For the first time in Sri Lanka, seed bombs were deployed by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) as a means of increasing forest density.
An initiative by MAS Holdings, the programme was implemented in Ranorawa Government Forest where karanda, mee, and kumbuk seeds were planted across five acres.
Around 5,000 seed balls were planted using a SLAF Mi-17 helicopter and the project is said to have been implemented in the hopes of increasing the island’s green cover from 27% to 32%.
The seed bombs, which are essentially seeds wrapped in soil materials, usually a mixture of clay and compost, are regarded as the most practical reforestation technique, and involves the depositing of premade “seed-balls” anywhere suitable for the plant species, keeping the seed safe until the proper germination window arises.
The project was further endorsed by the University of Peradeniya, most notably Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture Professor Pushpakumara, bringing in his expertise for the necessary seed combinations and further assisting in choosing the land in which the seed bombs were deposited.
We spoke to MAS Holdings Director Environmental Sustainability Sharika Senanayake, part of the organisation that was vital in getting this project off the ground, who shared how the project was initiated.
How the “seed-ball” project came to be
“Since 2015, MAS Holdings has had a biodiversity target, to try and see how we can engage in a restoration, reforestation project which would, in terms of scale, be a hundred times more than the space we occupy – a hundred times our presence in the island.
“Over the last two years, our first project was 1:1, last year it was 1:4, which amounts to nearly 1,000 acres, however, despite our ambitions, the process was very slow and costly.
“Sri Lanka too had a target they wished to achieve, which was about 30%, however attempting this via traditional methods would’ve been challenging.
“And so, we set out to look outward, internationally to see what everyone is doing, and as we were searching for inexpensive methods that were also efficient, we came across this particular process which promised to be quick, practical, and scientific.
“We could achieve our 2025 goals in a smaller, more comfortable scale.”
Collaborating with SLAF
“The Air Force has an agricultural unit, and that was our first stop.
“We arrived at the conclusion that if we were able to develop and execute the technology with the assistance of those with the biotechnological background, we could develop this internally.
“Following which, we could get the support of the Air Force and the forest department to give us the land.
“We felt as though we were able to provide a nation-minded and national solution to this restoration very quickly.”
“We targeted three types of plant species – wee, karanda, and kumbuk.
“We then considered the climatic and environmental conditions in the area in which we hoped to carry out the project.
“We came up with these three plant species as the project was conducted in the dry zone area, and they were native to these selected areas. The area we dropped the seed balls was an area which was previously used for chena cultivation.
“The process then involved seed treatments and media combinations that we came up with, including clay and coir dust, depending on the ratios necessary for germination.
“We further implemented biodiversity mapping to identify what seeds and what combinations work.”
Implementation and results
“Following the execution of the programme, we are now in the process of monitoring it, depending on its success rate, we will decide on its suitability.
“The SLAF’s involvement was essential as the kind of aircraft that was to be used was important; a drone wasn’t enough as it involved dropping a large number of seed balls at once.
“The seed itself is the size of a cricket ball, which is about 150 g, and so the aircraft used was the ideal capacity carrier for a mission of such nature. The ball was dropped freely with the aid of its own gravitational force and from a height of 350 metres.”
Sharika went on to confirm that MAS wishes to share this knowledge with everyone, encourage people to replicate and improve formulas and to conduct the process in any way, be it in an agricultural setting or residential environment, as vastly as possible.
By Chenelle Fernando and Dimithri Wijesinghe