Tired of living in a concrete jungle? Here’s how you can grow your own forest

The Miyawaki technique helps the equivalent of a century-old forest to grow in a decade, even in your backyard!
A 7-months-old forest in Chennai

Eight months ago, if you had gone to the Deisel Loco Shed in KR Puram, Bengaluru all you would have seen was barren land – dull, brown and rocky, with hardly a plant in sight. But if you were to go there today, you wouldn’t believe your eyes. With lush greenery, butterflies fluttering from one plant to another, and melodious birdsong, it has all the makings of a thriving forest.

Take a look at this video to get a glimpse of the new-grown forest:

It’s hard to believe that it only took a few months to grow this baby forest. But that’s what this initiative by SayTrees Environment Trust, a Bengaluru-based green NGO, has done.

The organisation planted 2,000 saplings in 600 square feet of land using the Japanese Miyawaki technique. The technique helps the equivalent of a century-old forest to grow in a decade.

And now, seeing the results of the eight-month-old forest at KR Puram, Durgesh Agrahari, Head of Partnerships and Projects at SayTrees, tells TNM that they plan to plant two more such forests in Yeshwantpur and near Electronic City respectively.

SayTrees took up the KR Puram project in consultation with Bengaluru-based organisation Afforestt. Afforestt’s founder, Shubhendu Sharma, trained under Akira Miyawaki in 2008, and learnt the eponymous technique.

Shubhendu was working as an engineer in Toyota at the time when Miyawaki visited them to plant a forest near their factory. After training under Miyawaki, Shubhendu planted a mini forest in his own backyard. In 2011, he decided to take it up full-time with Afforestt.

When TNM spoke to Shubhendu in 2015, he had just been awarded the Namma Bengaluru award in the Citizen Youth Category. He had planted 48 forests in 13 Indian cities then. Now, the number stands at 26 cities in India and eight abroad, with a total of 95 forests globally. Of these, Bengaluru has 13 forests, four stand in Hyderabad and another one is in the works in Chennai.

How the Miyawaki technique works

In this TED talk from last year, 32-year-old Shubhendu explains what makes the Miyawaki technique so efficient for fast-growing forests.

It all starts with the soil. “We touch, feel and even taste it to identify what properties it lacks. If the soil is made up of small particles it becomes compact — so compact, that water cannot seep in. We mix some local biomass available around, which can help soil become more porous,” he says.

Then, they add nutrient-producing microbes into the soil to make it naturally nutritious. “They feed on the biomass we have mixed in the soil, so all they have to do is eat and multiply. And as their number grows, the soil starts breathing again. It becomes alive,” Shubhendu explains in the TED talk.

Making the soil come alive

A forest has four layers – shrub layer, sub-tree layer, tree layer and canopy layer. Once the soil is ready, a botanist decides the ratio of each layer and the saplings are planted close together. Their saplings are planted close together, because, Shubhendu tells TNM, “As the growth gets denser, the only way for plants to access sunlight is to grow upward. This causes them to grow much faster.”

The transformation on a barren plot in Jabad village, near Jaipur, after 11 months.

For the first two years, the forest needs to be tended to. The weeds need to be plucked and the saplings need to be watered. The watering is then systematically reduced until the forest becomes self-sustaining.

Afforestt, besides taking up foresting projects in entirety, also provides consultancy services. But what happens in the latter case if the client loses interest in tending to the forest or simply gets lazy? “That’s not a problem. The forest will grow slower in that case, but it will grow,” he asserts.

Progress of a forest in Ashok Leyland, Hosur, Bengaluru, planted in August 2016.

The minimum area required to plant a forest using the Miyawaki technique is 1000 square metres and the base cost for it can be as little as Rs 60,000-70,000. A person can also pick the kind of forest he/she wants to grow – a native self-sustaining one, a fruit forest or one that attracts biodiversity like birds and butterflies.

But a challenge that persists, Shubhendu says, is finding native species of plants. “It is important to use these as they would be self-sustaining. But because exotic plants and trees are all the vogue these days, it’s sometimes difficult to find the native saplings or seeds,” he says.

Urban forests

With green cover reducing rapidly in Indian cities, compact urban forests like these could provide a respite. The Miyawaki technique especially, isn’t just finding favour in Bengaluru. In Coimbatore for instance, there exists a dense forest in the heart of GV Residency colony. Pankaja Srinivasan, reporting for The Hindu, wrote of at least three more such forests in Coimbatore in 2015.

In 2016, 5,000 saplings of 84 varieties were planted using the Miyawaki technique in Kaniyampoondi, Coimbatore. And as R Vimal Kumar writes for The Hindu, within eight months, the plants in the half kilometre stretch have grown to house various birds, butterflies and other insects. There’s another such forest that’s in the making in Puthupalayam village too.

For a transformation of India’s concrete jungles, Shubhendu says, the narrative needs to move forward from awareness to action. “You don’t need to tell people about what deforestation does to the environment. They know very well. The question for me is, when you see a barren piece of land, how soon are you going to plant a forest?”

(Photos courtesy Shubhendu Sharma and Afforestt/Facebook)