A group of schoolchildren from Kudathanai in Jaffna put their abundant energy to work, making ‘seed balls’ in an attempt to increase forest cover of the area
Environmental crisis is possibly the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced and our generation has been handed the mammoth task of reversing the damage. Although we have come a long way in dealing with the environmental challenges we have created, it goes without saying how crucial an imperative for action is.
Deforestation poses a threat to the water we consume, the air we breathe and the land we live on, while it also affects the quality of life of human beings and of flora and fauna that surround us. Extended effects of the environmental crisis have a direct impact on human welfare as well as all other life on earth. As a matter of fact, if we aim to make the world a little greener, our voices must continue to speak for systemic change, but is that enough?
A group of schoolchildren from Kudathanai in Jaffna put their abundant energy to work, making ‘seed balls’ in an attempt to increase forest cover of the area.
Kudathanai is a coastal town in the furthest tip of the island, where no development, barring the modest houses, temples and churches are seen. The village comes alive with blooming greens during the monsoon season.
Yet, the younger residents of this quiet coastal village felt the greenery wasn’t adequate.
a seed bomb project was launched by SLAF last year in Nochchiyagama to help increase green cover from the present 27% to 32% by 2030
Seed balls, also known as earth balls, are different varieties of seeds rolled within a mixture of clay, compost, charcoal and other natural material. The process involves making a marble-sized mixture of soil, seeds and compost. These balls are then left to dry for a couple of days, to be dispersed across areas with dry patches that lack greenery. A quick and cost-effective method to reclaim the lost green cover of the environment, the children of this village adopted the seed ball method to make an impactful difference.
With their little hands covered in dirt and mud, and their smiles as big as their hearts, the children not only managed to bring an entire community together for a good cause, but also managed to set a good example to the rest of us in our little island nation. Volunteers from all age groups were present to help out in whichever way they could. As the saying goes, actions most definitely speak louder than words.
Leading by example
Sitting on a large white tarpaulin, children, some accompanied by their parents, sat on their knees, fishing out small mounds of clay from boxes and basins full of the seed ball mixture. Amidst the chatter, laughter and some even poking fun at each other, children rolled the clay between their muddied palms into tidy little balls. The seed balls were then stored in the hollowed and dried barks of banana trees, laid out on the ground between the children. This is where seed balls would be stored for drying, the children explained.
At least 50 villagers gathered at the courtyard across the village temple to watch and support this green initiative of the children. A few parents who were present decided to join the fun, helping not only the children but also their village, one seed ball at a time. As one adult announced it was time for a tea break, the children rushed to wash their hands and grab biscuits and ginger tea. While they enjoyed their well-deserved treat, some of the kids shared their thoughts about why they were a part of this project.
Eight-year-old Praveen said he brought Tamarind and Neem seeds from home so that he could use them to make seed balls. “The seeds come from the trees in my garden!” he exclaimed.
Vinothan who studies in sixth grade of the local school said seed balls could help lessen air pollution. “I hope I can make more seed balls and ensure there are more trees in our village and the whole world. I hope our seed balls turn into giant trees someday,” he added eagerly.
Not all children however knew of the potential of seed balls. Lakshanan, a seventh grade student said he did not know that seed balls could help the environment. “I didn’t quite know how I was helping the environment. But I learnt a lot, had fun with my friends and I hope we inspire other children too. The adults helped us a lot to find the natural materials we needed. It was fun rolling seeds in the clay with our hands,” Lakshanan opined.
Meanwhile, grade eight student Thenuja was excited to make as many seed balls as possible. “I made 20 seed balls today. I hope we get to make more of them and do this more often because this can help the environment. I learnt a lot too,” she said.
How seed balls work
A few children of the village were informed about a seed ball project that was popular amongst schoolchildren in India. Soon, they heard that a Sri Lankan volunteer was attempting to popularise the seed ball method in the North-Eastern parts of our motherland. That is when Mr. A. M. Riyas, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Applied Sciences of the South Eastern University, was alerted of this group of eager children in Kudathanai. Upon the request of the villagers, Mr. Riyas guided the children to start their own seed ball project. According to him, making seed balls is a simple process. The essentials are clay, cow dung, charcoal, compost and other natural material you can easily find.
“Once the soil, clay, charcoal and mixture containing other natural ingredients have been formed, the seeds are rolled into marble-sized balls. The shape not only helps to conserve the moisture that seeds require when it comes to the germination process, but also makes it convenient when it comes to the dispersion of seed balls. The rolled seed balls then require one or two days in the shade to be dried out,” he said.
“Once the dried seed balls have been scattered across to be germinated, the outer layer of clay and natural material protecting the seeds from the heat of the sun will slowly begin to wash away as the rainy season begins. The seeds will germinate and turn into little seedlings and eventually grow into trees.” Mr. Riyas elaborated.
A quick and cost-effective reforestation technique to reclaim lost green cover of the environment
The children from Kudathanai Government Tamil Mixed School are undoubtedly an inspiration to many with their hands-on project. With more monsoon rains expected, the children wish to plant seed balls, once they are ready. With the help of the youth and adults in the area, this initiative is certainly something every citizen of the country could effortlessly adopt, albeit on a smaller scale. Seed balls are inexpensive and can be dispersed effortlessly over large areas, which are often hard to reach. Not only is it a great opportunity to go zero-waste, but it is also a great learning experience for youngsters and anybody who is passionate about protecting the environment.
The seeds come from the trees in my garden! - Praveen
The seeds will germinate and turn into little seedlings and eventually grow into trees - Mr. Riyas
Seed balls, more commonly known as seed bombs, are a popular reforestation technique used widely in India. The projects usually involve seeds of wild fruits, vegetables and pulses wrapped in cow dung, in order to help animals find food easily. Some projects in Northern India were implemented on a trial basis as they were meant to prevent animals entering human settlements in search of food.
The practice has also been adopted by Kenya, where they experimented with aerial seed bombing as a technique to help recover the country’s dwindling forest cover. Similarly, a seed bomb project was launched by Sri Lanka Air Force last year in Nochchiyagama in order to help achieve the national sustainable development goal of increasing green cover from the present 27% to 32% by year 2030.
Aerial reforestation has been in practice for over a decade in many parts of the world, where aerial seeding attempts have shown a low yield. However, interest for the technique has grown over the years. Community-driven projects similar to that of Kudathanai therefore have greater potential to change the future of reforestation in Sri Lanka.
The environmental change sweeping the world is occurring at a faster pace than previously thought. Human beings have a responsibility towards making the world a little greener and there are so many ways in which we could help the cause. What’s important is that you do your bit. Recycling, collecting rainwater, picking up trash and even reducing plastic consumption can be taken as examples. Little changes you make leave a big impact in the environment and it is of utmost importance to know everybody has a part to play when it comes to conservation. Urbanisation, rising levels of consumption, land degradation and desertification are attributes that pose severe threats to regions across the globe.
Pix by Yoshitha Perera