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Explained: How aerial seeding is helping plantation in hard-to-access Aravalli regions

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The Haryana Forest Department has started aerial seeding across the state on a pilot basis, with the drive touching the Aravalli region of Faridabad district Wednesday.

Officials say this technique will allow plantation in sections of the Aravallis that are either difficult to access or inaccessible altogether, and the pilot project will help determine the effectiveness of the technology and the dispersal mechanism.

Before Faridabad, this method has been put to use in Yamunanagar and Mahendragarh earlier this month. Plantation on 100 acres will be undertaken using this method during the pilot project.

What is aerial seeding?

Aerial seeding is a technique of plantation wherein seed balls – seeds covered with a mixture of clay, compost, char and other components – are sprayed on the ground using aerial devices, including planes, helicopters or drones.

How does this technique work?

Seeds balls or seed pellets are dispersed in a targeted area by the low-flying drones, falling to the ground with the help of the coating of clay, compost, char and other material, that provides the required weight for seeds to drop on a predetermined location rather than disperse in the wind. These pellets will then sprout when there is enough rain, with the nutrients present within them helping in the initial growth.

What are the advantages of this technique? 

Areas that are inaccessible, have steep slopes, are fragmented or disconnected with no forest routes, making conventional plantation difficult, can be targeted with aerial seeding. Furthermore, the process of the seed’s germination and growth is such that it requires no attention after it is dispersed – the reason why seed pellets are known as the “fire and forget” way of plantation.

They eliminate the need for ploughing and digging holes in the soil and the seeds do not need to be planted, since they are already surrounded by soil, nutrients, and microorganisms. The clay shell of these pellets along with the other items in the mixture also protects them from birds, ants and rats.

What kind of species can be dispersed using aerial seeding?

The species selected have to be native to the area and hardy, with seeds that are of an appropriate size for preparing seedballs, and have to have a higher survival percentage. Officials also say that it is critical that the timing of the seeding be correct in order for the plantation to be successful.

Can this replace conventional plantation methods in the state?

According to Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Vinod Kumar, aerial seeding in Haryana is as of now being done only on a pilot basis, “to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology and the dispersal mechanism”.