Urban forestry using the Miyawaki technique

The Greater Chennai Corporation is making plans to restore the Kadapakkam lake into a recreational spot with several benefits including a bird island flooded with trees using the Miyawaki technique (DTNext, 2022). As green and novel the term ‘Miyawaki’ sounds, it has its own set of advantages and challenges. This article aims to give an overview of the Miyawaki technique and further understand the role of this technique in light of the developments in Chennai.

What is the Miyawaki technique?

Miyawaki is a man-made afforestation technique to grow natural forest cover native to a particular region developed by a Japanese Botanist by the name, Akira Miyawaki (Shekar, 2020). Akira Miyawaki was the recipient of the Blue Planet Award for his contributions to the unique method of afforestation by which plants could be grown in regions where no plants existed before. This method has been in practice in Japan since the 1990s and has been used to restore and revive degraded land. The concept helps in bringing green cover to cities and has now been adopted in several Indian cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai.

The biggest asset of the Miyawaki technique is growing a wide range of species native to the land, within a small area in a short period of time. In other words, a multilayer of shrubs and trees are planted at an average distance of 60 cm (Daniels & Vencatesan, 2021). To provide an example, a backyard in a house can be transformed into a forest teeming with flora and fauna. In 2010, a family based in Kashipur, a city in Uttarakhand converted their backyard into a forest cover using the above technique. A 75 square metre space, turned into a home for 224 saplings of 19 species of shrubs and trees (Nargi, 2019). Against the conventional method, this method provides room for growing plants 30-times densely in a small space with an aesthetic appeal.

This method has great potential in terms of addressing climate change and mitigating the amount of greenhouse gases. However, the methodology is not a one-size fits all solution to deforestation and may work counterintuitively in Indian cities. 

Challenges with the Miyawaki technique in India

‘Nothing can substitute natural forests’ is the place to begin with when it comes to understanding the effectiveness of the Miyawaki technique in certain regions. As far as cities like Bengaluru and Chennai which are witnessing great transformations in urban forestry, the novel method is trying to replace natural forests in the regions. The Miyawaki technique was developed in Japan in that particular climate to handle calamities like earthquakes and may not be suitable for a tropical country like India. Several environmentalists argue that this method is giving an impression to people that they can replace forests altogether to the extent where citizens have remarked that even if trees are cut down, it can be replaced with the Miyawaki technique.

Sadly, plants grown with this technique cannot run an entire ecosystem. A natural forest is built over millions of years, and the quick remedy Miyawaki provides is not an alternative to the green cover of nature. Scientifically, it may not be sustainable in the long run to force plants to photosynthesize fast (Kaushik, 2019).

Further, even though Miyawaki helps in climate mitigation, trees will be able to do so only if they are allowed to grow to their full capacity. In the Miyawaki technique, trees are made to grow straight uniformly. It is important to note that different plants can sequester carbon based on size, leaf shedding habits among others. If all shrubs and trees are made to grow uniformly without paying heed to its natural characteristics, the Miyawaki forests may not benefit in climate mitigation.

Specific to Chennai, this method again may not be suitable for the city’s conditions. The first Miyawaki forest in Chennai was established in 2020 at a cost of INR 20 lakhs. Chennai is a coastal city with native species like the Indian laurel (Calophyllum inophyllum), banyan (Ficus bengalensis), Indian beech (Pongamia pinnata) and portia (Thespesia populnea) (Daniels & Vencatesan, 2021). These do not have a natural structure to grow tall and straight, but rather spread wide and it is not advisable to force them into the fixed pattern of the Miyawaki technique. Secondly, much of the vegetation introduced in the Miyawaki zones in Chennai, insufficient efforts are taken in terms of planting the native species. The technique specifically stipulates that only native species ought to be grown in the method. Experts voice out that the technique will work only if the species chosen for growing is native to the region (Gautham, 2021). A deviation from the same can further aggravate the ecological disruptions prevalent due to various environmental crises. Thirdly, Miyawaki forests do not help in rain and can again add onto the climatic woes the city faces. As much as they can supplement and complement existing green cover, they cannot replace them. 

References

Daniels, R., & Vencatesan, A. (2021, July 9). Why the Miyawaki Method Is Not a Suitable Way to Afforest Chennai – The Wire Science. The Wire Science. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://science.thewire.in/environment/why-the-miyawaki-method-is-not-a-good-way-to-afforest-chennai/

DTNext. (2022, March 12). GCC plans to restore Kadapakkam lake into a recreational spot. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2022/03/12142013/1357719/GCC-plans-to-restore-Kadapakkam-lake-into-a-recreational-.vpf

Gautham, K. (2021, September 17). miyawaki: Civic body getting its strategy on Miyawaki forests all tangled | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/civic-body-getting-its-strategy-on-miyawaki-forests-all-tangled/articleshow/86286075.cms

Kaushik, T. (2019, June 13). Miyawaki forests are no substitute for natural ones: Experts. The Economic Times. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/miyawaki-forests-are-no-substitute-for-natural-ones-experts/articleshow/69766810.cms?from=mdr

Nargi, L. (2019, July 24). The Miyawaki Method: A Better Way to Build Forests? JSTOR Daily. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://daily.jstor.org/the-miyawaki-method-a-better-way-to-build-forests/

Shekar, A. (2020, October 5). A jungle in the heart of Chennai: The story of the city’s latest ‘Miyawaki forest’. The News Minute. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/jungle-heart-chennai-story-city-s-first-miyawaki-forest-134567

Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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