Miyawaki & Syntropic

Miyawaki Method, Syntropic Agriculture and The Biggest Mini Forest

Our approach uses some principles of the Miyawaki method and some others from Syntropic regenerative agriculture. In this article we want to introduce you to both methods and to some of the details about each of them that we have adopted.

Miyawaki Method

The Biggest Mini Forest - Aerial Picture of a Tiny Forest Plantation using the Miyawaki Method - Before and After

Miyawaki Forest Implemetation - before and after

The Miyawaki Method is a reforestation technique developed by Japanese botanist Dr. Akira Miyawaki. It focuses on creating dense, native forests in a short period, promoting biodiversity and environmental benefits. It is focused on recovering degraded land and ecosystems.

The Miyawaki Method is a reforestation technique designed to rapidly establish native forests in a short timeframe. The approach involves meticulous planning, dense planting, and nurturing diverse plant species from different forest layers, all aimed at mimicking the structure and biodiversity of natural forests. Unlike traditional afforestation, this method prioritizes the growth of native trees, shrubs, and other vegetation, fostering biodiversity and ecological resilience.

Key principles of the Miyawaki Method include rigorous soil preparation, ensuring optimal conditions for plant growth, and high-density planting with at least three species per square meter. The selection of plant species is focused on indigenous species, specific to the local ecosystem, promoting adaptation and resilience. The method encourages randomness in planting, allowing nature to dictate the development of the ecosystem.

Once established, the Miyawaki forest is designed to be self-sustaining, requiring minimal external inputs. The method aims to create vibrant, multilayered ecosystems resembling natural forests, contributing to environmental conservation and climate change mitigation.

Outputs from a Miyawaki forest include various ecological benefits such as enhanced biodiversity, improved soil health, and carbon sequestration. While not primarily focused on food production, the Miyawaki Method plays a crucial role in ecosystem restoration, providing long-term benefits for both nature and communities.

Syntropic Agriculture

Agroforestry implemented following Syntropic Agriculture principles

Agroforestry created using Syntropic Agriculture principles

Syntropic Agriculture, pioneered by Ernst Götsch, is a revolutionary approach to agroforestry that aims to create a highly productive and self-sustaining ecosystem mimicking natural succession. Developed with meticulous planning, this method involves planting different species in organized lines, strategically combining elements from various forest layers, each with specific sunlight requirements. The design considers factors such as the lifespan of each species, sunlight needs, regrowth patterns after pruning, and plant size throughout the time.

The planting includes a range of species, from 'placenta' (fast-growing, short-lived species) to shrubs, understory, and canopy trees, carefully selected based on their lifespan categories (placenta, secondary, and climax species). The 'placenta' species play a crucial role in establishing optimal conditions for the growth of more demanding species. Planting lines are orchestrated to ensure each plant receives the required sunlight, fostering a balanced and productive environment.

Syntropic Agriculture is designed to be a versatile, production-oriented method that eliminates the need for external fertilizers. It offers a spectrum of outputs, including fruits, berries, vegetables, timber, and fibers. By using principles derived from natural ecosystems, Syntropic Agriculture becomes a resilient and regenerative practice, contributing not only to sustainable food production but also to the restoration and enrichment of the broader environment.

The Biggest Mini Forest - Mini Food Forest implementation after one month at Sintropia Temperada.

Mini Food Forest 1 month after implementation at Sintropia Temperada

Miyawaki Method and Syntropic Agriculture in the Mini Food Forests 

Here's how the Miyawaki Method and the Syntropic farming relates or differs the approach of the Mini Food Forests:

Soil Preparation

Miyawaki: Creating nutrient-rich soil with a mix of organic matter to support rapid plant growth. The initial soil preparation needs the soil decompacted up to one-meter-deep or more, lots of organic materials (compost, well-rotted manure, or other organic materials).

Syntropic: The plantation is usually organized in lines and utilizes techniques to enhance soil structure, promoting natural fertility and microbial activity. No deep decompaction is typically performed.

Our Approach: We follow the same soil preparation of the Miyawaki Method. Instead of lines, we work in blocks of 2m x 2m for the perennial plants plus 0.5m around it for the annual plants. The soil preparation is focused on enhancing soil fertility that involves an initial decompaction between 0.5m to 1m deep of the whole area to encourage root growth, microorganisms development and water retention. However, we would always encourage you to create your Mini Forest even if you cannot reach the desirable depth.

Species Selection

Miyawaki: This method focuses on using only indigenous from plant species that are well-adapted to the local environment, enhancing biodiversity, but species selection has no direct aim to produce food.

Syntropic: Emphasizes a mix of annual and perennial species, together in the same planting line with cover crops and biomass production plants between lines. That includes indigenous, exotic and food production species from different parts of the world that may adapt well and that combined in an agroforestry design help the system to develop. This aims to create a dynamic system, with constant organic matter production and yields from as early as one month up to hundreds of  years.

Our Approach: Due to climate change and soil degradation, some of the indigenous species, in certain areas, do not thrive as they used to. So we do not focus only on using indigenous species, as Miyawaki does. We use those that work better in the climate conditions we have nowadays, those that can provide us food and that can more quickly create a resilient and biodiverse ecosystem, bringing back the conditions that the indigenous species need to thrive again.

Instead of mixing the perennial with the annual species like Syntropic Agriculture, we have them separated. Cover crops, such as lentils, or fava beans, can be added to the perennial species area, to fixate nitrogen and reduce spontaneous plant germination. Once the annual species grows around the perennial species part, they create a microclimate and a sun and wind protection of the perennial species that can be beneficial to the whole system. Another advantage of having them separated is that we may have less maintenance work needed. 

