BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
In July 2013, Thailand announced a five-year project to fight the country’s massive deforestation problem and earlier this summer the Royal Thai Air Force dropped thousands of kabok, phayung and maka mong seeds over a wildlife reserve in Phitsanulok. They are expected to grow into lush greenery in just one year.
The process, known as aerial reforestation, was the idea a British Royal Air force pilot named Jack Walters. Though he developed the method, Walters was not able to put it into practice until it was adopted by the American aerospace company Lockheed Martin.
Planting sorties are carried out by C-130 aircraft – originally employed to drop landmines – using pointed metal cases which bury themselves as if they were planted by hand and disintegrate to allow the trees’ roots to spread. They contain seeds, fertiliser and a sponge-like material to absorb water and have a 70 percent success rate.
“The possibilities are amazing. We can fly at 1,000 ft at 130 knots planting more than 3,000 cones a minute in a pattern across the landscape – just as we did with landmines, but in this case each cone contains a sapling. That’s 125,000 trees for each sortie and 900,000 trees in a day,” a Lockheed spokesman told the Guardian.
The method was first used in Hawaii in the 1930s to recover areas that had been affected by forest fires and is currently in use in parts of Africa.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 129 million hectares of forest have been lost, worldwide, since 1990 – an area the size of South Africa.
In Thailand the problem is particularly severe as the country’s agriculture intensive economy has stripped the land of its natural greenery. In the 1950s, Thailand’s forests made up 70 percent of its landmass compared to just 20 percent today. According to the Bangkok Post, the country also suffers from illegal deforestation in areas that have been granted national park status for which King Bhumibol blames, “greedy local governors.”
Today, thousands of C-130s sit in hangers around the world, grounded by an international agreement to ban the use of landmines. Many are now used to battle forest fires, but could also work to replant the forests we’ve lost.