The Undi village on the outskirts of Varanasi was recently in news because of its development of a Miyawaki forest to maintain environmental protection and prevent encroachment.
Also called the Potted Seedling Method, the model results in dense, multi-layered, and self-sustaining forests within 3 years of plantation. Around 36.225 hectares of the village will be covered in natural forest. Around 5-6 ponds are also being developed to serve as a haven for migratory birds.
What is a Miyawaki Forest?
The Miyawaki technique is a reforestation and ecosystem restoration system pioneered by the late Japanese botanist and plant ecologist Akira Miyawaki. This method of creating small but dense urban forests requires native species of trees and shrubs to be planted densely together (3-5 trees per sq. m) and randomly, i.e., not in any specific order.
This causes the plants to grow upwards instead of sideways in search of sunlight and results in a plantation that is 30 times denser. These forests grow in about 10 to 20 years as compared to natural forests, which take about 200-300 years. The resulting multi-layered forest becomes maintenance-free after three years.
Why We Need Miyawaki Forests?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988, is the UN body for providing scientific assessments on climate change. The 2021 IPCC Report shows a disastrous increase in temperatures between 2011–2020 and a catastrophic rise in sea levels. The UN has urged governments to reduce carbon emissions and limit the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.
With cities being massive urban heat islands, dense urban forests could significantly reduce temperatures and sequester carbon. Studies show that planting a Miyawaki forest reduces the local temperatures by nearly 2 degrees Celsius, supports local wildlife, and reduces noise levels by 10 dB.
Railways is committed to environmental conservation.— Ministry of Railways (@RailMinIndia) March 12, 2022
Around 5 acres of Miyawaki forest in IRIDM, Bengaluru, Karnataka campus will serve as a example of expanding green cover in other urban centres across India. https://t.co/Kj4wVc5sGK
An environmentalist and a group of volunteers in Mumbai used the Miyawaki method in July 2019 to plant saplings native to the area. The 200 sq. m area of the plot is now thriving and will soon become self-sustained. In Delhi, 59 species of indigenous plants were planted near the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in July of 2020.
Similar afforestation projects have been initiated across India over the last few years. Miyawaki forests have been inaugurated in Kollam in Kerala, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, and Mangaluru in Karnataka to combat air pollution and rising temperatures.
With the current warnings about the dire consequences of climate change, the Miyawaki method could be used as a vital tool in meeting the international demands for an increase in biodiversity through dense self-sustaining forests.
How to Grow a Miyawaki Forest?
Survey the Native Species
A key aspect of the success of a Miyawaki forest is that all plants are indigenous to the site. Trees and shrubs that are native to the area, best suited to the local conditions, and complement each other should be surveyed and identified.
Conduct a soil survey to understand the soil conditions. A combination of perforators (biomass, rice husk or corn husk), water retainers (coco peat or sugarcane stalk), and organic fertilizers (manure or vermicompost) should be mixed in with the soil.
Collect Native Plant Species
Visit a nursery or collects seeds from local trees to obtain seedlings of various local species. Analyze local forest structures to identify the main canopy layer and tree layer. Also, identify the shrubs and companion species that could grow in harmony with the main layers.
Plant the seedlings in random order and close together. There must be at least 3 seedlings for every sq. m. Tie the seedlings to sticks in order to support their growth. Applying mulch made from local natural materials promotes the development of the seedling and prevents water evaporation from the soil. If required, the soil may be treated additionally with natural soil improvers.
Water the plants every day and keep the forest free from weeds for 2 years. Avoid using chemical pesticides. Do not cut or prune the plants.
The most significant advantage of the Miyawaki model of afforestation is that it can be implemented in areas as small as 20 square feet. Depending on the project’s budget and the availability of land, these forests can span from a mere 2 square metres to several hectares of area. The Miyawaki method could be executed in neighbourhood parks, institutional campuses, and city-level plantation drives. Due to the flexibility of this model, a mini forest could thrive even in your own backyard.
Rather than planting ornamental trees that do not contribute to the local flora and fauna, the Miyawaki method relies on native plant species to improve air quality, recharge groundwater, protect wildlife, and improve the well-being of the local population. There is no doubt that this forestation model could be highly effective in increasing plant cover and restoring biodiversity to combat the ongoing climate crisis.