Drone planting: why are up to 20% of our projects also carried out by hand?
Reforestation is essential to combat global warming and preserve our environment. At MORFO, we have developed a drone-based reforestation technology, using seed capsules, to restore forests rapidly and on a large scale.
Nevertheless, when accessibility and safety conditions allow, MORFO always includes between 10 and 20% manual planting in its restoration projects. Through this commitment, we are helping to structure and grow local NGOs and groups in favor of the forest.
In this article, we explain the advantages of these two planting methods and why they can be used together in a complementary way.
Planting by drone: undeniable technical advantages
Drone planting offers many "technical" advantages over manual planting.
First of all, planting speed is dramatically increased. Drones can plant up to 20 times faster than humans, enabling vast tracts of land to be covered in record time. Whereas a human can plant 1 hectare a day, a single drone can plant up to 50 hectares a day. This speed of planting means that large-scale reforestation objectives can be achieved more quickly.
What's more, the use of drones enables access to areas that are inaccessible or dangerous for humans. Our drones can reach steep terrain, remote regions or high-risk areas where humans could not work safely. They enable ecosystem restoration in places where reforestation would otherwise be impossible.
Finally,drones also provide valuabledata during the planting process, such as the geolocation of planted species, enabling better management and more effective monitoring of reforestation.
Planting by drone: an economic impact for the customer and for local residents
In economic terms, the use of drones also offers a number of advantages, both for the organization wishing to reforest, and for local populations.
On the one hand, for the organization wishing to reforest (an NGO, a government or a company), the costs associated with drone planting are usually lower. Our first reforestation experiments showed that the costs associated with drone planting were on average half those associated with manual planting. These low costs are explained in particular by the use of capsules (which do not require a nursery to grow the plans), by the drone's speed of action, and by the ability to replicate restoration projects in large numbers.
For local populations, planting by drone can also bring numerous economic benefits. Indeed, even if the planting is done by a drone (i.e. a machine), each drone is operated by a local operator, trained in its use. Above all, two complementary factors need to be taken into account:
Planting is just one stage in the reforestation process. Around this phase, many people can benefit from economic spin-offs for their work in preparing the land, collecting seeds, tending the soil after dropping the capsules, maintaining the forest... Thus, on our projects, 100% of the soil preparation phase is carried out by local people, often employed by NGOs. Similarly, 100% of post-planting maintenance is also carried out by local people.
- Planting is just one stage in the reforestation process. Around this phase, many people can benefit from economic spin-offs for their work in preparing the land, collecting seeds, tending the soil after dropping the capsules, maintaining the forest... Thus, on our projects, 100% of the soil preparation phase is carried out by local people, often employed by NGOs. Similarly, 100% of post-planting maintenance is also carried out by local people.
- Drone planting makes it possible to restore many more hectares, and therefore to hire many more people. Indeed, whereas manual planting is ideal for projects of less than 10 hectares, drone planting can be used for projects of several tens or hundreds of hectares. In so doing, the direct benefits in terms of the number of people employed are greater, as are the co-benefits: the appearance of additional resources in the forest, the development of flora and fauna, the addition of water resources, reduced erosion, and so on.
Find out more : WHY USE DRONES TO REFOREST?
Why work with manual planting?
At this point in our article, you may be wondering "Why reserve up to 20% of a forest's planting phase for manual planting, if drone planting offers so many advantages?"
It's important to stress that drones are not intended to replace humans. In every project, human intervention remains crucial at every stage, from terrain analysis to species selection, planting and monitoring ecosystem evolution.
The benefits of working with hand-planting projects include the following:
- Commitment to NGOs: Manual planting is often carried out by NGOs. By earmarking up to 20% of our projects for these NGOs, we support their development and strengthen their capacity to restore more hectares in the future. By working together, we can convince more people to get involved in bare land restoration by seeing the number of projects multiply.
- Social considerations: the timing of planting is often highly visible and followed locally. A recent study published in BioScience, conducted by Sara Löfqvist and colleagues at ETH Zurich, found that the effectiveness of ecosystem restoration projects can be improved by taking social and equity aspects into account.
- Complementarity and diversity of species: Hand planting allows us to plant plants that have been grown in nurseries. This makes it possible to introduce species that cannot be integrated into our capsules for various reasons such as size, low resistance to water stress, limited seed availability or poor conservation.
In short, by collaborating with hand planters, our restoration projects are more effective and sustainable.
A concrete example of how drone and manual planting complement each other
In collaboration with local stakeholders, our reforestation initiative in Miguel Pereira, in the northern state of Rio de Janeiro, was carried out in partnership withITPA, a renowned Brazilian organization with over two decades' experience in tree planting. The main aim of this initiative was to help restore the Atlantic Forest, one of the world's most seriously damaged ecosystems. ITPA has already achieved a remarkable feat in restoring over a million hectares of this forest.
In this 50-hectare project, we used drones to replant 75% of the area, while local people helped plant the remaining 25%. ITPA provided us with expertise on the Mata Atlantica biome, as well as access to a nursery for manual planting, also mobilizing local workers to carry out the planting.
Find out more about our partnerships :
Image source: Pedro Abreu & MORFO