Context: The Miyawaki method of afforestation will be introduced in the government office premises, residential complexes, school premises, and puramboke land in Kerala.
Prelims: General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity, and Climate Change
Mains: GS III- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
In the far past, afforestation was largely a means to generate income from timber and other products. Today, it is integral to our survival.
- Loss in green cover and increased concretization in urban areas has led to cities becoming ‘urban heat islands’, which pose significant threats to not just human populations but also contribute to global climate change.
- In countries like India that are highly vulnerable to climate breakdown, forests are an integral element towards mitigation.
- Tree cover of almost 1.6 million hectares was lost between 2001 and 2018 in India- nearly four times the geographical area of Goa, according to a study released by the World Resources Institute.
- In its pledge to the UNFCC, the Indian government promised to cover 33% of its geographical area with forest cover by 2022, which currently stands at 24%.
- One possible method to achieve the target would be the Miyawaki method of afforestation.
The Miyawaki Method:
- The Miyawaki method also called the Potted Seedling Method, is an urban afforestation technique that uses native species to create dense, multilayered forests.
- It has revolutionized the concept of urban afforestation by turning backyards into mini-forests.
- Developed by a Japanese botanist after whom it is named, it involves planting saplings in small areas, causing them to “fight” for resources and grow nearly 10 times quicker.
- Akira Miyawaki, the earliest known pioneer of this system used potential natural vegetation (the species that would exist at a given location if not impacted by human activities), phytosociology (ways in which plant species interact with each other) and a four-layered system of planting, to design his own system for planting forests.
- A central tenet in creating these forests is its use of indigenous species for plantations.
- It includes planting trees as close as possible in the same area which not only saves space, but the planted saplings also support each other in growth and block sunlight reaching the ground, thereby preventing the growth of weed.
- Thus the saplings become maintenance-free (self-sustainable) after the first three years.
- It helps to create a forest in just 20 to 30 years while through conventional methods it takes anywhere between 200 to 300 years.
- Its benefits include:
- lowering the temperature,
- making soil nutritious,
- supporting local wildlife and
- sequestration of carbon.
- The idea is to mimic nature while creating these tiny cross-sections of tiny islands called Miyawaki forests.
- The native trees of the region are identified and divided into four layers- shrub, sub-tree, tree, and canopy.
- The quality of soil is analyzed and biomass which would help enhance the perforation capacity, water retention capacity, and nutrients in it, is mixed with it.
- A pit has to be dug, and its dimensions depend on the available space.
- The list of tree species should be chosen judiciously. As there is very little space to work around with, trees with varying heights should be chosen.
- A mound is built with the soil and the seeds are planted at a very high density- three to five sapling per square meter.
- The ground is covered with a thick layer of mulch.
- The whole process can be completed in two to three weeks. The saplings have to be maintained regularly for a year.
- The exercise will cost approximately ₹20,000 for 600 sq. ft mini forest.
Benefits of the method:
The Miyawaki Technique is a unique methodology proven to work worldwide, irrespective of soil and climatic conditions. More than 3,000 forests have been successfully created worldwide using this methodology.
- Up to 30 times more dense compared to conventional plantations.
- 30 times better noise and dust reduction.
- Upto 30 times better Carbon-dioxide absorption as compared to a monoculture plantation.
- A completely maintenance-free, wild and native forest after the first three years.
- A completely chemical and chemical fertilizer free forest that sustains itself and supports local bio-diversity.
In 2000, the Miyawaki method was tested for the first time in a Mediterranean ecosystem in Sardinia (Italy), on an area where traditional reforestation methods had failed.
The original method was adapted while maintaining its theoretical principles. Results obtained 2 and 11 years after planting were positive: plant biodiversity appears very high, and the interacting plant species were able to evolve without further operative support.
Miyawaki in India:
- In India, this method is slowly gaining momentum. It is a good way to improve the green cover, especially in pockets of congested cities like parks and hospitals.
- This method is a good option in urban cities where land and space are a constraint.
- In highly urbanized cities of India like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, creating mini forests using the Miyawaki method in backyards is not feasible as these cities are densely populated and very rarely people have backyards in their homes.
- But mini forests can be grown on government or community land.
- Allowing maximum optimization of land can be very rewarding.
- An NGO Afforestt has worked with various companies and individuals to create these forests.
- Recently, they worked with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India (GOI) to convert a sewage-ridden patch of land near the Barapullah drain.
- This was part of a bigger project named Local Treatment of Urban Sewage Streams for Healthy Reuse (LOTUS HR) to clean the drain.
- LOTUS is a joint initiative of DBT, Ministry of Science and Technology, and the GOI that set up a demonstration plant to clean up the Barapullah drain.
- With early site inspections in January 2018, the foundation of the forest was laid in July 2018.
- The Delhi government is planning to build a green wall with a 2 km width around Delhi under its Master Plan for Delhi 2021, Miyawaki method can be used here for creating dense mini forests in patches.
- Such forests lack some qualities of natural forests, such as medicinal properties and the ability to bring rain.
- Experts say that such fast-growing plantations are actually wood lots (a parcel of a woodland or forest capable of small-scale production of forest products such as wood fuel, sap for maple syrup, pulpwood) as well as recreational uses like bird watching, bushwalking) and cannot be termed as forests.
- Several environmentalists have questioned the efficacy of the method that accelerates the growth of trees and claims to match a forest’s complex ecosystem (as it is not a good idea to force plants to photosynthesize fast).
- Miyawaki’s increasing usage is being justified to cut trees.
- It has reached a level where people say even if we cut trees or forests somewhere, we’ll replace them with this method.
- Old-growth forests are millions of years old and can never be replaced and they can regenerate only if they are not disturbed too much.
- This method can be its high cost. Given that urban land is usually in a degraded state, the cost of preparing the soil and land can be high.
- Plantations are dense under this method. So the number of saplings needed increases, thereby raising costs.
The way forward:
- Going forward, creating Miyawaki forests can’t be looked at as a solution in isolation, but a small significant part of mitigating the effects of climate change.
- Miyawaki method must not be used as a replacement to the traditional plantation as they grow naturally and are more diverse.
- This method can help cities create small patches of forests which will be beneficial for the adjoining areas and wildlife.
- There needs to be a shift from the plantation for ornamental landscapes to creating biodiverse native habitats in private as well as public projects- not just for fighting heat island effects but also for groundwater recharge.
- However, more focus should be given on the conservation of forests India already has.