Why use drones to reforest?

January 12, 2023

Our company's solution MORFO is a multi-step reforestation process. In our projects, drones are a tool for scaling up on two levels: analysis and planting.

We use a first type of drone to analyze the parcels to be reforested.

Before planting, our teams analyze the soil and the characteristics of the area to be reforested. These analyses are carried out :

  • by field surveys and laboratory analyses to know the soils
  • by satellite imagery
  • by drone imagery: these images have a much more precise resolution and can be used at this stage

These analyses are then combined with our catalog of species produced in our laboratory. A planting scheme is then produced. The analysis drone can also be used, for example :

  • during planting, to geolocate the species present
  • after planting, to monitor the growth of the plants.

This drone model allows us to differentiate between the different forest strata, and thus to follow the growth of the whole vegetation in great detail, since we are not only planting trees, but complete plant ecosystems.

We have developed two models of drones for releasing planting capsules

We also use drones during the planting phase. We use agricultural drones capable of lifting fairly substantial loads and dispersing unique capsules that we have developed with public laboratories and scientists. These drones are large, about 1.50 meters in diameter. With our partners, we have developed dropping systems adapted to our capsules.

A single drone can handle up to 50 hectares per day, each capable of planting 180 bolls per minute on often steep and difficult to access terrain. The MORFO method allows for planting 50 times faster than a conventional reforestation solution, and without the need for months of nursery growth. They are conducted by pilots trained in our countries and regions of action (South America, Central Africa and Ecuador...).

"There are difficulties with implementation and access, difficulties with timing of planting. And all these difficulties are solved thanks to MORFO's technology". Robin Duponnois, Director of Research at IRD

A complementary and more secure solution than human planting

Several questions need to be asked:

  • Is planting by drones "better" than planting by humans?
  • Is it more efficient?
  • Does it replace humans?

In reality, humans and drones are complementary. One should not replace the other, nor live without the other.

Drones are more efficient. They plant between 20 and 100 times faster than humans. A single drone can treat up to 50 hectares per day and plant 180 bolls per minute.

Drones also reduce costs, by being up to 5 times cheaper, because of their speed of planting, but also because planting by drone avoids the structuring of a nursery and its maintenance for several months.

Drones are more secure. They access areas where no human can. For example, in the remote areas of the Amazon forest, in the Sahel region, in Siberia or in post-fire situations...

Drones make it possible to plant in areas that are too dangerous for humans (steep terrain, risk of falling, inaccessible or too remote terrain...), which is very regularly the case in the reforestation projects we carry out.

But our drones are no substitute for human intervention. At every stage of a project (land analysis, seed selection, planting, evolution monitoring), human intervention remains crucial. Some are scientists, employed by MORFO or partner laboratories and universities (Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos in Brazil or IRD in France). Others are technicians, agronomy experts, drone operators, seed specialists and so on. We also collaborate with local associations and populations in the vicinity of our project, who do the preparatory work for us and, depending on the project, take care of part of the planting in the traditional way. More than 1,000 people in three countries (Brazil, Gabon, France and French Guiana) work directly or indirectly with MORFO.

"With MORFO, we carry out the selection and monitoring of species with aptitude for direct seeding, reducing restoration costs on a larger scale with the support of drones" - Fatima C.M. Piña-Rodrigues, professor atUFSCar.
6 reasons why we use drones to reforest | MORFO & Pedro Abreu
Image source: Pedro Abreu & MORFO
Co-founder & Head of Operations and Industrialization
Hugo Asselin
- Paris, France

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