Engineer turned eco-entrepreneur Shubhendu Sharma, believes in growing forests in urban areas. The company that he founded, Afforestt, has created 77 natural micro-forests from empty land, in 25 cities and five countries. “Why should we wait for the government or NGOs to deal with the issue of depleting green cover, when we can do our bit for mother nature?” he reasons.
Sharma’s journey into urban forests began in 2008, when he was working as an engineer in Toyota. Japanese ecologist Akira Miyawaki, came to the Toyota factory, to plant an urban forest. Sharma, who volunteered for the cause, was inspired by the idea of bringing back self-sustainable native forests. Sharma then proceeded to create a forest in the backyard of his house in Nainital, with 300 trees.
Soon afterwards, he quit his job when he was still in his early twenties and in 2011, he founded Afforestt, a Bengaluru-based for-profit social enterprise.
Afforestt uses the Miyawaki technique, to create forests that grow 10 times faster than traditional ones, are 30 times as dense and a 100 times more bio-diverse. The Miyawaki process amplifies natural growth, with enriched soil, dense plantation and only uses native species of trees.
Advantages of urban forests
“Initially, I would do a lot of online marketing and participate in exhibitions, to convince clients. My first client was a German furniture manufacturing company that wanted to reduce its carbon footprint. Today, Afforestt has a team of eight people. We have created forests for resorts, hotels, schools, factories, individuals and architects in India. We have also grown urban forests in Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, the Netherlands and Pakistan,” says Sharma who is also an Ashoka and TED fellow.
Urban forests have several advantages – they provide oxygen, clean the air, reduce ambient temperature and also help to save water. Moreover, they also boost biodiversity, as they become home to various bird species, small animals and microorganisms. During monsoons, dense urban forests prevent rain water from evaporating. Thus, it serves as a natural method of rainwater conservation and improves the water table. While creating urban forests, Sharma and his team, start the project by surveying the soil and native tree species. This is followed by preparation of the sapling and the soil and finally, the plantation is undertaken with the help of the community.
How it is done
“Rice husk is the primary material used for soil preparation. Once the sapling absorbs nutrition, it competes with neighbouring trees for light and grows taller. In eight months, the trees would have grown sufficiently, to obstruct sunlight from reaching the ground. This reduces evaporation and water gets retained in the soil. Fallen leaves turn into natural mulch and provide nutrients,” Sharma explains.
The forest needs to be watered and weeds need to be taken care of, during the first three years, after which it becomes self-sustaining.
“To set up an urban forest of 1,000 sq ft from scratch, it will cost approximately Rs 3.5 lakh,” he elaborates. Sharma maintains that the company does not hesitate to share its knowledge with its clients, so that they can make urban forests on their own. “It’s high time we start doing something about the lost forests,” he insists.
When asked what keeps him motivated, the green crusader replies that “The flora, fauna, butterflies and birds, are a sight to behold. When I visit the land or see the photos of my work, it gives me a feeling of achievement and inspiration.”