NGOs in Kenya use ‘drones for good’ to reverse ecological decline

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A leading Kenyan non-governmental organization has partnered with a group that uses drones and robotics for the public good in a reforestation effort to reverse a region’s constant environmental decline. Their goal: to prepare and plant native trees that have gone extinct on 2,250 acres of decimated countryside.

Droning for (tree planting) fine

World Vision Kenya and its partner Kenya Flying Labs have launched the reforestation effort in Tana River County, a huge area in the southeastern part of the country. Decades of unsustainable farming methods, felling trees for fire, and rapid land clearing have left large sections of the county barren. Perhaps worse still, places that have experienced regrowth have been overrun by the invasive Mathenge tree species. The groups’ joint effort aims to reverse the ecological decline of affected areas that have suffered negative effects on climate change, local economic activity and food production.

The stakes are indeed high. More than 82% of the local population depend on agriculture and animal husbandry for their livelihood and their main source of food. Returning their land to its natural state is vital for the soil to regain its health – especially the ability to hold rainwater along with the trees that benefit all the plants that grow around them.

The project aims to reseed the most devastated areas with native trees, creating at least 250 acres of new growth for each of the nine Tanya River villages involved. In its first phase, Kenya Flying Labs pilots traveled to these designated communities and flew DJI P4 multispectral drones. Designed for agricultural use, these machines were able to map the planned vegetation zones and collect data for soil profiles.

The high resolution imagery obtained produced nine fully detailed ortho maps. These were further analyzed to determine vegetative index, leaf cover and chlorophyll content and vegetation sensitivity at each site. These precise profiles were then used to prepare the process, materials and participants for the planting phase.

Drones for quick and cheaper aerial sowing

This phase, which is expected to begin soon, will be performed by Kenya Flying Labs drones using ReleaseLabs technology that identifies precise spatial location and will deposit biochar seed balls in designated regrowth areas. This aerial approach both speeds up the sowing process and reduces the labor and costs that would be incurred if local farmers were to sow by hand.

Once the seeds have germinated and started to sprout saplings, the final phase of the project will re-map the same areas. The resulting data will be used to analyze the efficiency of the process and to monitor growth rates over time.

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