Today my intention was to speak about a small house constructed in the middle of a Miyawaki forest because there was a popular demand for it, and I promised to show it. But in the meantime a controversy broke out when a prominent news channel made allegations that our Miyawaki project was a gimmick aimed at looting government funds. Thereafter I received many phone calls and messages from those who view our videos requesting that I offer an explanation through this channel. As we wish to maintain total transparency in the matter, I have decided to give a reply today.
In the beginning, I created Miyawaki forests in my own plot of land for my personal need. My idea was to create a forest comprising trees that were slowly disappearing from Kerala. It took us 12 years of experimentation to finally attain success, and it was in the last three years that a viable option in the form of the Miyawaki Method of Afforestation emerged. Thus by mid-2018, I was convinced the Miyawaki Method could be implemented in Kerala. By then, I had made a thorough study of it for two-three years. That was the time when Kerala experienced heavy floods. I was now absolutely sure that the state was on the brink of a huge environmental catastrophe. Such an unprecedented event threatened to submerge 12 districts of Kerala. The same phenomenon took place in Japan in 2019. And also in Uttarakhand. We became convinced that the Miyawaki Method of Afforestation was one small measure that would protect us from such disasters, or at least delay its impact. I held discussions with the Directors of my institution and we jointly decided to popularize the concept of the Miyawaki forest.
Our first step was to start the crowdforesting website. I recall that we registered a domain named crowdforesting after the 2018 floods. The intention was to use the site to demonstrate how the Miyawaki forest could be made, the procedures involved and so on. We continue to do it even today in a very transparent manner. It is to avoid controversies, to let everyone see the truth and make people aware of the expenses involved that we video document all the processes involved in our crowd foresting activities from the very first step. All this comes out of our desire to see the plan work in Kerala. A huge number of people share this wish and work towards it very sincerely, and we do not intend to betray their hopes. So my request is that you share this video with as many people as you can because we have no other means to spread awareness about the real picture, about how the Miyawaki forest is created, what the expenses are, whether there is any cheating involved, the extent to which the recent news report is true and so on. Also, please subscribe to it. This is not solely for your benefit or mine. Rather, the Miyawaki Method of Afforestation has to grow into a big movement if Kerala is to benefit from it. All of you who view this channel are anxious about fixing the environmental problems of Kerala, and we are convinced that such a movement is essential.
Now, I shall show you how we created a Miyawaki forest for the Government of Kerala at Shankhumugham beach in Thiruvananthapuram so that you get a rough idea of the expense involved. After that I shall go into other matters. This was how this part of the beach, where I am sitting right now, looked a month ago. It was a massive mound of waste materials, 20 truckloads of it. Look at the visuals. We used three JCBs and two tipper lorries, and worked for four consecutive days to remove them and clear the site. Then, our volunteers joined hands with manual labourers to get rid of rocks and pebbles that lay here. Next, we filled the designated area with 15 tons of goat pellets sourced from Tamil Nadu, 10.5 tons of coir pith and six tons of rice husk. You can see the sacks stacked up there, from the visuals recorded then. The expenses involved in transporting all these materials and unloading them were very high. The cost of rice husk was the strangest issue. A kilo of rice husk costs only Rs 3 or Rs 4. A lorry holds three tons of rice husk and it comes from Alappuzha-Angamali-Ernakulam areas. By the time it reaches Thiruvananthapuram, the transportation charge alone comes to Rs 10,000! One sack of rice husk weighs roughly 10 kilos or less, and its unloading charge comes to about Rs 20 per sack. Wherever possible, we ourselves did the unloading. These unloading charges are applicable throughout Kerala, from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod. The site at Shankhumugham allotted to us for the Miyawaki forest comes to 400 sq. m., or 10 cents. We introduced 31 tons of organic material on that plot, at the average rate of 75 kilos per sq. m. As per the contract, we needed to introduce only 60 kilos of organic material per sq. m. We added the extra 15 kilos because this is beach area where sand is very fine, and we did not want our project to fail for want of manure.
Besides that, we did additional mulching with dry leaves. We also put up a low wall of cement bricks all around the plot. The wall, as you can see, is four-cement-brick tall, with one buried in the sand, and three visible above the ground. It holds the fence. You can guess the cost of this component. We then fixed steel pipes all around to act as pillars to hold the mesh of interlocking wires on top. This is to support the trees when they grow taller, and prevent them from toppling. On top of it, covering the entire surface of 400 sq. m., is the green net so that the whole site works like a humidity chamber. The heat from the sandy beach and the concrete structures all around will cause the saplings to dry up. The plants may find it difficult to withstand the heat of the summer too. The green net is to protect them from such heat and ensure that they grow in a healthy manner and their roots go deep into the ground. We had to use four rolls of net material to cover the whole area. We have installed a micro drip irrigation system too, sourcing water from a nearby well, after cleaning it and installing a water pump there.
