Planting “Tiny Forests” – A Sustainable Solution to Deforestation

Deforestation is one of the topics for the 2015-2016 World of 7 Billion student video contest.

Can we combat global deforestation one person at a time, small plot by small plot? Maybe. In a 2014 TED Talk, Shubhendu Sharma, a former industrial engineer for Toyota, explains how individuals can plant “tiny forests” in backyards, schools, or any small plot. And while they’re not a perfect solution – think habitat fragmentation – they can still offer many of the eco-services of their larger counterparts.

One important characteristic of these tiny forests is their density. By using a wide variety of tree species with different growth patterns, heights, and canopies the forest utilizes 100 percent of the plot’s vertical space. Compared to traditional plantation, these tiny forests are 30 times denser; so dense that a person cannot walk through. And just how small of a space are we talking? Sharma claims that a 300-tree forest can thrive in the same area it would take to park just six cars.

Sharma also says these tiny forests can grow 10 times faster than traditional tree lots. But this has more to do with the care of the forest – after all, it’s easier provide specialized, constant attention to a 120 square foot plot than it is a hundreds acre lot. Tiny forests benefit by having the soil covered with grass or straw to hold in moisture. By using complimentary species local to the area, the trees are in their natural climate. Sharma’s first tiny forest was a lush ecosystem within two years.

These tiny forests seem to be an interesting solution to the global problem of deforestation, but are they a sustainable solution? Yes! Keeping water in the ground means less irrigation is needed. The tree species in each forest varies depending on the location to ensure local, native plants are used. The soil is treated with natural biomass as fertilizer, such as crushed coconut shells and rice straw, rather than anything chemically based. And through his company Afforestt, Sharma is taking the tiny forest concept to the masses. The production strategy is shared openly online and remote sensors and support helps people test their soil, track growth, and determine native species and local biomass for fertilizer.

Do these mini-forests solve all issues of deforestation? No, but they can be a step in the right direction – absorbing carbon dioxide, providing habitat for wildlife, and helping to keep soil healthy. So while tiny forests aren’t a perfect answer, let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees.