The concrete jungle in the shadow of the Srirangam Temple in Tiruchirappalli hides a nascent forest of over ten thousand trees, planted a year ago on 1.25 acres of barren land. Last October, encouraged by the luxuriant outcome, around two hundred people gathered to plant fifteen thousand more saplings on 1.65 acres of railway land in the neighbouring town of Lalgudi. Tiruchirappalli and Lalgudi are among the latest adopters of an afforestation method that is gaining attention across Indian cities. The method, propounded by the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki in the 1980s, compresses layers of a forest—shrubs, trees, canopies—on small plots of land, turning them into tiny forests.
“I wanted to improve the green cover and found this method to be more useful than parks and gardens,” S Vaidyanathan, the revenue divisional officer of Lalgudi, told me. A local sponsor had funded the saplings, he said, while the town panchayat had been charged with managing the forest’s rapid growth.
In theory, the Miyawaki method is a panacea for urban woes. “These forests have thirty times more trees than other plantations and are perfect for cities, where land is scarce,” Shubhendu Sharma—who, after training with Miyawaki’s team, founded a for-profit social enterprise called Afforestt—told me. The method involves planting two to four trees per square metre. Miyawaki forests grow in two to three years and are self-sustaining. They help lower temperatures in concrete heat islands, reduce air and noise pollution, attract local birds and insects, and create carbon sinks. “The method advocates planting of diverse native species, thereby bringing in more biodiversity in comparison to monoclonal plantations,” Mohan Chandra Pargaien, an Indian Forest Service officer based in Telangana, said.