Miyawaki Way to Green Urban Landscapes and Degraded Forests

This new method of raising diverse forests can be a boon to tackle the challenges of climate change and lack of green cover across various locations.

One of the fantastic gifts of Mother Nature, trees are vital and valuable resources for the survival of mankind apart from providing umpteen goods and services. The role of trees in mitigating climate change especially in capturing and sequestering carbon has made them a favourite to address the climate change-related challenges including deforestation.

The importance of forests and initiatives to raise tree planting have of late started gaining momentum both at global and national levels. Recently launched “One Trillion Trees Initiative of World Economic Forum with UNEP and FAO or the Bonn Challenge” of Germany and IUCN or “Plant a Billion Trees of Nature Conservancy’s or “Billion Trees Tsunami” of Pakistan, the efforts across the globe are intensified aiming to increase the tree cover both for the restoration of degraded forests and to increase the carbon sequestering capacity.

The Indian Government under the Paris Climate Agreement has also pledged to increase its forests by 95 million hectares by 2030. Apart from its regular tree programmes, states governments have also initiated tree planting programmes of various magnitudes. Uttar Pradesh’s 220 million trees planting during 2019 and Madhya Pradesh’s 66 million tree planting in one day during 2017 are a few such programmes. The newly created state of Telangana also launched a prestigious Flagship programme “Haritha Haram” (green garland) programmes in 2015 with a target of planting 100 crores inside forests and 130 trees outside forests and so far 180 crore seedlings have been planted.

The tree planting has primarily been a subject matter of forestry professionals due to involvement of technical inputs starting from raising seedlings to maintaining of plantations for various purposes; however, various organizations/NGOs and individuals have also been taking up tree planting with modifications suiting local needs. One such method to raise plantation that has gained momentum recently is the Miyawaki Method. Named after Dr. Akira Miyawaki, noted botanist and conservationist of Japan, this method aims at restoring and creating indigenous forests. The concept of Potential Natural Vegetation (PNV) developed by Reinhold Tüxen in 1956, which refers to vegetation that has been established naturally under existing environmental conditions except human interference, is an underlying principle of this method. Since native species are only suited and qualified to form such vegetation, Dr. Miyawaki strongly advocated the use of native species to restore the degraded forests along with a variety of accompanying species (supporting species). He succeeded in restoring various kinds of forests that have been degraded due to different reasons across Japan and other tropical countries and is credited for planting around 40 million trees at 1700 locations across the world. Miyawaki method, in other words, is planting native species or facilitating the regeneration of native species. This method is claimed to get 10 times more fast growth, 30 times more density, and 100 times more biodiversity than conventional plantations.

Miyawaki Forests give fast, dense and more biodiversity than conventional forests

“The most important thing to do right now is to build native forests which survive thousands of years until the next glacial age arrives” — Akira Miyawaki

Source: Wikipedia

Also called “Potted seedling method”, the main components of this method are seed collection of native and companion species, growing them in bags or pots, preparation of soils, use of mulching and soil enhancers followed by planting and maintenance up to 3 years then leaving it to nature on the concept that “no management is the best management”. Random planting of native species at very close spacing facilitates to recreate the complexity of natural forests by allowing young regeneration to grow faster. The result after a few years is the creation of multi-canopied forests. As the forests created under this method are naturally layered and are composed of native plant communities supporting each other, these forests are also called “Native forest scapes”.

Gaining popularity:

Over the last few years, Miyawaki method has gained overwhelming response in India. “Afforest” a for-profit social enterprise with its founder Mr. Subhendu Sharma is credited for starting this technique in India in August 2011. This was followed by other voluntary organizations like Saytrees”, “Sankalptaru”, PSUs like NTPC, IOC, various State forest departments, Indian Navy and individuals adopting this method across various parts of India in varying extent. A recently approved proposal of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to plant 377,416 trees at a cost of ₹350 million and Gautam Budh Nagar’s plan to cover 71,000 sq metres land in Greater Noida with 0.2 million plants in collaboration with Samsung to develop the biggest and dense Miyawaki forest in India are also noteworthy and indicates its growing popularity. Excellent growth of the plantations raised so far under this method is highly encouraging and motivating other organizations/corporations and even government departments to examine its replicability along with regular programmes.

