Mini forests to make Kathmandu more liveable
Imagine living next to a tiny forest the size of a tennis court right in the middle of Kathmandu, which makes the whole neighbourhood look clean and green. The forest is dense and layered with several different species of indigenous trees, shrubs, fruits and herbs. Butterflies, bees and birds return to the vibrant ecosystem.
This is not fantasy, but an actual possibility for an over-urbanised city where there are very few open spaces left.
First developed 40 years ago by a Japanese botanist, the ‘Miyawaki method’ of reforesting allows densely packed carefully selected trees to grow in tiny plots of land in urban centres like Kathmandu, or even in household backyards.
The result is a self-sustaining forest rich in biodiversity in a few short years that can serve as a network of new lungs for a polluted city. In Dhanusa district, the Mithila Wildlife Trust has become the first to successfully implement the Miyawaki method in Nepal.
“These are high density forests which act as natural air conditioners, and they can bring down the ambient temperature by 2-3°C. And the ecosystem is so diverse that it also allows plants, insects and birds to thrive,” says Dev Narayan Mandal of the Trust.
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Mithila Wildlife Trust last month planted trees in 2,580 square feet of land in Janakpur using this technique, and there are already calls from forestry offices in Mahottari and Makwanpur who want to implement the technique in their districts.
“I even got calls from a few individuals in Kathmandu who want to use the method in their compounds,” says a visibly-enthused Mandal, a recent recipient of the International Environment Warrior and World Neem Warrior awards.
Unlike traditional reforestation where trees of the same species are planted in bulk at a distance of 3-4m, Miyawaki prioritises native varieties and those most suitable to the specific climate of the area. The saplings are also packed densely together at a distance of 60cm from each other.
This means the trees are densely packed, and quickly grow into forests that serve as oxygen generators for cities with dirty air. They also help revive indigenous plants, and since the canopy is multi-layered, it means the trees do not all mature at once.
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Mandal says the forests can grow 10 times faster and are at least 20 times more diverse and 30 times denser than traditional replanted forests. But the real attraction is that they do not need large tracts of land, but can grow in small plots only 30m x 30m in city cores.
Nepal is an international model for a successful community forestry program that saw the country’s tree cover double in the last 25 years to nearly 40%, but in the cities the greenery has been replaced by concrete jungles.
Trees have been cut to make way for hard, dry surfaces like roads, sidewalks, pavement, buildings and parking lots, all of which absorb and retain heat in ‘urban heat islands’. And when residents rely on air conditioners to cool their homes, it becomes a vicious cycle as the outside temperature goes up even more.
What little is left of public land in Kathmandu and other major cities are being built over. Communities rallying to turn open spaces into leafy parks are opposed by municipalities whose idea of a park is to have fountains, concrete pavements and shops.
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Mandal sees immense possibilities for Kathmandu to replicate his pilot plot in Janakpur: “It can be replicated along the Bagmati, and other empty spaces. Government offices and corporate compounds can also use the Miyawaki model.”
Following Mithila Wildlife Trust’s Miyawaki experiment in Janakpur, the team is preparing another 100mx100m abandoned plot nearby to plant with 30 types of native plants. After the initial investment to source saplings, fertilise the soil with compost and cow dung, the forest grows to be maintenance-free within two years.
“In the long term, the Miyawaki method is more cost effective because it results in high yield layered forest as well as revive indigenous plants at the time of climate crisis with 100% survival rate,” says Mandal.
The solution to air pollution, solid waste disposal and shrinking open spaces lies in urban reforestation, which in turn can beautify and clean up our cities.
A simple cost-effective technology, the Mikawaki method needs support from communities and local governments – both of which Dev Narayan Mandal has garnered in Janakpur. He says, “The best thing about Miyawaki is that it can turn urban wastelands quickly into lush forests.”
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