‘Seed Bombs’ to increase forest cover | Daily News

‘Seed Bombs’ to increase forest cover

Seed bombing is an aerial reforestation method in which the seed balls are dropped like bombs for growing the vegetation cover.
Seed bombing is an aerial reforestation method in which the seed balls are dropped like bombs for growing the vegetation cover.

Sri Lanka Air Force undertook a unique mission to drop ‘Seed Bombs’ in a forest reserve in the North Central region during an aerial operation on Wednesday (December 12). According to Air Force media, this operation was launched as a part of an ambitious project to restore and increase the forest cover of the country.

An Air Force Mi 17 Helicopter was utilized to drop approximately 5,000 ‘Seed Bombs’ over a five-acre land patch in the Ranorawa forest in Nochchiyagama. This project is a joint effort between the SLAF Command Agro Unit, the University of Peradeniya and, MAS Holdings.

The project aims to increase the forest cover of the country from the present 27% to 32% to achieve sustainable development goals by 2030. These ‘Seed Bombs’ included several varieties of trees like Karanda, Mee and Kumbuk and were made up of 48 different treatments/media compositions which would assist the germination and growth of the embedded seed after being scattered on the forest floor from air.

How Thailand is bombing seeds from planes to grow back its forests

In July 2013, Thailand began a five-year pilot project that utilised the aerial reforestation method to boost forest regeneration. Seeds from local plants including phayungs, makamongs and kaboks were dropped with the aim of regenerating a wildlife sanctuary in Phitsanulok province, transforming it into a healthy, green forest by 2017.

The idea of seed bombing first germinated in Japan with the ancient practice of “tsuchidango” or “earth dumpling.” In the 20th century, Masanobu Fukuoka, an advocate of “Do Nothing Farming,” popularised the idea. The earliest known record of seed bombing goes back to 1930, when planes were used to reforest certain areas in the mountains of Honolulu.

But the idea to adopt the seed farming on an industrial scale, to repopulate vast areas with trees, didn’t get the required attention until 1999, when the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin Aerospace planned to plant 900,000 young trees in a day. Their plan to use huge C-130 transport aircraft, normally used by the military for laying carpets of landmines across combat zones, was considered for Scotland – at half the cost of manual methods.

Re-planting a forest, one drone at a time

In the near future it could be a small fleet of drones, coming to replant and restore forests that have been stripped of trees by industrial-scale deforestation.

It’s all part of an ambitious plan by BioCarbon Engineering, a U.K.-based startup on a global mission to battle widespread clear-cutting, which strips more than 26 billion trees off the planet each year. CEO Lauren Fletcher, who spent 20 years as an engineer with NASA, says the only way to fight industrial-scale deforestation is with industrial-scale reforestation. Their idea: plant one billion trees a year. The first targets are in South Africa and the Amazonian jungles, both of which have suffered from widespread forest eradication.

BioCarbon’s reforestation scheme is simple and efficient. Here’s a quick look at how it plans to deploy its drone fleet:

1. Do a 3-D aerial survey. First, drones are sent to fly over a potential planting zone, snapping photos that create 3-D maps of the area to be reforested. The number of drones will vary depending up on the size of the seeding.

2. Create a seeding plan. Once all that terrain data has been analyzed, it then generates a seeding pattern that best suits the terrain.

3. Load the seed pods. The drones, which are equipped with guidance and control software, carry pressurized canisters of seed pods with germinated seeds immersed in a nutrient-rich gel.

4. Hover and plant. Flying at a height of 1 or 2 metres, the drones follow the planting patterns, firing the biodegradable seed pods down to the ground. The pods break open upon impact, allowing the germinated seed a chance to take root.

5. Monitor growth. After planting, the drones do low-level flights to assess the health of the sprouts and saplings.

Such “precision forestry,” as BioCarbon calls it, is extremely efficient. A farmer might hand plant as many as 3,000 seeds a day; Fletcher says his drones can drop up to 36,000 seed pods daily, often in areas where a human can’t reach. Working with local ecologists, BioCarbon will use the drones to spread a variety of tree species, as well as microorganisms and fungi designed to improve the soil quality. “The central focus is ecosystem restoration,” Fletcher says.

Fletcher sees the drones, which are commercially built by companies like Vulcan UAV and then modified, as an important way for existing reforesting organisations to expand their approach. “There are some times when planting by hand is absolutely the right approach,” he says. “But, in other instances, the drones can be a very effective tool for the right location at the right time.”

The full implementation will have a team of two operators running seven or eight drones simultaneously. Planting at about 10 pods per minute will equate to roughly 36,000 trees per day for each team. With 100 two-member teams—BioCarbon’s goal in the next 5-7 years—it expects to plant one billion trees a year over roughly 500,000 hectares.

BioCarbon has funding from the Skoll Foundation and recently was featured in Drones for Good competition in the United Arab Emirates. It plans to begin field testing by September, and its efforts can’t come fast enough. A new study published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) says that the rate of tropical deforestation has risen by 62 percent between the 1990s and 2000s. One reason is that tropical deforestation has become more devastatingly efficient, notes geographer Douglas Morton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “In the 60s, it was axes; in the 70s, chainsaws; and in the 2000s, it was tractors.” 

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