times, it is more important to promote the natural healing of the environment by increasing forests, be it through the Miyawaki method or any other. The Miyawaki forests, however, do have an advantage in terms of providing that (comparatively) instant fulfilment to both the environment and people. It can surely be the answer to India’s Urban Environment Crises, but it can also be so much more by inculcating sustainable living practices in the current and future generations.
1 Status of India in expanding its green cover through Miyawaki Foresting technique. (n.d.). Harit Dhara.
2 The Miyawaki Method for Creating Forests – Creating Tomorrow’s Forests | Restoring biodiversity by creating habitats and planting trees. (n.d.). https://www.creatingtomorrowsforests.co.uk/blog/the-miyawaki-method-for-creating-forests
3 Eggleston, O. (2023, January 17). Micro-forestry: How Nature Can Be Used To Fight Urban Pollution. Impakter. https://impakter.com/micro-forestry-how-nature-can-be-used-to-fight-urban-pollution/
4 Hance, J. (2023, June 22). Miyawaki forests are a global sensation, but not everyone’s sold on them. Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2023/06/miyawaki-forests-are-a-global-sensation-but-not-everyones-sold-on-them/
5 Acharya, P. (2023, June 18). PM Modi talks of Miyawaki forests in Mann ki Baat: What is this method, also being used in Mumbai. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-climate/pm-modi-miyawaki-forests-mann-ki-baat-what-is-this-method-8671133/
6 Phadke, M., & Phadke, M. (2023, February 3). A mini-forest boom is taking over Mumbai. It’s called Miyawaki, Delhi is rushing in too. ThePrint. https://theprint.in/feature/a-mini-forest-boom-is-taking-over-mumbai-its-called-miyawaki-delhi-is-rushing-in-too/1351366/
7 T. (2021, July 17). Chhattisgarh plans India’s largest human-made forest. The Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/raipur/chhattisgarh-plans-indias-largest-human-made-forest/articleshow/84493779.cms