Miyawaki forests, an urban greening concept through the plantation of trees, was a method developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. Way back in the 1970s, Miyawaki devised this method, where native plant species were planted together. While he specialized in natural or old-growth forests, his observations of trees that traditionally grew around Japanese temples, shrines and cemeteries led him to believe that these were simply relics of natural or old-growth forests. He additionally noticed that some tree varieties had been introduced to Japan by foresters for timber. This observation led him to believe that most Japanese forests did not contain solely their original natural vegetation. From this he developed a method of “ecological engineering”, today called the Miyawaki method, mainly to counter degradation of land. Since 2020 the BMC has avidly embarked on this method.
The concept of this forest is fast-growth in a short span of time. Getting a forest for the city in a shorter span of time, and not in a 100 years. In this method, various native species of trees and plants are planted close to each other in high density (for example, three trees in one square metre), so that the greens receive sunlight from the top and in turn grow taller instead of sideways, not creating huge canopies.
As part of the concept, trees which are planted are supposed to support each other. The forest’s density also leads it to block the sunlight from reaching the floor, which thereby results in the elimination of weeds.
After maintaining these forests for three years, they become self-sufficient after which nothing is to be done.
BMC adopts the scheme
Is this method good for Mumbai? The BMC has actively adopted this method in the face of growing deforestation and removal of green cover for infrastructural development. As many as 64 Miyawaki forests have been planted across Mumbai and more than four lakh trees exist because of the method. The BMC has also ardently promoted the idea that the forests are great for biodiversity, because they retain ground water, produce native fruits, and attract more butterflies and birds.
Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Eknath Shinde, on August 9, launched the Meri Mati, Mera Desh campaign. While remembering India’s Quit India Movement, the CM also launched Vasudha Vandan, a tree plantation scheme. Hence we see that the government and the civic body are committed to increasing Mumbai’s green cover. If they are actively using the Miyawaki method to do so, then is it the right method?
Environmentalists believe the method isn’t right for the city, and recommend more traditional methods of greening where trees have space.
Shares Vicky Patil, Project Manager at Vanashakti, “In Mumbai, this method only keeps the builder lobby happy — those who want more space for their construction activity. One can’t be sure how healthy the method is. Trees have to fight for nutrients as they have been planted in a smaller space. We hope that the traditional method will be followed where there is enough space for a tree’s canopy.”
Environmental activists like Zoru Bhathena are also of the opinion that Miyawaki ‘forests’ are a futile exercise. States Bhathena, “A Miyawaki forest can’t even be called a forest. It’s more like a money-spending exercise. Visit any Miyawaki forest in the hot sun. Then stand under any nearby tree. Feel the difference between a ‘Miyawaki forest’ and a single tree for yourself. Miyawaki plantations are decoratively good. They cost money to grow and maintain. Hence they seem to be the preferred option of governments which need to make a show and spend lots of money, while not doing anything really positive for the environment.”
Plants are social creatures
There are, however, those who are in favour of the method and believe that it’s the choice of trees that matter. Trees with opposite nutrients needs gel well together, says Anurag Karekar of the Naturalist Foundation. “Instead of a monoculture of trees, where the same trees are planted, one can choose different tree varieties. Different varieties do well together and help each other. Plants are very social and just like in the Avatar movie, it would be nice to have dense forests.”
While the two sides argue about the suitability and correctness of the method, one can only hope that irrespective of the kind of project undertaken, goals are reached. Goals such as protecting against climate change.
Miyawaki v/s holistic methods
Can Miyawaki compete with traditional methods? Biologists don’t seem to think so. In fact, some are saying that the Miyawaki method is bad for the local habitat.
Says conservation biologist Sachin Punekar, “Any programme to raise the green cover is welcome, but it needs to be implemented in a scientific manner. Schemes like Miyawaki are not scientific and pose a threat to the local flora and fauna. The BMC should focus on more holistic ecological restoration as opposed to such schemes.”
Then are these forests not really the answer to the city’s ecological problems? Can we really do what Akira Miyawaki did in Japan? The debate continues, however most agree that the concept should be thoroughly
understood before being implemented.
“This concept can’t become a marketing gimmick. Its essence has to be understood before execution. The city’s colleges have some really good botany professors who are eager to work on projects like these. They should be brought on board,” concludes Karekar.