Location: Kochi

Duration: 2020 – Ongoing

Typology of the project: Urban Grove

Scale of the Project: City

About the project:

The Kawaki (“to make a grove” in Malayalam) initiative, a scientific, and community-led urban greening approach was launched by Kochi Municipal Corporation (KMC) with the technical support of WRI-India in 2020 to build community resilience against the growing risks of urban heat islands and flash floods in Kochi city. This initiative was implemented under the Cities4Forests program in Kochi.

Under the project, multiple Kawaki (urban groves) sites were selected and developed in the city through a scientific process. The project has been implemented and is being nurtured by multiple stakeholders including educational institutions, public department offices, resident associations and community representatives.

This engagement has resulted in community resilience against urban heat and flooding through creation of nature-based solutions with additional benefits of social wellbeing- by planting over 1200 native tree saplings, creating recreational green spaces, ecosystem restoration of urban grooves as well as green livelihood opportunities to low-income communities, especially women workers engaged in maintaining the sites. In 2022, KMC included Kawaki initiative in its municipal budget, further mainstreaming this initiative and bolstering its sustainability.


  • Demonstrate a model of community led – science-based, scalable nature-based solutions for heat as well as flood mitigation in Kochi
  • Showcase multiple methodologies of urban tree planting including block planting, waterway planting, roadside aisle planting and perimeter planting, suitable for sites of different sizes and shapes
  • Promote and educate through demonstration the relevance of diverse, native tree species in climate change mitigation
  • Demonstrate synergy between conserving open spaces and creating green spaces by developing a model of urban forestry that serves both purposes

Project Implementation and activities:

A data-based and community-centric approach was adopted for the Kawaki project, which included a systematic process as follows

  • Data-based site selection: As a first step, a climate vulnerability geo-spatial map of Kochi was prepared. About 26% of the city’s population lives within flood plains, while another 31 % of the city’s population is exposed to temperatures above 30 °C during summer. A total of about 7.3% of the population is vulnerable to flood and heat risk. These localities were prioritised for the project.
  • Mapathon: A mapathon event was organised in Kochi to identify the suitable localities within the priority neighbourhoods for the Kawaki projects. Multiple stakeholders including public representatives, institutions, businesses, NGOs, residents associations, social workers, government representatives and students were invited to participate.
  • The Kawaki challenge: KMC launched ‘The Kawaki Challenge’ to invite stakeholders to welcome institutions and other private stakeholders to join the Kawaki initiative by offering space where Kawaki forests would be developed. The challenge received very positive feedback from the citizens
  • Site inspection and selection: The sites identified by overlaying the geospatial maps and results of mapathon were inspected by the project team with a team of subject experts to identify scope of planting, preparations required and the type of trees required
  • Stakeholder sensitisation meetings: In selected suitable locations, stakeholder consultation meetings were conducted to ensure community participation in preparing and nurturing of the Kawaki sites. In private properties, the group discussions also involved convincing the stakeholders for developing the Kawaki sites. Example: Private schools
  • Site preparation: The selected sites were cleared of debris and weeds and pit was prepared with base layers of compost and red soil as needed. Each site required specific pit preparations as recommended by experts, based on soil and water conditions.
  • Tree planting and tree guard preparation: Tree saplings were planted by the regional stakeholders and tree guards were installed on all open public sites to prevent grazing animals and vandalisam. The stakeholders were capacitated to make low cost and efficient tree guards as well.
  • Long term nurturing and maintenance: For Kawaki sites in private properties, capacity building was provided to the respective stakeholders for maintenance. An agreement was formed with the Kerala state urban employment mission, through the involvement of KMC to nurture the saplings and safeguard the Kawaki sites at public properties by utilising the Self Help Groups (SHGs) in each locality.

Implementing partners:

Partnerships with three local institutions bolstered effective action, inclusion, and equity: 

  • Center for Heritage, Environment & Development (c-hed) : This institution registered under KMC, was the core agency handholding all communications with the urban local body required for the project. The organization’s experience in implementing government projects in the city provided valuable inputs in bringing multiple stakeholder on board for the project.
  • Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) : Engaging their expertise in evidence-based planting and scientific planting (native species, site-species match) resulted in effective sensitization among various stakeholder groups, including local administrators, citizens and school children. 
  • Kudumbashree : Involving the members of Kudumbashree in the Kawaki initiative helped to ensure equity and inclusion in the greening initiatives, further strengthened by the support received under the Ayyankali Mission, which is employing unskilled women laborers to maintain the Kawaki sites, until the planted saplings achieve complete growth. 