Six months old Miyawaki Plantation at NTPC Ramagundam Telangana India Pic: TSFDC

Proven results:

There have been a few research findings worldwide endorsing the efficacy of this method. An 11-year study conducted by Schirone, B., Salis, A., & Vessella, F conducted in the forests of Sadinina where previous attempts of reforestation method failed found the positive impact of Miyawaki method as reflected in better survival of plants as compared to the previous failure of the traditional method, improved density and growth without maintenance.

Impact of Miyawaki Method on growth and succession © as compared to natural conditions (a) & traditional reforestation methods (b) Source: Schirone,B.,Salis, A.,& Vessella, F. 2011)

In another study conducted to determine the effect of Miyawaki method on soil quality and understory vegetation in Nanhai District of China by X. F. Guo found the Miyawaki method is better for preserving soil quality, its fertility apart from accumulating good average coverage, and biomass of shrubs and herbaceous layers in different afforestation lands when compared to the traditional method.

Cost of Raising:

One of the widely discussed and debatable issues relating to Miyawaki forest is its higher cost of raising and maintenance due to adoption of close spacing, enrichment of soil and regular watering and other maintenance. Compared to traditional planting where plant-to-plant distance ranges from 2.5 meters to 4 meters, spacing under Miyawaki ranges from 50 cm to 100 cm. So, in case you have a 100 square meter plot for Miyawaki at 50 cm spacing you need 441 plants while the same plot in traditional planting adopting 3 meters spacing (normally adopted) will require 16 plants only. The difference in spacing thereby makes the cost of raising as high as up to ₹700 per square Met against approximately ₹ 200 per square met in the traditional method of planting.

One of the alternatives to tackle degraded forests:

As per recent FAO’s State of the World’s Forests report 2020, “Since 1990, it is estimated that 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses, although the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades.” As per Forest Survey of India report 2019, India is having 3,04,499,00 Hac (30 million ) of forest land as open forest (having density between 10 % to 40%) accounting for 9.26 % of geographical area and considerable areas under this category are degraded and available for planting including rejuvenation. India has recently planned to restore 26 million hectares (MH) from its land degradation status up to 2030 out of which 21 MHA (about 81%) is forest land, and 5 MHA lies outside forests. However various programmes aiming at the restoration of degraded lands both at national and international levels have not fully succeeded to achieve the desired goals in the absence of necessary wherewithal like policy support, financial backup, and institutionalisation. The attempts to tackle degraded lands in the past like that of China’s ‘Great Green Wall to plant nearly 90 million acres of new forest reported to have a failure to the extent of 85 per cent of the plantings. Similarly most of the 11m trees planted in Turkish project reported to be dead either due to being planted at the wrong time and not by the expert, as well as a lack of rainfall. Since forestry species usually take longer time to grow and establish, tackling such huge tracks of degraded lands not only requires sound policy initiatives and financial linkages but also the adoption of innovative and fast-responding interventions to yield results. This is also a fact that the traditional methods and practices of raising plantations being adopted in the Forest department have not yielded required success for various reasons. The Miyawaki method of planting under such state of affairs offers a bright hope to meet the challenges of degradation and climate change.

New greens for urban resilience:

Rapid urbanization occurring at the expense of agricultural and natural land cover is not only causing increased concretization turning our urban areas into urban heat islands posing significant threats to health and psychological well-being of citizens, ecosystem services, and cultural associations besides contributing to global climate change.

As per one report of Govindarajulu, D.(2014) “with rising in urban population the per capita availability in many urban areas has reduced drastically and many cities in India already fall short of green space available per capita, which is much below the WHO recommended norms of 9 sq.m/capita”. Barring a few cities, almost all the Indian cities are having per capita green cover below the recommended norms of 9 Sq met/capita.

