It was a talk that changed a life. In December 2008, Dr Akira Miyawaki came to speak to the staff of Toyota in Bangalore. The 87-year-old is a name to reckon with for his expertise in creating natural forests in degraded environments around the world. According to estimates, Miyawaki has planted four crore trees in his lifetime.
In the audience was a young industrial engineer named Shubhendu Sharma. So inspired was he by Miyawaki’s speech that he decided to follow in his footsteps. “I realised that this is something which has to be done all over India,” he says. It took Sharma two-and-a-half years to take the plunge, abandoning a brilliant career with the car-maker.
His company Afforestt Environmental Conservation Services follows the Miyawaki method with some minor modifications, to suit the Indian environment. So when Sharma comes across barren land, one of the first things he does is to take samples of the top soil from one metre deep.
This is taken to a laboratory where tests are carried out to find out the nutrients which are lacking. “If the soil does not have nitrogen I will look for a nutrient which is rich in nitrogen,” says Sharma. “This could be chicken manure from a poultry farm.”
He also checks the electrical conductivity which is a measure of how much water the soil can hold. Thereafter, a survey is done to identify native trees. Then orders placed with nurseries nearby to grow the saplings. “After that we ensure availability of water,” says Sharma . “There has to be a boundary, like a barbed wire fence, on all sides, to prevent the saplings being eaten by cattle or taken away by people.”
An earth-mover is used to churn up the soil, and nutrients like herbs and organic manure added. When this is done, the soil becomes very soft. “Once you provide such a soft medium, the penetration becomes very easy,” he says. Within three months, the roots reach a depth of three feet. A robust forest is created within three years.
Incidentally, on an acre of land, 6,000 trees can sprout. So far, Afforest has created 17 forests—a total of 36,000 trees—in places like Nainital, Indore, Pune and Bangalore. “I feel a sense of urgency. According to worldwide statistics, every minute, forests the size of 36 football fields are being lost,” he says. The maximum damage is being done in Indonesia and Latin America.
Incidentally, his former company, Toyota, sought his help when it wanted to green its Pune plant. “I ended up making a forest of 10,000 trees on the perimeter,” he says. On the advantage of having a forest in an urban area, Sharma says, “It adds 30 times more greenery to the area. There is 30 times more carbon dioxide absorption and protection against noise pollution. If we start converting our lawns into forests, we can save a lot of water because forests do not require water after three years. They also retain a lot of water. Every single tree contributes 60,000 gallons of water annually to the water table.”
Sharma says that every person has a latent love for nature. “I have seen people get so deeply moved when they plant saplings that they become silent. Many request more opportunities to plant saplings,” signs off Sharma.