Why use drones to reforest?

Photo credit: Pedro Abreu/MORFO
January 12, 2023

MORFO's solution is a multi-step reforestation process. In our projects, drones are a tool for scaling up on two levels: analysis and planting.

We use a first type of drone to analyze areas to be reforested

Before planting, our teams analyze the soil and the characteristics of the area to be reforested. These analyses are carried out:

  • With field surveys and laboratory analyses to study the soils
  • With satellite imagery
  • With drone imagery: which images have a more precise resolution

These analyses are then combined with our species catalog, elaborated by our Research and Development team. A planting scheme is then produced. Analysis drones can also be used:

  • During planting, to geolocate the existing species
  • After planting, to monitor the growth of the plants

This first drone model allows us to locate different forest strata, and follow the growth of vegetation in great detail. We are not only planting trees, but entire plant ecosystems.

We have developed two drone models to disperse seedpods

We also use drones during the planting phase. We use agricultural drones capable of lifting fairly substantial loads and dispersing unique seedpods developed with renowned laboratories and scientists. These machines are large, about 1.50 meters in diameter. With our partners' help, we have developed release systems adapted to our seedpods.

A single drone can handle up to 50 hectares per day, each capable of planting 180 seedpods per minute, on often steep and difficult to access terrain. Thanks to MORFO's method, it is possible to plant up to 50 times faster than a conventional reforestation solution, and without the need for months of plant nursery growth. Our drones are flown by trained pilots in the countries and regions where we act (South America, Central Africa and Ecuador...).

"There are difficulties with implementation and access, difficulties with choosing the right time for planting. And all these difficulties are solved thanks to MORFO's technology". - Robin Duponnois, IRD Research Director

A complementary and more secure solution than planting by hand

Several questions need to be asked:

  • Is drone planting "better" than planting by hand?
  • Is it more efficient?
  • Will it replace human beings?

In reality, humans and drones are complementary. One should not replace the other, nor function without the other.

Drones are more efficient. They plant between 20 and 100 times faster than humans. A single drone can treat up to 50 hectares per day and plant 180 seedpods per minute.

Drones also reduce costs, by being up to 5 times cheaper, because of their planting speed, but also because drone planting rules out the structuring and maintenance of a nursery, which takes several months.

Drones are more secure. They access areas where no human can. For example, in remote areas of the Amazon forest, in the Sahel region, in Siberia, in post-fire situations, etc.

Drones make it possible to plant in areas that are too dangerous for humans (steep terrain, risk of falling, inaccessible, remote areas, etc), which is very regularly the case in the reforestation projects we carry out.

But our drones are no substitute for human intervention. At every stage of our projects (land analysis, seed selection, planting, evolution monitoring), human intervention remains crucial. Some are scientists, employed by MORFO or partner laboratories and universities (Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos in Brazil or IRD in France), others are technicians, agronomy experts, drone operators, seed specialists and so on. We also collaborate with local organizations and communities, who do the preparatory work for us and, in many of our projects, help in the planting stage. More than 1.000 people in three countries (Brazil, Gabon, France and French Guiana) work directly or indirectly with MORFO.

"With MORFO, we carry out the selection and monitoring of species with aptitude for direct seeding, reducing restoration costs on a larger scale with the support of drones" - Fatima C.M. Piña-Rodrigues, professor atUFSCar.
6 reasons why we use drones to reforest | MORFO & Pedro Abreu
Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO)
Hugo Asselin
- Paris, France
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