Last week’s video was intended to inspire people in Kerala to create fruit forests in their plots. The response to it has been overwhelming, and I thank you all. We also received a lot of doubts, and clearing them is in order. Let me remind you that I’m not a botanist. I don’t have a scientific training but I conduct experiments on the basis of the information I get, and share my insights with you. Right now, what you see are Miyawaki forests-in-the-making all around me, including one on a rocky area. In all of them, we have followed the same template – planting four saplings within one sq. m. segment of land. Do they put out fruits? Yes, in small quantities. The Indian fig tree here flowered in two years’ time. The rest are only about to produce fruits. As we have put up a fence, all the plants are growing well. Occasionally, we prune the branches, especially when we see the neighbouring plants stunted due to lack of sunlight. But the plants on the sides get plenty of sunlight. However, what we observe here is the survival of the fittest.

As to the question: why plant so many saplings, there are two reasons. One, as per the Miyawaki Model, only if we plant a huge number will it grow into a Miyawaki forest. Only then can we have a forest in a short space of time. A natural forest will take 100-150 years to grow to maturity, a phenomenon we cannot witness within our lifetime. The benefit I see in the Miyawaki Model is that I get to plant saplings and see a forest come into being. If you are interested in seeing a forest take shape in a short span of time close to your house, this is a model worth following. Two, there is no better model for setting up a forest in small patches of land. Those who own plantations have only 60-70 trees in one acre of land whereas the Miyawaki Model recommends 16,000, at the rate of 160 trees per cent of land. We need these many trees to make a forest in the given space.

In 50 years’ time, maybe only 40 % of the trees will remain but for it to become a forest in 50 years, you have to plant 160 saplings on a cent of land. You may now ask: in such a case, why not plant only those trees that are likely to grow? The answer is that only by keeping them crowded, can we make them struggle for sunlight and thus grow fast. There are people who criticize that we are hastening growth unnecessarily. That may be true. I don’t wish to hurt their sentiments but I have not seen any other way to create a forest in a very small area in 10 years’ time. That is the reason why I follow the Miyawaki Method and do crowd foresting. The second complaint is that only if trees get plenty of sunlight will they produce fruits. True, a Miyawaki fruit forest does not yield as rich a crop, in terms of quantity, as a fruit orchard does. It is also true that for flowers and fruits to form in great numbers, one has to do regular pruning, manuring, and overall tending. But the Miyawaki Model is about making forests, not orchards or gardens.

Half the number of fruits in a Miyawaki forest may be consumed by birds because the forest may be impenetrable, especially if it covers a vast area. But as the trees in the periphery will get more sunlight and therefore bear fruits, we may be able to gather them. If we consider this as a way of sharing Nature’s gifts with fellow-creatures, we are not likely to suffer any disappointment. Right now, I’m sitting in front of a Miyawaki forest that is one metre broad and 40 feet long. So it covers roughly 120 sq. ft. A large number of saplings were planted two months back, and this is the growth they have attained by now. These video shots are meant to give you an idea of how it looks.

What stands beyond is a three-year-old Miyawaki forest where we had planted 460 trees. Nearly 350 remain now. Some of them, especially those in the middle, did not grow well, due to lack of sunlight. But when we pruned the branches of the neighbouring trees, they shot upwards instantly. The branches of a few trees have twists and turns, indicating that they have themselves sought out sunlight. Look at this Indian laurel tree, for instance, a species that requires huge amounts of sunlight. Now if you observe closely, you’ll see how thick this trunk has become in three months’ time. This blackboard tree has newly sprouted branches. The beach almond tree too has grown tall. The Indian fig tree too has shot up and produced fruits. There is the mulberry beyond, and the burflower tree is the tallest one. This has become a dense forest. I have never seen such a tall cork-leaved bayur tree anywhere else. This is the hairy fig tree, and this the scaevola which requires lots of sunshine. Its branches are peeping out for the sun. What we see here is that trees that need sunlight, seek it and when they get it, they grow well. The rest are trapped inside. This forest is so dense that you cannot see the other side. It has more than 400 trees in a three-cent plot.

So you too can grow forests. Whether you get fruits or not is a secondary issue. This is a star fruit tree, and despite not getting enough sunlight, it has borne fruits. Maybe some varieties don’t require a lot of sunshine and yet can bear lots of fruits. Another has put out flowers. Now, if we climb to this higher ground, we will get a good view. This is a live demonstration of a thick forest. I do this in order to clear your doubts about whether the forests are really as dense as we claim. Your doubts don’t strike me as unnatural. In your place, I too would have similar ones. It was only after following the Miyawaki method, that I myself became convinced that it is possible for us also to create forests. The trees of this three-year-old Miyawaki forests are 25-30 feet tall, despite many of them having had their crests pruned. The breadth of this plot is only 10 feet. This is an example of a dense forest that grew from the saplings planted close to one another in a small space.

Let me show you another example. This is an Asoka tree. It has not grown as much as the fig tree or the golden silk cotton tree or the cork-leaved bayur tree. Maybe it requires a lot of sunlight. Close to it is the jackfruit tree. Though not very strong, they are trying to grow upwards. If they succeed, they will thrive. Otherwise, they’ll wilt and die. This is a live demonstration of a growing forest. Those of you who are interested in seeing it for yourselves are welcome. All the forests we have created are doing well, and that is the reason why we are involved in video documenting their growth. Since this is an unfamiliar method of cultivation to most of us, such doubts are very natural. These models may perhaps clear your doubts.

