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A forest in my backyard

Shubhendu dreamed of integrating homes and forests.

Shubhendu dreamed of integrating homes and forests.  

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Over the last four years, Shubhendu Sharma’s Afforestt has created urban forests all over India, and now even in Oman, giving a new lease of life to native trees

We urban dwellers living in high rise apartments don’t have space for enchanted woods and can only dream of green. But, like they say, every problem has a solution. Shubhendu Sharma’s startup Afforestt, a “for profit social enterprise” has been making efforts over the last four years to bring the forest into people’s homes and offices, integrating an open source model with his green thumb.

His deal? Give him 1,000 square feet of land and he’ll give you a fairly maintenance-free mini forest filled with hardy native trees in your backyard or garden in about three years. “I like to see homes and forests integrated,” says the shy Shubhendu Sharma, industriously walking about Bengaluru’s famous shared office space Jaaga, where he works with his four-member team.

Since 2011, when he started Afforestt, Shubhendu has worked on 48 projects, planting 53,000 trees across 14 cities, from “Delhi to Trivandrum,” he smiles. He shows several pictures of a home, where a forest skirts an entire lawn in Whitefield. One of his latest projects was in Muscat, Oman. He’s also delivered a TED talk on “How to grow a tiny forest anywhere”.

He was charmed by the Miyawaki method or technique that he came across when he was an automobile engineer with Toyota in Bengaluru. The technique was created by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki and stresses on natural restoration of land using indigenous or native plant species. Shubhendu talks of how, with this method, up to 30 times more trees can be planted in the same area, as compared to conventional plantation techniques, and it grows 10 times faster, and can be chemical fertilizer-free.

Miyawaki himself had set up an urban forest for Toyota, and Shubhendu was on the team that worked with Miyawaki on the site. “I am an automobile engineer. I am from Nainital in Uttarakhand. I studied engineering in Hubli and then joined Toyota in Bengaluru. When I saw the forest in Toyota grow, I felt I wanted to do this. No one else was working on anything like this. I grew a forest in my home in Nainital based on this method, and it worked! I had even measured mean afternoon temperatures in summer in my house and it was lower by five degrees because of the trees. I wanted to do more of this. So I started Afforestt.”

Factories, homes, organic farmers, apartment complexes – have all been clients in Bengaluru.

“We get the owners involved in the project from the sapling planting stage so that they take care and responsibility from day one,” he says. “In and around Bengaluru the common trees we plant are neem, nerale, honge, nellikai, ala…” he rattles off. “We also try to plant fruit-bearing trees so that it’s easier to pluck fruit than buy juice.” He rues, though, that no nursery sells native species now, because no one wants to buy them. Those who want to buy native species, don’t know which they are, he adds.

Once he’s hired for the project, the team does a soil survey, a native species survey for the area, sapling preparation, soil preparation and finally plant it with the community. “Native trees grow on self-sustenance. We create a micro-climate for it to grow faster and penetrate its roots better; rice husk is one of the main materials we use in soil preparation. Once the sapling absorbs more nutrition, it competes with the neighbouring trees for light and grows taller. Within the first eight months of planting, sunlight stops reaching the ground; as a consequence water gets retained in the soil. Fallen leaves become mulch…It’s all cyclical.”

He says it will cost approximately Rs. 3.5 lakh for a customer to set up a 1,000 square foot space from scratch, and it can be completed within a span of 10 days. He also tries to source all material within 100 kilometres from the site of work.

“Now we are also developing a database and a ‘grower bot’ thanks to open source technology; I can use a 3D printer in my office to print some of these parts! The bot, once planted in the soil gives us real-time tracking of moisture content of soil, the light and humidity levels etc. So I know what’s happening and we can even work towards a self-watering forest. We are also doing species mapping and will soon open it up to people.”

To know more check www.afforestt.com

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Printable version | Jul 19, 2018 2:50:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/a-forest-in-my-backyard/article7109217.ece