Afforestt, the condensed urban forest tackling air pollution


The Indian startup creates urban forests all over the world using the world-renowned Miyawaki method, which helps to create high-density, self-sustainable and chemical-free forests pretty much anywhere.

Whether it is to tackle climate change, reduce air pollution or to prevent the loss of biodiversity, there is widespread consensus: planting trees, through afforestation or reforestation, is one of the simplest answers. Urban and rural forests can reduce air and water pollution; all while acting as carbon sink systems — absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. However, if done improperly, afforestation efforts could cause more damage to the environment than good. As the FAO points out, introducing invasive —a.k.a. non-native— plant species can transform an ecosystem’s natural conditions, affecting the diversity of local species, water availability and damaging the quality of soil nutrients.


That is why the Bangalore-based social enterprise Afforestt focuses on a native forestry method to cleanse the world’s cities of air pollution, and does so with an open source twist. Founded in 2011 by Indian engineer Shubhendu Sharma, the company uses a forest creation technique developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, which plants only native varieties of trees in selected ratios and sequences, creating multilayer forest that become maintenance-free and self-sustainable ecosystems two to three years after their creation.


More than 3,000 forests have been successfully created worldwide using this methodology. Irrespective of soil and climatic conditions, the technique helps to create forests up to 30 times denser than conventional ones, which absorb up to 30 times more carbon dioxide than monoculture plantations according to the company. Chemical fertiliser free, these forests can grow 10 times faster than average, thus making a 100-year-old natural forest grow in just 10 years.


The technique is particularly ideal to create new, dense urban green cover in small urban areas. It was precisely thanks to a project to grow a small-scale forest at the Indian headquarters of automobile giant Toyota, where Sharma used to work, that Afforestt’s founder learned the method from Miyawaki himself.


Over the years, the social venture has experimented with other techniques, such as natural farming and soil enhancement, to enhance its approach. Since its launch, Afforestt has embarked on dozens of projects, partnering with companies and non-profits worldwide, which have led to the creation of 144 urban forests —more than 450,000 trees— in more than 50 cities in 13 different countries, such as the United States, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Japan, Singapore, Iran, Nicaragua and Chile. Some of these initiatives include the creation of endemic-type forests in deserted areas of Western India and the Himalayas, as well as of wooded grassland in a high-altitude cold desert.


But the company took a step even further in 2015, when it started operating on an open source model. The goal was to teach the highest possible number of individuals and organisations to plant urban forests in factories, offices or even their own backyards, widely sharing the Miyawaki method though training schemes, workshops, or even online documentation for everyone to freely access.


The Tiny Forest Creation scheme, for instance, enables individuals and organizations to learn how to create their own urban forest. Trainees are involved in the entire process, which includes a mix of classroom sessions and actual outdoor hands-on labour. By the end of the program, they can all be proud of having successfully created a 200 square meter, 600 native trees’ forest patch at the very center of their city.


Today, Afforestt remains focused on its latest and perhaps biggest endeavour: to set up a 12,000-tree forest in the heart of Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world. But considerable challenges remain in the road ahead. The company hopes to plant 2,800 different species of trees globally, but India generates sapling of only 100 species — a limitation the company plans to overcome by entering the seedling-generation business sometime in the near future.



This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open_resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.


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