What is noteworthy is that when the government invited tenders, it had not demanded the fencing, the net, the micro drip irrigation or the wall. We installed them on our own accord. Why did we do it? Not because we have excess money with us, but because we felt such a project executed in a public spot demanded these additional components if it had to succeed. However, what we did in order to contain our expenses within the limits of the tender was to solicit voluntary work from employees of Invis Multimedia, our company. What you see are visuals of nearly 40 persons doing voluntary work. They are not farm labourers or workers involved in this kind of work. They are Invis Multimedia employees – artists, graphic designers, content writers, singers, software engineers, video editors, professionals with MBA and PhD degrees, and experts in various fields – who have been specially trained in the Miyawaki Method of Afforestation. With their voluntary labour, we saved up to Rs 40,000, and that is the amount we used for putting up the fence and other infrastructure. There is a reason why I mention this in an elaborate fashion. Often these details are completely ignored when people write reports, without any idea about how a voluntary model of project gets implemented. As a result, people dismiss such projects as eyewash.
The Miyawaki Model is a very significant project as far as Kerala is concerned. It cannot be discarded. Many people have asked us about how the saplings are planted. I shall show you three types of bags that saplings come in. This plant costs Rs 30. The next, double the size of the smallest one, costs Rs 80 or Rs 65. Each has only one kilo or 750 gm of potting mixture in them. In contrast, we grow saplings in bags that are more than one foot tall and carry up to three kilos of potting mixture. The cost of potting mixture alone comes to Rs 20 or Rs 25 per kilo. The bag costs Rs 10. So the cost of one bag with potting mixture comes to Rs 60 to Rs 80, including labour charges. Add the cost of one sapling, at the rate of Rs 25 to Rs 30, and the total comes to Rs 130 to Rs 140. Then, we have to add the loading and unloading fees. There are four such nurseries in Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Angamaly and Ponnani, from where saplings are bought. The one at Kannur was closed down.
Earlier, I spoke of how a total of three kilos of potting mixture is introduced into each bag before a sapling is introduced in it. Nearly half a kilo is consumed by the sapling as it grows in the bag. Here, we have planted 1600 saplings. So, in effect, and additional quantum of three to three-and-a-half tons of manure from the bags gets added to the soil. This is the reason why the plants in our Miyawaki forests shoot up five or six feet within six months, and nine to ten feet or three metres in one year. Usually, when trees are planted in public spaces, the procedure is like this: a pit is dug, some manure it put in, and a sapling is planted. No one bothers about it until the Environment Day dawns the next year. What we do is different. We water the plants every day, insert stakes into the ground and tie the plants to them to keep them straight. You can imagine the cost all this entails.
Now, let me come to the next point. Frankly speaking, it was the media in Kerala that brought such fame to the Miyawaki project. Ms Vineetha Gopi of the Manorama was the first reporter to write about it. She chanced upon a whatsapp picture of it and messaged me to find out whether she could profile this for the paper. Even when I welcomed her I cautioned that climbing my hilly plot at Puliyarakonam to see the forest on top may be arduous for her. But she insisted and came along with the staff photographer. The story featured in the Sunday supplement of the Manorama. I had not expected such a coverage. But this caught the imagination of the people, and soon Miyawaki became a household name.
Many media organizations filed their reports too. Sajikumar, another reporter of the Manorama, observed all the processes of Miyawaki afforestation at Kanakakunnu, visiting the site every day, and wrote a piece on it. Rajesh, another reporter, wrote about it after a year had passed. Girish from the Deshabhimani, reporters of Mathrubhumi from various places, those from Madhyamam, Janmabhumi, the Hindu and so on did the same. Two reporters of the Indian Express were so impressed that they joined in planting saplings too. The Business Line also carried a story about our Miyawaki forest. Vincent Kurien, the business correspondent of the Hindu, an environmentalist at heart, spent an entire day at my Puliyarakonam plot and wrote about it. Private channels and online papers, Media One, Twenty Four, Flowers, Better India, the News Minute and so on followed suit. All the reporters climbed the hill, understood the difficulty and appreciated the effort. Many, who view this, have shown great interest and, on our invitation, come over to see it for themselves. The stories filed by reporters who took the trouble of climbing the hill to see the Miyawaki forest were what brought popularity to the Miyawaki Method in Kerala.
