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Amid space crunch, Delhi tries out Miyawaki technique of mini-forests

By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Feb 19, 2022 05:40 AM IST

EDMC has already created two such forests and the SDMC, with the help of a local NGO, will begin work on the first such forest at a civic boys school in Dwarka’s Shahabad Mohammadpur village

Faced with the challenge of increasing the Capital’s green cover, amid a worsening space crunch, the civic authorities are experimenting with a Japanese system of mini-forests in urban spaces, commonly known as Miyawaki forests.

The Miyawaki style of forest near CAG building, ITO. (Arvind Yadav/HT)

The East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) has already created two such forests and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), with the help of a local NGO, will begin work on the first such forest at a civic boys school in Dwarka’s Shahabad Mohammadpur village. The Union environment ministry has also set up one near ITO.

Pioneered by Japanese Botanist Akira Miyawaki, the technique sees thousands of native tree species grown closely together in a small patch of area. In comparison to a conventional forest, a Miyawaki forest is not only several times denser, but it can also be ready in two to three years – a concept that is slowly gaining ground in Delhi, especially with shortage of land.

The concept of Miyawaki forest is also mentioned in the draft Master Plan of Delhi-2041 as an effective way of greening the Capital in the future. In addition to the government, NGOs and corporations are also actively looking at smaller patches of land to develop such a forest over the last two years.

Madhukar Varshney, founder of the Rise foundation which is helping the SDMC with the project in Dwarka, said while a natural forest may take several decades to grow, the Miyawaki forest technique can be created and made maintenance-free in a span of just three years, noting that its growth is 10 times faster as compared to a conventional forest.

“These are also around 30 times denser than a normal forest and for countries like ours, which are vulnerable to climate breakdown, forests are an integral for its mitigation. In Delhi especially, we have found Miyawaki forests to be an ideal solution, as there is scarcity of land, or green spaces,” said Varshney, adding that these small pockets help in carbon sequestration, lowering temperature within urban heat islands and supporting local wildlife.

Varshney’s NGO created its first Miyawaki forest in 2020 at Brahma apartments in Dwarka’s sector 7, followed by forests in Kanganheri village in Kapasheri, the Badu Sarai village in southwest Delhi, one in Palwal and more recently, a Miyawaki forest in a Delhi government school in West Vinod Nagar. “At these five locations, we have used a total of around 4,600 sqft of area, planting around 1,200 saplings in total. While the Miyawaki technique recommends around 300 saplings per 1,000 sqft, we have found that 250 saplings works best in Delhi,” he said, adding that only native species such as neem, jamun, karonda, bel patra, pilkhan, kaner, sehjan and shami have been used.

Another prime example of a densely packed Miyawaki forest exists in the heart of Delhi at ITO, where over 12,000 species have been planted by the Union environment ministry near the CAG building. Around 59 different species have been used there, with the Miyawaki forest inaugurated in 2020 by the then Union environment minister in Prakash Javadekar.

EDMC has already created two Miyawaki forests under their jurisdiction in the last one year, both in Mayur Vihar’s Phase-III. Work on the first began in June 2021 with 7,000 saplings of 26 different species over 2,200sqm area, and the second project started in December last year with over 7,000 saplings spread across 3,103sqm.

An EDMC official associated with the project said both forests can become fully grown in the next two years, noting that “saplings have already grown to a considerable height”. “Only native species have been used, such as pilkhan, anaar, ashoka, neem and kadi pata, all of which can grow quickly to help make a densely packed green area,” said the official.

‘Can’t replace proper forests’

Meanwhile, experts argue that the Miyawaki concept cannot replace the role of conventional three-tiered forests, adding that it is good only for small urban spaces. “In a small but dense area, one cannot create the same level of biodiversity or the different layers associated with a forest ecosystem that are only created over a period of time... Shrubs and the ground level vegetation is missing here and this significantly reduces microbial activity,” said Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist in-charge at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park (YBP).

CR Babu, head of the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), said the tree canopy in a forest can play a key role in capturing carbon, dust and mitigating noise pollution, something that is missing in a Miyawaki forest. “Trees in a Miyawaki forest can be so close that the canopy is generally missing and often, some trees suffer from proper growth as there is not enough space for the roots. It is emerging as an urban concept due to lack of space, but the ecological returns from a conventional forest will always remain higher,” Babu said.

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