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Tiny seedballs sow new trees in bare land

Teddy Kinyanjui is greening Kenya in a unique way. He is bombing dry regions with seeds that will eventual sprout and increase Kenya’s forest cover

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

Planting a tree is a process. Ideally, it starts with sowing a seed that grows into a seedling, digging holes, transplanting and consistent watering. However, an innovative concept popularly known as seed bombing is eliminating the tedious process and injecting fun to tree planting.

Whether it’s tossing seeds from aircraft, launching them from a catapult or manually broadcasting, the versatility of seed bombing abounds.

The tree-planting technique that’s helping in afforestation in Kenya was first introduced into the country by Teddy Kinyanjui two years ago. Kinyanjui, founder Cookswell jikos, an energy-saving jikos company, had spent many years researching on the most effective ways for dryland reforestation.

The research had led him to grow tree woodlots for charcoal to compliment the jikos venture. But seeing healthy trees that randomly grew alongside Kenyan roads got him questioning his tree-planting method.

“I came across many acacia trees along the road during long drives across the country about five years ago. Surprisingly, these trees that were not planted or watered by anybody seemed to be doing better than those planted in the woodlots,” he adds.

On researching further, Kinyanjui found out that trees that grew from direct seeding had better chances of survival compared to seedlings due to a better developed root system.

The seeds that grew by the roadsides were those washed into rivers during rains. They would then rest in river shores and end up along the roads through building sand. For dryland areas where charcoal-making trees were mostly grown, direct seeding was also an easier and cheaper option.

“One would not incur the cost of buying a seedling, digging holes and watering,” he says.  He, however, realised that seeds broadcast were prone to predators such as birds and insects.

Two years ago, Kinyanjui in partnership with Elsen Karstad, Director Chardust Limited came up with the idea of encapsulating seeds in charcoal dust to protect them from damage by insects, birds, sunlight and heat.

Elsen, an ecologist with a background in engineering designed a seed-ball production machine to facilitate mass production.  Each seedball contains one seed. The duo is involved in production and distribution of seed-balls coated in biochar.

“Charcoal dust is a preferred medium of coating the seeds since it’s porous, thus can allow water and air to pass through.  Use of charcoal dust promotes seed to ash cycle and ensures that old trees are used to grow new ones,” explains Kinyanjui.  The medium is also rich in minerals that nourish the seed.

If exposed to the ideal conditions, broadcasted seeds have a high chance of germination. Germination rate of seedballs is estimated at between 10 and 90 per cent depending on the tree species, conditions and the ecosystem.

Seedballs do not necessarily need to be broadcast during rainy seasons as they can remain intact for more than two years until rains come.

The seedballs can be dropped through aerial bombing (from aircraft), thrown using catapults or manually broadcast. Aerial bombing has the biggest impact on tree planting with the potential of broadcasting 1,000 seeds per minute.

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