A Biodiverse Plant Selection

Miyawaki: At least 3 types of indigeneous plant species which correspond to 3 forest layers: canopy, understory and shrub.

Syntropic: Promotes biodiversity through a wide selection of plants, from different forest layers and sunlight exposure needs, including indigenous and exotic plants from different parts of the world.

Our approach: As the Miyawaki method, we also try to have at least 3 different forest layers in a slightly different way: canopy layer, understory layer, low layer (shrubs, herbaceous, rhizosphere and ground cover layers). In which we try to bring a more diverse number of species from the low layers of the forest.

High Density Planting:

Miyawaki: Planting a variety of native species very close together, creating a dense and multilayered forest. At least 3 per square meter, which means one tree every 60cm. It can go up to 12 species per square meter. They will compete for light which promotes fast growth. 

Syntropic: Depending on the agroforestry design, it can use a very dense planting approach, on the implementation lines. It can even go up to one plant every 5cm. In many cases it also uses seed and cuttings to increase the density and the biodiversity of the system. In syntropic agriculture, the system is designed always focusing on cooperation between the different plants.

Our approach: We follow a similar plant density approach to the Miyawaki method. However, we like to consider fast growth from a collaborative standpoint, as different species from various forest layers create the best conditions for each other in terms of shade/light, wind protection, and supplying more exudates (sugars) to the soil microbiology - all of which promote the rapid growth of the system.

In many cases, apart from using seedlings, we can easily increase the density and biodiversity of our implementations by also adding seeds and cuttings. This can be very important for the resilience of your system and for your next Mini Food Forest implementations.

If all the cuttings and seeds succeed, you can transplant some of them to your next Mini Food Forest. Additionally, you can perform chop and drop whenever it becomes too dense to feed the soil with organic materials, promote nutrient cycling, increase light penetration into the system, and prioritize the species you want to promote further, thereby accelerating the overall development of your Mini Food Forest.

Number of species: 

Miyawaki: 30 species is the minimum number according to Miyawaki to reach a good level of biodiversity and resilience.

Syntropic: There’s no rule defined for a minimum or maximum number of species that should be used. It just defends that the higher the number of the species, the more biodiverse and resilient it will be, but the more complex and difficult to manage it can become.

Our approach: 3 species per m² is the minimum we use, which makes a minimum of 12 species in total in a Mini Forest. However, we recommend you to use more in order to diversify the species you use in different 2m x 2m plots to increase the resilience of the system. Don’t forget to use at least 2 edible species per square meter, in order to create the food sovereignty we want to achieve with this model. 

Plantation size:

Miyawaki: 12 m² (4m x 3m) is the minimum recommended size from Miyawaki to have a more resilient and biodiverse system. 

Syntropic: There is no minimum size defined, but there are syntropic agriculture implementations of just a few square meters up to several hundreds of hectares.

Our approach: We follow our model of 4m² (2m x 2m) for the perennial species and a stripe of 50cm around it for what we call the Veggies Wall. That mean that right after implementation we have 9m², but after collecting all the annual plants, we leave behind 4m² of forest. The implemented area can and should be extended creating a more resilient and biodiverse system with every new implementation done next to it.

Plantation Design:

Miyawaki: Miyawaki recommends planting at least 30 different species from 3 forest layers randomly, and let nature decide what happens in the system.

Syntropic: Utilizes a design approach that mimics natural forest succession, in which edible species are planted together with non-edible species. It requires a  meticulous design, considering factors such as the lifespan of each species, sunlight needs, regrowth patterns after pruning, and the eventual size of the plants throughout the time. The plant selection encompasses what is termed 'placenta'—fast-growing, short-lived species, alongside shrubs, understory, and canopy trees, from different categories depending on its lifespan (primary, secondary, and climax species).

Our approach: The position of each plant in the Mini Forest block, is thought to take in consideration the accessibility to harvest fruit, maintenance and pruning, sun exposure needs, the wind, the cold and heat tolerance of the plants we use. Which means plants that do not tolerate shade like thyme or oregano, will be placed in the south or south-west part of the Mini Forest. Papaya that can more likely suffer with wind and cold will be placed in the middle. An orange tree that likes to receive more sun in the morning will be placed in the east or south-east side of the Mini Forest.


Miyawaki: The Miyawaki method defends that we should allow natural processes to take over after initial planting, fostering a self-sustaining ecosystem, without any intervention except irrigation and weeding until the forest is well established which might be during the first 2 to 3 years.

Syntropic: The maintenance of a Syntropic Agriculture system may include, plant and fruit harvest, cycling pruning in which all the biomass cut is used to feed the soil through shop and drop in loco, or after shredded, encouraging the nutrient cycling, water retention and higher sunlight exposure of the lower layers of the system, increasing the overall photosynthesis. It also does “selective weeding”, removing plants which have fulfilled their function in the system. According to the design and the climatic and soil condition, irrigation can be applied or not.

Our approach: We follow the same approach in terms of weeding and irrigation until the forest is well established and resilient as the Miyawaki Method, but we also do pruning and shop and drop to accelerate whole process of building soil, creating a resilient system and direct the system giving priority to the species that we want to keep in it for mid and long term. Selective weeding is also something that can be performed, removing the species that have fulfilled their function.

Keywords: Miyawaki Method, Syntropic Agriculture, Afforestation, Native Species, Dense Forest, Fast-growing Forest, Diverse Forest, Regenerative Agriculture, Natural Ecosystems, Biodiversity, Soil Health, Carbon Sequestration, Degraded Land, Climate Change.