Another query was whether it is advisable to add neem cake in the potting mixture. We do not recommend it because it is likely to kill tiny insects. The very concept of “organic pesticides” is objectionable because anything that kills cannot be organic. Nature maintains its own balance. A worm will grow alongside many other insects, and die after it completes its very short lifespan. We should learn to accept that fact. Otherwise, neem cake will cause harm to micro-organisms and even earthworms. Recently we saw and filmed a millipede consuming a bit of a dry leaf. I had never known that millipedes consumed dry leaves. After some time, the millipede will die and become part of the soil. Thus Nature has its own way of keeping the soil fertile. Let us not disturb that balance. What we should remember is that we are not farmers cultivating a fruit orchard. When we create a fruit forest in our plot, there are many benefits – we get whatever fruits we require from it, birds get a place to perch, the atmospheric heat in the vicinity comes down substantially from 55 degrees to 32 degrees, water gets absorbed into the soil and this recharges ground water reserves.

Last week, a friend called to complain about how all his vegetable plants were eaten by worms. He sounded as sorrowful as a man complaining about a thief breaking in and escaping with all the gold in his house. If worms attack your African bird’s eye chilly plant, grow another one. But in the Miyawaki Model, we do not plant saplings of the same species close to one another. Rather, we space them in order to prevent a quick spread of pest attack. Also remember that without worms, we will not have butterflies. Not all worms morph into butterflies but butterflies definitely come out of them. So, let us accept the worms. If butterflies emerge, they will fly away. If it runs out of food, the worm will die naturally. Console yourself with such thoughts. If you lose four lady’s fingers due to worm attack, go to a shop and buy them. Instead of weeping over wasted labour, imagine that a butterfly was born.

The next query was about how many trees should be planted in one sq. m. Prof. Miyawaki started with two plants, and finally fixed on the formula of three plants per one sq. m. segment. But in Kerala, we have all along planted four trees because of the good growth rate we have witnessed. Kerala boasts of the best growth rate for plants in the whole world. This may be because of our rains and general climate. Sometime in between, we experimented with one tree in one sq. m. but the growth rate was dismal. They grew only one metre in height and have remained so. It will take a long time for them to grow taller. But wherever we planted more, what we saw was a surge in growth. Your confusion may have been caused because I usually speak off the cuff.

We do not plant four trees in one sq. m. segment but one tree, one sub-tree and two shrubs. Thus when we talk about having planted 160 trees in a one-cent plot, what we mean is 40 trees, 40 sub-trees and 80 shrubs. The shrubs can be flower- or fruit-bearing. For flower-bearing shrubs, you can have crape jasmine or hibiscus. For sub-trees, you can think of guava or watery rose apple or cherry. For trees, jungli badam, beach almond, mango, jackfruit and so on. Intermix them as you plant them in your plot. Plant one tree sapling in the middle of a one-sq. m segment, and saplings of one sub-tree and two shrubs around it.  Behind me, you will see a brinjal plant. That is because one of the two shrubs here is a vegetable plant. You can do the same. We had said in our previous video about our plans to have vegetable plants in our Miyawaki fruit forest. We shall show you the videos after the planting is done.

These shrubs grow up to six feet if they get good manure, and we will continuously get vegetables from them. They will stop bearing fruits after the trees close by reach a certain height. But until then, we are assured of a constant supply. More vegetable plants can be added in this plot. Varieties of beans, brinjal, tomato, maize and other vegetables can be grown in the midst of these plants. I’m sitting at this spot in order to show you how much they have grown.

Now the question arises: why do all this? It is said that the earth has been in existence for 4500 million years, and the vegetation on it for 520 million years. But within the last 200 years, we have managed to destroy more than half of the trees and plants on the planet. Forests have almost vanished. One-and-a-half lakh acres of forest in California and 50 acres of forest in Munnar were lost to wildfires recently. These are not all natural phenomena but caused by humans due to either conscious intervention or sheer negligence. We will never be able to create those forests again because they had taken centuries to grow.

Miyawaki forests are not a substitute but the Miyawaki Model is a viable alternative as it can be grown even in small patches of land. It gives us a workable option that we can execute within our lifetime. If one lakh individuals set apart at least one cent each for a Miyawaki forest, we are still looking at only 1,000 acres of forest cover. How many times this area is lost to fires every month all over the world! If we wish to live on earth, we will need green leaves and plants. And this is the least contribution we can make in order to keep them.
I came to Thiruvananthapuram 35 years back. At that time, there was a talk about chopping down the mahogany trees growing in the University College campus. Many people reacted against it, very emotionally even. Their sentimental attachment to those trees cannot be dismissed lightly. They have nostalgic memories of having studied, chatted or eaten lunch under them. But eventually the trees will have to be chopped down for road-widening. If during the time of protest, 40 years back, they had planted 10 mahogany saplings in the compound, about five metres away from the road, the trees would have grown sufficiently large by now to afford shade, and replace the old ones.

It is the same attitude we have towards Miyawaki forests. They are not meant to replace all the forests in Kerala or the world. But they will certainly help us green our cities in a small way, preserve the near-extinct varieties, maintain biodiversity and resolve the carbon issue. If a better alternative makes its appearance, let us embrace it. But at this point of time, the Miyawaki Model is the most successful option among all those I have heard about and experimented with. That is why I recommend we have Miyawaki forests all over Kerala.