Unfortunately, the reporter who recently wrote against it never visited the site although my plot is only two km from her office. I have no complaints. But there are others who try to understand things for themselves. For instance, Tency, a correspondent of Vanitha magazine, came all the way from Kottayam along with a photographer, spent an entire day here, and filed a story. Therefore, I cannot understand the motive behind a reporter writing a grand story and calling this project a hoax, without having seen, understood or attempted to study it.
Let me conclude this part by addressing a couple of allegations raised in the recent news report against the project. Once again, I request you to share this video to the maximum number of people because this is our only way to neutralize the slander. One, an accusation made out against us was that we charged Rs 3 lakhs per cent to put up a Miyawaki forest here. I shall show you the contract so that you can see the truth for yourself. What it says is Rs 3, 90, 000 for 1000 sq. ft. An area of 1000 sq. ft. comes to between two and two-and-a-quarter cents of land. That means, the cost comes to less than half, that is, roughly Rs 1, 60, 000 per cent of land, and this does not cover the expenses we incurred on steel pipes, cement, wires, cement bricks and other paraphernalia. You may do the accounts for yourself for further conviction. We are sure that if you include labour charges too, the expense will come to the quoted figure. Two, there is a fixed rate for maintenance. It comes to Rs 120 per sq. ft. This includes maintenance cost for one full year, including irrigation, pruning, trimming, mulching and so on. Mulching requires covering the entire area with dry leaves, rice husk, coir pith, and topping it with a layer of hay and more dry leaves. Now we are in the process of collecting these materials.
What we receive is Rs 60,000 per cent for a year. It comes to Rs 5,000 a month. We have agreed to do maintenance for two years for which we are paid a total of Rs 3 lakhs. How can it be reported that this amount is given for planting? We have mentioned in several episodes that the initial cost stands somewhere between Rs 370 and Rs 390 per sq. m. So we are not surprised to see you shocked at the doubled rate quoted in the news report. That is why I give you this explanation. Maintenance is a very laborious process that has to be done continuously for a year. There is a chance of nearly 10 % of the saplings drying up during the initial period. They are replaced during the first six months. After that, if plants dry up, we don’t replace them because that is part of the natural process.
The next point about the agreement concerns the name of the company, Invis Multimedia. The query was: what does Multimedia have to do with afforestation? The name says it all. It is a multimedia company. My belief is that the reporter, inadvertently perhaps, missed reading the eighth paragraph in the fifth page of the agreement which clearly mentions that “the third partner will execute the digital documentation of this project with various digital tools of documentation like video, 3600 video, still-photography, etc.” This is what Invis Multimedia has been engaged in for the last 25 years, and the same applies to this project within the consortium.
The other query is with regard to our experience in the field of Miyawaki afforestation techniques. More than 40 videos on forests prepared by us are available here itself. Since I myself felt the need to gain expertise, I flew to Japan and personally went to seven regions in seven days, visited numerous forests, that were 50 years, 40 years and 25 years old. Besides, I spent a day in the company of Prof. Miyawaki, and gained inputs from him. Two of his students, Professors Emeritus who co-authored books with Prof. Miyawaki – Elgine Box and Fujiwara Kazue – came to Kerala to visit the Miyawaki forests we had created. Prof. Miyawaki saw videos of the work we had done and gave his opinions on each of the forests we had set up. It was after all this preparation work, that we set out to create Miyawaki forests. This is not an attempt to swindle money but an effort to improve the environment.
We are also armed with information about what happened to Miyawaki forests in other parts of the world. But unfortunately, people in Kerala equate private institutions with cheating. In reality, the government is bound to encourage private enterprises in such matters. The Kerala Stores Purchase Manual specifically states that small scale enterprises that have registered themselves in Kerala should be given priority to float businesses. Not only does it not happen but, most often, there are newspaper reports about how the private sector is involved in fraudulent business.
Let me say one more thing about Invis Multimedia. I do not own it. I am its Managing Director and one of its shareholders. It was jointly started by N. R. S. Babu, an eminent journalist, N. S. Lal, his friend who works as an advocate, and Ajith, my classmate during my Journalism programme. We have been in this field for 25 years, doing business decently in Kerala. Usually, employees in the IT field quit their companies after 10 years. But our colleagues have stayed on through this entire period. Those who have been with us for more than 10 years have become shareholders of Invis Multimedia. In short, 45 % of the shares of the company are in the hands of its employees. It is not a monopoly capitalist company. I have only 10-12 % share in it. If I do not get my salary next month, I will be in dire straits. That is how we work.
