Inspired by the Japanese Miyawaki method, a major tree plantation campaign was recently launched at the Shadman Market Park. It is expected to address key issues related to deforestation
2009 was the first time when the majority population everywhere in the world was recorded as living in urban spaces, as opposed to rural areas. Since then, each year, cities of the world have continued to swell, witnessing mushroom growth and swallowing nearby peri-urban areas as more and more individuals move to cities in hopes of climbing up the socioeconomic ladder.
The phenomenon is more pronounced in developing countries like Pakistan. Analyses of satellite, demographic and economic data indicates significant correlations between urban growth, agricultural exports and deforestation.
In 2019, the Lahore High Court (LHC) observed that Pakistan had the world’s highest deforestation rate. To any citizen witnessing the rapid urban sprawl over the last decade, the disappearance of green spaces — plantations, parks, green belts, and even urban gardens — has become synonymous with ‘development.’ In addition to unchecked tree-cutting for fuel, infrastructure construction, development of new housing societies and a shift towards large-scale agricultural production to meet the growing demand, all contribute to deforestation.
The Punjab Clean Air Action Plan (PCAAP) identified urbanisation and new construction as a major driving force behind deforestation in the province. The plan highlights a whopping 72 percent loss of tree cover in Lahore in just eight years — from 2007 to 2015. In 2019, 40 percent of Lahore, or around 715 sq kms, was built up, while parks covered an embarrassing 1.2 percent (around 24 sq kms) of the district area. Out of these parks, a maximum of 10 percent had trees. Within the city, the impact of deforestation, in terms of the increasing average temperatures and urban flooding, is becoming the new norm.
The 2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land identified planting forests and protecting existing plantations as the key to limiting global warming. Investment in planting trees and forest conservation finally saw the light of the day in the Punjab, as Chief Minister Usman Buzdar kicked off a tree plantation campaign in the Shadman Market Park.
This campaign, based on the Japanese Miyawaki method of plantation, is set to spread around the province. Pioneered by the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, the method aims to create forests of indigenous trees in their native habitat.
Before starting a Miyawaki forest, a nearby local forest must be analysed through field surveys and research into ecology and vegetation. Close attention must be paid to find the optimum combination of local species, with consideration given to layers, qualities, spacing, and species’ associations with each other based on forest surveys.
A fundamental requirement of the Miyawaki method is the replication of a native forest. Any species introduced to the area via plantation or by humans are not used. As many as five native species can be planted together as major components, while around 25 percent of the forest should consist of supporting native species. The Miyawaki multilayer method ideally creates a forest 30 times denser than usual, and promotes plant growth up to 10 times as fast as normal.
Because the Miyawaki method relies on using a combination of traditional species, water requirements are in line with local climate and the average rain for a particular area. Instead of installing drip irrigation equipment, the prevalent water hose and shower method is recommended for maintaining a Miyawaki forest. For the initial years after establishment, the forest must be watered once a day. Research indicates that multilayer forests developed using the Miyawaki method help speed up groundwater recharge by up to 30 times compared to regular spaced out plantation, while also contributing to soil conservation. This may have a dual benefit, in terms of increasing groundwater availability for future use, and reduce the probability and impact of urban flooding.
Moreover, native species do not require extensive soil treatments or use of fertilisers and insecticides, thus becoming a cost-efficient option for large-scale plantations. As part of the Miyawaki method, the forests require minimum upkeep and maintenance after the first three years. Dr Miyawaki is famously quoted as saying: “No maintenance is the best maintenance.” No cutting or pruning is required, and leaves, flowers, seeds, twigs and wood are allowed to turn into mulch and consumed naturally. This creates a rich, fertile top soil layer and ensures viability and sustainability of the forest in the long run.
The Miyawaki method recommends letting local fauna, including birds and insects, establish habitats in these forests. The presence of local species and pollinators can help restore natural balance in the ecosystem.
A word of caution: before starting a Miyawaki forest, a nearby local forest must be analysed through field surveys and research into ecology and vegetation. Close attention must be paid to find the optimum combination of local species, with consideration given to layers, qualities, spacing, and species’ associations with each other based on forest surveys.
Moreover, soil texture must be carefully analysed to determine water holding capacity and infiltration, root perforation, nutrient retention and erosion.
In the initial stages, biomass, water retaining materials and organic fertilisers are used to aid plantation. Saplings are usually planted by creating a higher mound than the surrounding area. For the first three years, monitoring and evaluation must be conducted after every two months to check the growth of selected species and carry out the required changes.
The writer is a development sector professional with nearly a decade of experience in communications and reporting. He has supported the implementation of The World Bank’s Disaster and Climate Resilience Improvement Project (DCRIP) and ADB’s Flood Emergency Reconstruction and Resilience Project (FERRP) in Pakistan