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

31st May 2016
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According to a report in Anonymous, while the world’s forest cover is being unabashedly destroyed by industrial agriculture, cattle ranching, illegal logging and infrastructure projects, Thailand has found a unique way to repair its deforested land: by using a farming technique called seed bombing or aerial reforestation, where trees and other crops are planted by being thrown or dropped from an airplane or flying drone.

Image: Interesting Engineering
Image: Interesting Engineering

The tree cones are pointed and designed to bury themselves in the ground at the same depth as if they had been planted by hand. They contain fertiliser and a material that soaks up surrounding moisture, watering the roots of the tree. The containers are metal but rot immediately so the tree can put its roots into the soil.

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, maka mongs 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 “tsuchi dango” 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.

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