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Kefri uses drones for forest restoration

Courtesy [AP Photo, Haroub Hussein]

Kenya Forest Research Institute (Kefri) is using drone technology to restore 5.1 million hectares of degraded lands. In partnership with the Kenya Flying Labs and Seedball Kenya, Kefri is using the drones for aerial seeding – a process where seeds are dropped from the air in degraded areas. The seeds are procured from Kefri and then processed into balls by Seedball Kenya. They are then loaded into drones. According to the Kefri director Dr Jane Njuguna, the calibration on seed rates is done before the drones set off. The seed rates depend of tree species and expected ground cover. One drone has a capacity of 7 kgs with one flight taking 15 minutes and covering 0.8 hectares. In an hour, the drone can seed 3.2 hectares of land. The drones that belong to the Kenya Flying Labs are specialised and fully fitted with seed dispensers that easily, precisely and efficiently drop seed balls with precision.

“This new technology replaces traditional methods that are not as efficient,” observed Mohammed Akasha, one of the technical team from Kenya Flying Labs during a recent event to demonstrate the use of seeding drones. According to Akasha, the technology has been proved very useful for planting trees in large and inaccessible areas which have not been reached over the years because of various reasons including harsh weather conditions and fear of being attacked by wild animals.

“This technology offers an affordable method of regenerating forests and making our country greener while curbing global warming effects,” said Dr Njuguna from Kefri. Kenya’s forest cover remains at a dismal 7.2 per cent against the recommended 10 per cent. In recent years, Kefri has increased its seed production capacity to boost the forest cover in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Forests. In an initiative to be implemented across the 47 counties, total of two billion tree seedlings are set for planting in the county. Early last year, the government through Kefri planted more than 40,000 mangrove seedlings in Mida Creek and 60,000 tree cuttings for propagation at Ngomeni, Kilifi County. Deforestation through encroachment, charcoal burning and population pressure remains a persistent threat to forest cover across the country. 

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Tree planting drone