LAHORE: The First Guru Nanak Sacred Forest, with the collaboration of the EcoSikh, a US-based organisation, has been established at Khoj Garh near Mustafabad in Kasur.

The project, which aims to set up 550 such forests, is already in full swing in India and it was started in connection with 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak.

“The organisation aims at establishing 550 such forests across the world with 550 saplings,” says Punjabi writer and scholar Iqbal Qaiser, who is the founder of Khoj Garh whose main feature is a Punjabi public library.

“I had heard about the forest project of the EcoSikh that required only five marla land to set up a forest by using a Japanese technique, called Miyawaki,” says Mr Qaiser during a visit of this scribe to the forest where 425 saplings have been planted more than a week back.

Miyawaki method uses minimum land for maximum results. Three to five saplings of different species are planted on one-metre land. Forests grown by this method are 30 times denser and their growth is 10 times faster.

“The method requires preparation of four-foot-deep land with husk, residue of a variety of fruit after a process of fermentation before plantation of saplings. As saplings become trees, their roots get entangled into a kind of net underground, which purifies groundwater,” Mr Qaiser explains the method.

He himself is interested in trees and considers them an important part of the culture of the land. He laments that diseases have heavily damaged sheesham (Dalbergia sisso) trees in Punjab and more recently eaten away keekar (acacia) trees. Indigenous trees’ plantation was another factor that attracted him towards the project.

“The best part of the whole exercise is that only indigenous fruit as well as shade trees have been planted in this forest. We have also planted indigenous trees that are going extinct or whose growth has reached a dangerous level in the region, including Sohanjana (Indian moringa) and Jand (Prosopis cineraria) trees.”

Qaiser says another indigenous tree that is no more found in the region is Lahoorra whose wood is used in making eastern string musical instruments. It is still found in Khushab and “we have got its five saplings from there”.

No two saplings of the same species have been planted close by and no pesticides or fertiliser would ever be used on them, making this an organic forest.

“Guava and Neem trees have been planted in the forest in most numbers,” says Qaiser who adds that EcoSikh provided only advisory for the method of the forest while the whole process of preparation of land and plantation of trees and has been carried out by Restore.green, which is collaborating with EcoSikh. The whole forest has been established during a week and the plants have sprouted leaves despite harsh weather conditions.

Bilal Chaudri of Restore.green, a firm working on afforestation, says that they were contacted by EcoSikh for collaboration. He says that expenses incurred on trees and planting in the Guru Nanak Sacred Forest would be borne by EcoSikh. “Terms and conditions and modalities of payment have not been finalised yet and discussions are going on,” he says and adds that his firm is looking for future collaborations with EcoSikh as well.

According to a recent report of The Indian Express, Guru Nanak Sacred Forests have been grown on 11 patches of land in India so far while Pakistan has one.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2019