Source of Finance:

  • CAPEX cost: A Kawaki site (urban groove) containing 100 tree saplings developed in an area measuring 400 sq.m in Kochi will cost roughly INR 15,000 (Including site clearance, pit preparation, manure, 2-month-old tree saplings, and temporary nature-based tree guard/fencing). Plantings in open spaces requires a basic 4 feet (above the ground) tall tree guard (8g metal body, 2x2inch netting) that will cost roughly another INR 700 per tree sapling
  • OPEX cost: The labour charges for maintenance of the site costs roughly INR 2500 per month in Kochi

Challenges addressed:

  • Stakeholder interest and participation: The community led-model of urban greening requires intense stakeholder participation for getting space, plantation and nurturing. The project components of intense sensitisation of local stakeholders at the initial planning phases of the project and inviting involvement at each step and the competitive nature of each site ensure participation and ownership of multiple stakeholders
  • Long term maintenance of site and nurturing of saplings: Urban forestry projects require long term maintenance until the tree saplings mature to form a canopy. Intense sensitisation and capacity building was provided to private stakeholders and an agreement was formed with the Kerala state urban employment mission (Ayyankali mission), through the involvement of KMC to nurture the saplings and safeguard the Kawaki sites at public properties by utilising the Self Help Groups (SHGs) in each locality.



  • Over 12 barren lands were converted into Kawakis with potential to become lush green covered recreational spaces
  • Over 1200 native tree saplings planted and being nurtured by regional stakeholders. The trees contribute to ecological benefits of local climate regulation, heat mitigation, creating natural drain sinks & flood prevention
  • The Kawaki sites ensure conservation of green spaces that house diverse species and trees that become home to variety of animals, birds and insects, promoting native biodiversity whereas also doubling up as open spaces for the neighbourhood for recreational activities.


  • The demonstrated Kawaki model of tree planting created awareness and capacity among regional stakeholders on data based, community led and low-cost urban forestry model, which was accepted and taken up for city wide scale up by Kochi Municipal Corporation.


  • Creation of Kawaki sites and its nurturing provide green jobs. The inclusion of nurturing of Kawaki sites under the Ayyankali Employment Scheme (Urban employment scheme) ensured creation of green jobs for Self Help Group in Kochi

Outcomes of the intervention or project:

  • The Kawaki interventions will benefit close to 60,000 residents across different neighborhoods by providing ecological benefits and climate resilience capacity.
  • It also provide skill development and employment to 100+ women, over a period of 3 years, through the Self Help Groups associations under the commitments of Ayyankali mission.
  • A guidance document for disaster management and building a climate resilient Kochi was developed by KMC with technical support of WRI-India that describes Kawaki as a critical strategy for creating long term climate resilience in the city.
  • Kawaki interventions and sensitizing school children is enabling outreach to the next generation.

Lessons Learnt:

  • The need assessment study need to be conducted to design the nature based solution model and sensitisation of the benefits needs to be conducted to receive regional stakeholder acceptance for the project
  • Urban forestry projects need to include regional stakeholder participation and capacity building to ensure nurturing of the planted saplings and their nourishment.
  • Budgeting of social forestry projects should holistic including subject expert site inspection and species selection, site clearance, pit preparation, sapling plantation, adequate tree guard design and installation, nurturing saplings till maturity, site maintenance and capacity building as required

Scalability and replicability potential and conditions for success:

The Kawaki project successfully demonstrated an urban forestry model that can deliver climate resilience as well as other co-benefits to its nearby neighbourhoods. With the proper political will, data analysis and stakeholder involvement, the project can be scaled up to other climate vulnerable neighbourhoods in Kochi. The same strategy can be adopted in other rapidly urbanising cities for developing green spaces in minimal spaces.

KMC has already included Kawaki project in its 2021-22, 2022-23 & 2023-24 projects for scale up in the city. The draft Kochi city master plan for 2031 also mentions Kawaki as a scalable model of urban greening in the city.

Additional Information:


Achu Sekhar, Program Manager – Urban Planning & Disaster Resilience, WRI India

Email: achu.sekhar@wri.org