City planners, policymakers, and residents have now realized and recognized the delicate link between human well-being of the urban population and urban forests and decided to shift their focus towards eco-cities or cities with green. By developing such eco-cities, the citizens apart from improving the existing urban greens are planning to manage to optimize ecosystem services through required policy initiatives and inclusive planning giving due credence to urban green spaces.

Being multilayered and resilient, native environmental landscapes like the Miyawaki forests are capable of providing decorative and biodiversity values, lessening climatic disturbances, and facilitating harmony to the landscapes in the smaller or segregated extent of lands thereby becoming the best choices for urban landscape managers. Being one of the promising indicators of resilient cities, creation and maintenance of green cover by the adoption of diverse techniques and models provide an excellent alternative. Being one of the examples of nature-based solutions and best indicator of resilient cities, Miyawaki forests also help to integrate green and gray infrastructure of cities duly retrofitting into urban and industrial areas for the long-term objective of climate resilience.

A 5 years Miyawaki forest near Hyderabad grown in Arbor Road Estate Telangana India. Pic: Kirti Anand

Challenges ahead:

Apart from its high popularity and attraction, criticism of Miyawaki is also being received among a few forestry professionals on the ground that the forests produced with induced or forced photosynthesis method (Miyawaki) cannot become the substitute for natural forests. Though the initial results of Miyawaki in selected locations are encouraging, the real impact of any intervention involving forestry species requires long-term study due to long rotation and such scientific research validating the claim of Miyawaki especially is lacking in countries like India having diverse agro-climatic zones. Absence of such sound validated research/studies is another challenge for considering this method as a new alternative to existing planting models for its universal adoption at a bigger scale in addition to the issue of financial concerns and required institutional arrangements. Citizen and NGOs associated with Miyawaki cite the collection of the seed of native and associated species as major challenges which require in-depth study involving time and dedication apart from active participation and cooperation from the forest department as the custodian of forests.

The high cost of raising under Miyawaki is one of the stumbling blocks for its widespread adoption under ongoing afforestation programmes. One of the components under the Miyawaki method responsible for high raising cost is the enrichment of the soil. The degraded forests having good soil quality and proximity to the natural forest can provide cost reduction if selected to be covered under the Miyawaki method. The State of Telangana under its flagship programme of Harithaharam has also adopted the Miyawaki Method to be replicated in urban forest areas and municipalities. Leading the way, the Forest department of Telangana has already adopted this method for using in degraded forest areas duly revising the raising cost up to ₹ 6 lakhs /hectare.

Way forward with innovations:

In a short time, the Miyawaki method has gained immense popularity, especially in urban areas. Since urban soils are primarily refractory and degraded containing less humus we need to explore other ways and means to enrich the productivity of urban soils duly exploring the reuse of organic waste material by linking with local bodies. Involving local panchayats and municipalities for raising decentralized nurseries and utilizing biodegradable waste, funding tie-up under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) or with local corporate groups by infusing their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funding and technological interventions suiting local agro-climatic conditions are a few areas to meet the challenges of high raising cost. Other cost reduction measures and modifications to technique suiting local environments need to be studied for its applicability at a wider scale and tackle diverse locations in urban areas. The uninterrupted availability of native and associate species and initial technical know-how can be facilitated by involving the local forest department. As most of the cities have good presence of Multinational Corporations (MNC), their active involvement to prioritize their CSR funding to the urban greening sector duly involving local NGOs associated with environmental conservation can make it an excellent workable model to enhance the urban green cover.

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Mohan Chandra Pargaien

Written by

India Forest Service Officer. Telangana India.PGD Forestry, Sustainable & Urban Development

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

Mohan Chandra Pargaien

Written by

India Forest Service Officer. Telangana India.PGD Forestry, Sustainable & Urban Development

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

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