If cheating had been our motive, we could have started some other business. But we believe in total sincerity in whatever we do. The company sustains nearly 100 families directly and more than 200 indirectly, within the state of Kerala. This includes tax benefits to the government too. Therefore my humble request (I’m not so conceited as to give advice) to journalists is to verify facts before filing reports. Instead, what happened here was that a man was first branded a fraud. No sensible questions that would elicit detailed replies were asked. A news report was filed and given wide publicity. This caused a lot of damage to our image. But since we have this platform, we are able to repair the harm. And since several papers had written positive stories about us, some of you may believe what we say. Others may pay a visit directly and see the truth for themselves. If all the other media had filed such a report without seeing things for themselves, they would surely have caused irreparable damage.
Let me add one more point. This news report carried a very negative reference to Nature’s Green Guardian Foundation (NGGF), insinuating that as an NGO working from the residence of its Secretary, it is of dubious quality. What we need to know for a fact is that most of the NGOs in Kerala operate from the residences of the President or Secretary concerned. Only five-star NGOs have their own office buildings. They either receive financial support from overseas or have made a lot of money through several years of work. Certainly, there are NGOs that have worked in an exemplary fashion within India and made enough money to afford their own offices. But most small NGOs in the field of environment protection, work from the residences of their office-bearers, with their letterheads. That is all they can afford.
This particular NGO – NGGF – has a special feature. Its President is Prof. V. K. Damodaran, and precisely for that reason, many people interested in its concerns are its members. Prof. Damodaran was one of the frontline leaders of the Silent Valley agitation in Kerala, and has been active in the field for 50 years now. The NGGF members spent money from their own pockets to plant trees at the Shankhumugham beach 10 years back, and the trees stand strong even today. Their methodology is different from ours but it was their interest in this area that inspired us to join hands with them, and take the project forward. More importantly, colleges in Kerala have initiated a system called the Green Audit.
As part of voluntary work, Prof. Damodaran and NGGF are responsible for training both teachers and students of colleges in conducting green audits. I myself participated in such classes at Kothamangalam and Kuttikanam. There were about 450 participants, including students and teachers, at the camp in Kothamangalam. Prof. Damodaran’s level of dynamism has come down only now, due to the COVID situation. The news reporter I spoke about was not ready to climb the hilly plot at Puliyarakonam. I can understand her difficulty. But the 80-year-old Professor climbed it three or four times, in order to study the Miyawaki technique. The height we climb in five or ten minutes is a 20-minute ordeal for him. Yet he came here to verify facts for himself before agreeing to co-operate with us. Therefore, I feel it is not right to childishly dismiss an NGO solely because it operates from the residence of its Secretary or Director.
All that the reporter had to do was find out what we are up to and what our track record has been. And there are so many ways to find out facts! A direct phone call to Prof. Damodaran is enough to ascertain what his organization is involved in, and to check whether there is anything fraudulent about working from the CEO’s residence with an office nameboard fixed at the gate. What happened in this case was that all except the relevant questions were asked, and a report was immediately dashed off claiming to have revealed a hoax. This has become a terrible bane in Kerala.
The reason I say all this is because I have undergone formal training in journalism, and have a Master’s degree to my credit. I earned First Class and Second Rank too, and in 1991 qualified the NET in Mass Communication and Journalism, with JRF. Later, I practised as a lawyer at the High Court for two years. When I bade goodbye to all that and entered the field of small-scale business enterprise, it was quite a challenge because Kerala was not known for providing a favourable environment for commercial ventures. I wanted to break that image and prove that it was possible to do business in Kerala. I did not have any private capital. I sought loans from many people, and brought many people together to work with. Perhaps nothing more needs to be said. I can speak long about trees, and if you have doubts about planting trees, or the cost involved in planting them, I am ready to share whatever information I have.
My repeated request is that you share this channel with as many people as possible. The continued success of this channel is crucial to the success of the Miyawaki project. This channel holds all the videos of all the forests we have created, because we have always maintained transparency in our activities. We prepare and upload these videos at our expense. The Shankhumugham project is run on people’s money, and this video is meant to convince people of its transparency. Please watch this and send to as many people as you can. We request your help in this regard.