Aga Khan Foundation
India · 16 May 2023 · 4 min
The impacts of the climate crisis are multifaceted. From the degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity to more frequent natural disasters and warming temperatures, the ecological challenges of this crisis are fuelling poverty and socioeconomic vulnerability, particularly for those who rely on the environment to make a living. We need climate solutions that can be managed by communities themselves, and which respond to both the environmental and socioeconomic challenges of our changing world.
Micro-forests are small, dense, biodiverse forests that grow fast in urban and rural areas alike. Through the GROW initiative, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) is on a mission to plant thousands of micro-forests with communities around the world to boost biodiversity, support livelihoods and build climate resilience.
Explore this photo essay to learn why we believe in the power of micro-forests as an emerging climate solution, reaping benefits for people and planet.
Micro-forests are just like regular forests but grow much more rapidly and occupy much smaller areas of land. In fact, micro-forests can be as small as 100 square metres. AKF planted this micro-forest six months ago at its office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in collaboration with community volunteers and students from local Aga Khan Schools.
Indigenous plant species are planted densely in a small area of land. Within just a few months, a micro-forest begins to take shape. In this micro-forest in Dar es Salaam, you'll find more than 25 species of plants including fig trees, banana trees and hibiscus flowers. This is the minimum number of species for a micro-forest, but the limits are endless – some are home to more than 100 different types of plants.
After one to two years, micro-forests reach their optimum height and density, functioning much like regular forests, which can take five, 10 or even 20 years to grow fully. This micro-forest in Madhya Pradesh, India – planted by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme – is four years old.
The environmental benefits of micro-forests are vast: they revitalise ecosystems and stimulate biodiversity, from soil microorganisms and insects to large vertebrates like reptiles, amphibians and birds. Micro-forests also regenerate water and soil and create micro-climates – if you spend time under a micro-forest's canopy or in its close vicinity, you’ll feel the average temperature drop by 7-10°C, and breathe in purified air.
Naveen Patidar, CEO of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, India
Crucially, micro-forests also act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and slowing down global warming. Their rich density and biodiversity mean that micro-forests do this five times more effectively than traditional reforestation efforts, which usually involve planting only one type of tree.
For communities, micro-forests provide food, medicine, fodder, timber and natural dyes, at the same time improving livelihoods and boosting local economies. In this one-year-old micro-forest in India, local communities are harvesting papaya to eat and sell.
Over the last few years, AKF has been working with communities across the world to plant these small but mighty forests in both urban and rural settings, from Tanzania to Tajikistan. This micro-forest planted by local communities living in the remote and mountainous Rasht Valley of central Tajikistan lies 1,800 metres above sea level.
In Afghanistan's dry mountain climate, droughts have been increasing in intensity year on year as a result of climate change, exacerbating existing socioeconomic insecurity. In this challenging context, we’re partnering with communities – and particularly women – to plant micro-forests. Worldwide, women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, so it’s critical that they are involved in the ways to tackle it.
Humaira Daniel, Climate Change Science Specialist, AKF
At Nzasa Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Madam Lusajo Chanya has been teaching her students in the one-year-old micro-forest planted on the school grounds. This is just one of nearly 400 micro-forests that we’ve helped plant across eight countries using more than 120,000 plants, responding to the climate crisis in collaboration with the communities who are most affected by it.
Go to The Learning Hub to learn how to plant your own micro-forest in 10 simple steps and watch our webinar about the power of micro-forests.