How IISc scientists are seed bombing a barren land in Karnataka using drones

Even as scientists 'seed bomb' using latest technology, one of the problems they face is goats.
How IISc scientists are seed bombing a barren land in Karnataka using drones
How IISc scientists are seed bombing a barren land in Karnataka using drones
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In an attempt to increase the forest cover in the state, a group of scientists from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, are using drones to disperse seeds on barren lands.

"When you want to cover a huge area, manually planting trees in impractical. Certain terrains may not be accessible to people. Drones are helpful in such cases," says Professor KPJ Reddy from the Department of Aerodynamics in IISc.

Born and brought up in Gauribidanur, Professor Reddy remembers the town filled with lush greenery. Today, much of its green cover is gone.

"The soil is very fertile but there is a scarcity of water. We have to dig over a 1,000 ft to get water now," he says.

Once the trees grow and become forests, he hopes, it will also bring back rainfall in the area.

Called "seed bombing", the initiative is a collaboration among IISc scientists, the government of Karnataka and Dr HN Science Centre -- which has been named after eminent educationist Hosur Narasimhaiah -- in Gauribidanur town in Chikkaballapur district.

To mark World Environment Day on June 5, a trial session of dispersing seeds using drones was conducted near Gauribidanur.

The initiative uses seeds pre-soaked in water.

"We soak the seeds for 24 hours, put them in gunny bags and take them out a few hours before they are to be dispersed. But we make sure not to let the seeds germinate because the roots could break when they fall from a height. Biology dictates that they fight for survival. They will look for support and grab the soil beneath them," explains Reddy.

Currently, they are working on the hardware of the drones, also designed by them, before they can scale their operations.

Samuel Gerald, an entrepreneur who has been associated with IISc's research projects for a while now, operates the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the project.

Describing how exactly the drones work, he says, "We have developed a canister that can carry different kinds of seeds. The drone follows the GPS and then drops the seeds from a 50m altitude at regular intervals. We will also try to monitor air pollution in the area after some time."

One of the problems they face is goats. "Goats can chew the toughest of seeds. We are looking at their grazing pattern and will avoid those areas to disperse seeds," Gerald states.

The seeds used are local species such as tamarind, neem, pongamia, and jamoon.

Professor SN Omkar, Chief Research Scientist, Control & Guidance, in the Department of Aerodynamics in IISc, says that using the drones will also help them monitor the terrain before and after the seeds are scattered over it.

"We can observe the impact and outcome of our activity and take help of experts when needed. This will also prevent us from being random and we can be very selective in our methods," he added.

The initiative intends to cover nearly 10,000 acres of land near Doddaballapura over the course of the next three years, and is also looking for funding.

Last year, they planted nearly 50,000 saplings in the 200 acre premises of the Dr HN Science Centre. "We visited the spot this year and the results are fantastic," he says.

"We want to bring back our old species of trees, bring back our monkeys and butterflies," he adds. 

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