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A virtual Chipko movement for food forests in Indian cities

Posted by : Chetan Kulkarni , Boston , North America, Urban Designer
10 Jul, 2021 14:15:36

In March 1974, a group of women led by Gaura Devi wrapped their arms around tree barks to protect them from the logging contractors’ weapons, until they finally left after a four-day standoff. Nearly half a century after the ‘Chipko Andolan’—protests named after the daring tree-hug act; the initiatives for public vigilance of tree-clusters in urban areas of India remain poised to utilize tools of data analytics and informatics. How can people utilize technology that is part of their everyday life, to aid targeted outcomes for urban agriculture and microclimate improvements? Urban agriculture is an opportunity for people to engage with their tree environment, by learning nature-based vegetative patterns and innovating planting techniques. The challenges faced by cities in India around urban heat island effect, pollution of air, water and soil, water shortages and loss of green spaces, can be effectively resisted by planting new trees with a focus on indigenous species-type.
Any large-scale initiative for an urban food forest can engage smartphone-users of all ages and communities to digitally tag trees with their geospatial coordinates, to evolve a ground-truthed format of public tree survey. Layers of information that can be recorded by app-users to stay aware of tree history and health, benefits contributed, fruit yields, and costs borne to aid their health. Each digital tag would correlate the asset with the geographical coordinates of its source, in order to point out ‘priority-areas’ which necessitate increase in tree canopy, bringing back biodiversity, restoring land fertility, and raising the groundwater table. These tags would amass into the digital portal, forming a city-wide taxonomic inventory of trees, streams, and other natural resources. Beyond analytics, tree informatics would improve conditions through the application of tree-census data, species-related information and knowledge of conservation practices —scoring the efficacy of tree-care practices by the neighborhood.

In this manner, savvy internet-users could turn into adept landscape planners, where they design tree plans for their neighborhood, and map the diversity of species within tree clusters to identify areas for future plant yields. This celebration of food production into urban life by adopting trees and nurturing their growth, can serve growing demands for locally-sourced food to address regional diets and nutritional deficiencies. For this reason, open tree-portals, such as the Citizen Forester program in Melbourne and New York City Tree Map have encouraged public engagement through map-based infographic visualization of their urban tree-environment.


Therefore, a virtual ‘Chipko’ census could represent how all environmental assets collectively contribute to the health of the city-wide environment. If we can internalize tree-care efforts in our individual routines to pool efforts on to digital platforms, it can set a new polemic around tree advocacy. Almost half a century ago, the Chipko members stood their ground to keep a four-day vigil over trees from being axed. Today, the members of a ‘virtual’ Chipko Andolan can sustain an information-backed public vigilance to endure challenges posed to the natural environment of Indian cities.