Two weeks back, an article on the Miyawaki Method of Afforestation appeared in The Hindu. It reflected a deep involvement in the subject, and included the opinions of many people who are active in this field all over India. But its defect lay in the nut graph which questioned the very desirability of the Miyawaki Method. I cannot recall the exact words but the article ends with the words of an environmentalist, Mr Pradip Krishen. He comments that the Miyawaki Method is not suited to our ecology.

Instead of drawing his own conclusions, the author of the article concludes his piece with the opinion of another person. This can be damaging to a highly respected newspaper like The Hindu. I have been following its articles on the environment for a long time because of my love for the subject. Nearly 40 years back, I read an article on Kuttanad which posed the question “Is Kuttanad  a rice bowl or a poison bowl?,”  and analyzed it comprehensively. The argument was that chemical fertilizers and insecticides like copper sulphate, used in rubber plantations in the high ranges, flow right down to Kuttanad. The Hindu publishes articles like this regularly.

But this particular one had some basic flaws. After reading it, at least 15 people rang me, expressing concern over The Hindu stating that the Miyawaki Method is not right. That was the impression that the article created in the minds of its readers. Two points about it tickled me.  The first one is the analogy used by Mr Pradip Krishen.  I believe he is a filmmaker. A long time back he directed a film In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989). It was his first. An interesting film in English. It contained a scene in which the protagonist keeps a chicken in a parrot cage in his hostel room. In the article in The Hindu, Mr Pradip Krishen is quoted as comparing the Miyawaki Method to raising a polar bear in a concrete room filled with ice slabs. At first glance, the analogy appears true. But not so, if we think deeply.

What we do is this – we loosen the top soil at the site, add as much organic manure as is required, avoid using any chemical pesticide, and grow plants and trees that are endemic to the region – all according to the principles laid out by Prof. Miyawaki. The only difference is in the number of saplings that we plant. The Miyawaki Model recommends planting of two to nine saplings in one square metre of land. In Japan, planting three saplings is seen as ideal. We plant four in Kerala because that ensures the optimal degree of growth. Is that artificial?

Usually, when jack fruits grow ripe and fall, nearly a 100 jack saplings sprout on the ground below the mother tree but only the fittest survive. That is the same principle at work in the Miyawaki Model. True, he has introduced a few changes. That fact cannot be denied. But that is the very reason for the increased rate of growth among plants. Do we raise plants and trees in the soil in the manner in which a polar bear is reared on ice slabs in a concrete room? In this analogy, the only live creature is the polar bear. Whereas in the work we do, everything is alive and organic. Therefore the very comparison is flawed. But he argues very persuasively.

The second point about the article concerns the use of the word ‘naturalist’. Does he imply that everyone who follows the Miyawaki Method goes against the natural method? We know that it took crores of years for forests to evolve on the earth. We are not going to live that long. Can a person working in this field for 50 years see a forest grow naturally within that span of time? If he/she claims that it can be accomplished, that will be a laughable matter. The natural method implies total non-involvement. That is, Nature itself should break boulders, create soil, drop rain, and allow seeds to sprout. If we eat a fruit and throw its seed away, we cannot claim it is a natural method because by the very act of throwing a seed, we are involved in the process of sowing. That is the Fukuoka method, which avoids all forms of ploughing and tilling. All forms of afforestation that we espouse are farming methods in one form or another. And farming is not a natural method. Therefore, it is wrong to mislead people by saying that this is a natural method and the other is not. That is my argument. The reason why I don’t elaborate on the Miyawaki Method is that the article itself does it. However, the manner in which the arguments are placed is faulty.

The Miyawaki Method can be seen in two ways. If a person puts many plants together in 50-, 100- or 200-sq. ft of land, it does not become a forest. It is only a clump, like the sarpakkaavu [snake grove] all of us know about. It is not called an evergreen forest. But if we use the same technique in five or fifty acres, it will become a forest. As the area increases, so do the chances of creating a forest. However, the Miyawaki Method need not be avoided on the grounds that it is against Nature.

What do we see around us now? All the places are being cleared. It has become impossible for water to seep underground. We raise invasive species of plants, grow foreign breeds of dogs and change our environment drastically. But amidst all this, if a few people take the initiative to put up forests in 50 sq. ft of land, should we discourage them? Should we put them in a state of confusion? Should we say “What you are doing is against Nature. We shall show you the right way. What are you going to achieve with your 50-sq. ft plot? Can a forest ever be created within such a small space?”

Let people do whatever they can. Permit me to cite another example. Imagine that I get involved in an accident and lose my legs. Suppose a person comes to me and says, “There is a natural way in which limbs grow back. We are doing research on it. If it becomes successful, you will be a beneficiary.” Should I listen to him or fix bionic legs and go about my business? In a similar fashion, right now we are standing on the brink of a catastrophe called climate change. For instance, it is raining in Thiruvananthapuram today because of a depression in the Bay of Bengal. We talk about ways to bring down the atmospheric carbon levels by the year 2030. We predict the carbon levels of 2050. We fear that things will get out of hand by the year 2100. But there are many things that we can do amidst all this.

One is planting trees in our garden. How is that act going to obstruct anything? However, if anyone says, “This is against Nature. We shall show you the right way” they are duty-bound to say what the right way is, who authorized them as the champions of the right way, and so on. The right way we know is that forests evolved through crores of years. But humans are destroying them completely. Instead, let us convert our monocrops into polycrops. That will bring about a great positive change. Corporate giants have created concrete jungles all over. Let them grow a few trees around their buildings. That will allow us to see butterflies and glowworms for some more time. Don’t they too have a relevance? Can’t we do at least this much? Instead of pledging to create 10,000 acres of forest at the foothills of the Himalayas or arguing that such and such method is not right, isn’t it better to allow things to happen in whatever small way is possible?

In the article about the Miyawaki Method, there is an acknowledgement that the problem is not with the method per se but with the faulty implementation of the method. If those flaws are rectified, the technique will become more scientific. My argument is that whatever the flaws, if a person plants 10 trees, that is indeed a great thing. Many people may oppose me. They have the right to do so. But what I feel is that the great problem that all of us are going to face in the coming years will be global warming. In such a context, every small effort has to be acknowledged. If you so wish, create a natural forest on a large scale but arguing that creation of small forests in cities should be avoided because it is not scientific is absolutely wrong. Let us take into consideration these small creatures and butterflies. They should be provided a favourable ecosystem. Wild boars and elephants are not going to live in our 5- or 50-cent forests in urban areas. But we will be making an effort to maintain the existing insects, and we should do it.

In that sense, when articles like this appear, they should convey the point with accuracy and clarity, and not create confusion by presenting multiple perspectives and mislead people.