Implementing the Miyawaki method in Lahore

Urban greening is emerging as a tried and tested approach to mitigate some of the impact of climate change.
Published March 23, 2021

In 2019, the Lahore High Court observed in Farooq v Federation of Pakistan (2018) 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 urban gardens — has become synonymous with “development.” The transformative nature of urbanisation is converging with climate change in an ominous manner. Cities and towns are increasingly bearing the brunt of natural disasters such as urban flooding and smog. Increased utilisation of poor-quality fuels for transportation, power generation, and industrial purposes, coupled with deforestation, land use changes, and extensive infrastructure development contributes to increasing environmental pressures.

Urban greening is emerging as a tried and tested approach to mitigate some of the impact of climate change. Green spaces not only increase the quality of the urban environment but also enhance local resilience and promote sustainable lifestyles by impacting the health and well-being of the residents. From an ecological standpoint, living greenery is the only “producer” in the ecosystem.

As the second largest city in Pakistan, Lahore has a surveyed population of more than 11 million. Urban sprawl is evidenced by the fact that the city’s population nearly doubled in merely 20 years (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics 2018). Detailed land cover change analysis of the district is given in the table below.

Green cities: implementing the Miyawaki method in Lahore (LDA 2019).
Green cities: implementing the Miyawaki method in Lahore (LDA 2019).

The aforementioned figures indicate that during the 7-year period from 2010 to 2017, the tree cover in Lahore fell by nearly 75 per cent.

In order to develop green spaces in urban areas, Government of the Punjab piloted the Miyawaki method to regenerate native forests in Lahore. Named after the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, the Miyawaki method is a forest regeneration technique that aims to recreate self-sustaining multilayered indigenous forests on degraded land with little to no human intervention. The goal is restoring forest ecosystems indigenous to the habitat by promoting natural vegetation.

The Miyawaki method has been successfully used to regenerate forests with indigenous species in more than 38 countries. It has been championed as a sustainable, cost-efficient model for environmental protection, disaster prevention, and water source protection. A fundamental requirement of the Miyawaki method is the replication of a native forest with a species that can thrive in the local climate and topography. Another core principle of the Miyawaki method is the creation of multilayered communities comprised of tall trees, medium to short trees, and bottom weeds that function together as an entire forest ecosystem. This allows Miyawaki forests to have nearly 30 times the surface area of single-layer lawns and parks, ideally creating a forest 30 times denser than usual. Consequently, the impact in terms of climate change mitigation, environment preservation, and air purification can be 30 times higher as well.

Additionally, primary trees (tall trees) in forests establish deep axial roots, thus becoming more resistant to falling which has significant implications in terms of disaster risk reduction. The trees also have successors in waiting underneath them, consequently creating a forest system that can sustain itself semi-permanently. A standout feature of the method is that it can be applied in a wide variety of settings, including dense urban areas, mountains, riverfronts, agricultural land, and villages.

In order to restore and reconstruct forests indigenous to the habitat, the Miyawaki method relies on rigorous field investigations of the local vegetation and ecological systems. 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. Soil texture must be carefully analysed to determine water holding capacity and infiltration, root perforation, nutrient retention, and erosion. The Miyawaki method of plantation is designed to restore native vegetation on degraded land by closely planting together seedlings of different native species with well-developed roots in nutrient-rich soil. Upon completion of the field survey and selection of suitable indigenous species, seedlings are planted densely together to resemble the system of a natural forest.

This lays the foundation for promoting those species already thriving in the existing environment which means that extensive soil treatment, fertilisers, and insecticides are not needed. Moreover, water requirements are in line with the local climate and average rain, eliminating the need to install and maintain expensive water supply systems. These factors make the Miyawaki method a cost-efficient option for large-scale plantations.

In the initial stages following plantation, biomass (such as rice straw), water-retaining materials, and organic fertilisers are used to aid plantation. The forest must be watered once a day — the prevalent water hose and shower method is recommended over installing any irrigation equipment. For the first three years, it is recommended that monitoring and evaluation be conducted after every two months to check the growth of selected species and carry out any required changes.

After three years, the forests require minimum upkeep and maintenance. No cutting or pruning is required, and dead leaves, flowers, twigs, and wood are allowed to turn into mulch naturally. This creates a rich, fertile top soil layer which promotes plant growth by up to 10 times faster than normal and ensures viability and sustainability of the forest in the long run. Mulch allows the plants to survive even if they are not watered for up to 40 days; and in the event of a sudden deluge, soil will not be washed away. It is also recommended to allow local fauna, including birds and insects, to establish habitats in these forests. The presence of local species and pollinators can help restore natural balance in the ecosystem.

The main participants of forest creation, according to Miyawaki, are citizens themselves. People of all ages participate in tree plantation campaigns, and sponsoring organisations can capitalise on community involvement in urban greening. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends adopting a dual approach coupling physical improvement with social engagement to promote ownership and utilisation of green spaces. Urban green spaces are most sustainable when stakeholders from society, community groups, municipalities, local authorities, and private sectors collaborate. In Japan, for example, the Miyawaki method has been supported by corporations, government, municipal organisations, and civil society, thus becoming a sustainable model of urban greening that encourages community participation.

Header photo by Zofeen T. Ebrahim