(Part 3 of the 6 part story series talking about the efforts the Indian Army is taking towards sustainable environmental conservation)
After the raising of the first ETF Unit i.e. 127 Inf Bn (TA) Eco, GARH RIF in 1982, nine more ETF and one CETF Units were raised for similar tasks. These 10 ETF Units with their 25 Companies are assigned for a plantation of around 50 lakh saplings in approximately 5000 ha of land each year subject to availability of land and project funds with the State Forest Depts. The survival rate of the plantation being carried out remains around 80-85%.
To enhance this plantation, increase the survival rate and reduce the cost per plant, it was decided to incorporate prep and broadcasting/ sowing of seed balls. Also, to further achieve other goals of creating additional carbon sink, addressing the issues of soil erosion, rainfall-runoff and low groundwater table, extensive use of vetiver grass was recommended to be incorporated in the plantation project.
Aim of the Project
To enhance the afforestation impact, cover a large area in lesser time, increase survivability and create viable carbon sink by incorporating seed ball sowing and vetiver grass plantation.
The Idea Behind Seedballs and Vetiver Plantation
The incorporation of seed balls and vetiver in the plantation projects has been thought upon after due deliberation and thorough study on the subject. The cost-effectiveness/ low maintenance, fewer efforts and vast advantages have been taken into consideration. The annual plantation target has been renewed for the ETF Units as under:-
- Sapling Plantation: 2 lac/coy
- Seed ball Sowing:2 lac/coy
- Vetiver Grass:1 lac/coy
The seed ball will be prepared by the Units with native species of seeds and sown rather than broadcast to be able to germinate in large numbers. The vetiver slips have to be planted in between the tree saplings at an inter-se distance of 15 cm. This will solve the land requirement issue and make the soil more fertile for tree plantation.
What are Seed Balls
The Seed balls also known as earth balls consist of varieties of seeds rolled within a ball of clay, preferably red clay. In these seed balls, various additives such as compost are included. These constituents are placed around the seeds at the centre of the ball, with a view to providing microbial inoculants. At times fibre or the liquefied paper is also mixed with clay to strengthen it and to protect the seed balls during the sowing by throwing method in the harsher habitats.
The seed balls can be used in nearly every region where plants can grow, in order to prevent the seeds from seed-eating insects, animals and torrential rains. Seeds contained in such balls then germinate in ideal conditions for each climate/region. Rough terrain is especially amenable to broadcast seeding. Seed balls also help to protect the soil ecosystem, by encouraging no-till agriculture and preventing disruption of soil microbial communities.
Advantages of Seed Balls
Seed balls are low cost and efficient means of fast plantation. and broadly offer the following advantages:-
- Can be simply scattered directly on to the ground and not required to be conventionally planted.
- They remain healthy for 11 months and are protected from wind, birds, squirrels & other critters.
- Useful for seeding in dry, thin and compacted soils.
- Helps in reclaiming derelict ground.
- Huge areas can be covered in a short span of time
- It is an affordable, sustainable & effective conservation tool for establishing vegetation in difficult areas.
- Particularly useful in dry and arid areas where rainfall is scanty and highly unpredictable.
Some Minor Disadvantages
- Although the seed balls have no major disadvantages, yet, the following may still be considered:-
- All seed balls sown or broadcasted may not germinate.
- Difficult to broadcast in the Northeastern States due to thick undergrowth.
An understanding of Vetiver Grass
Vetiver (Vetiver Zizanioides) is a perennial grass, which is native to India. This non-invasive & non-competitive grass fits well in the ecosystem service model contributing to regional and global economies for its multifarious environmental applications and offers sustainable opportunities for carbon sequestration. Two third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) is stored in the roots of the trees/ plants, therefore normal crops/plants like wheat, maize or rice which have very short roots are not suitable for this purpose.
Other than Vetiver there are no other grass species that have such fast-growing tufted root system, amply suitable for translocation of carbon deep into the soil. It can survive extreme climatic variations such as prolonged drought, flood submergence, fire, frost & heatwave (-150C to 550C). When planted in hedgerows a VG multiplies itself minimum ten times in a year, and unlike other grasses, its fibrous roots grow vertically downward 2 – 6m in depth.
Advantages of Vetiver Grass
Vetiver grass has unique characteristics and numerous advantages, a few important ones are enumerated below:
It has a strong fibrous root system that penetrates and binds the soil to a depth of up to 3 meters and can withstand the effects of tunnelling and cracking.
These deep roots also make vetiver grass effective at lessening the occurrence of shallow landslides.
It is perennial and requires minimal maintenance.
It is effectively sterile, and because it produces no stolons or rhizomes hence will not become a weed.
Its crown (growing points) is below the surface, which protects the plant against fire and overgrazing. When all surrounding plants have been destroyed by drought, flood or fire, Vetiver will remain to protect the ground from the onslaught of the next rains.
Its sharp leaves and aromatic roots repel rodents, snakes, and similar pests. Its leaves and roots have demonstrated resistance to most diseases.
Once established, it is generally unpalatable to livestock. The young leaves, however, are palatable and can be used for fodder. The older leaves can be used for weaving.
It is both a xerophyte and a hydrophyte, and once established it can withstand drought, flood, and long periods of waterlogging.
It does not compete with the crop plants and has no negative effect and may, in fact, boost the yield of neighbouring food crops. Its roots are a host to beneficial mycorrhiza, which may be of benefit to adjacent crops.
It is cheap and easy to establish as a hedge and to maintain—as well as to remove if it is no longer wanted.
It grows in almost all types of soil, regardless of pH, or salinity. This includes sands, shales, gravels, and even soils of relatively high aluminium toxicity.
It can grow in a wide range of climates. It is known to grow in areas with average annual rainfall between 200 and 6,000 millimetres and with temperatures ranging from -9° to 55° Centigrade, although hot-season conditions are needed for part of each year to ensure long term survival.
It is recommended that seed balls and vetiver plantation be made an integral part of any plantation project undertaken and only good quality seeds for seed balls and vetiver variety be used for plantation.
Gradually decreasing forest cover and green cover in our country have become major challenges to be addressed on priority. There are numerous activities responsible for the same and some of which cannot be completely avoided due to increasing social requirement. It is, therefore, necessary to carry out afforestation activities at all affected areas with an increased rate of survivability. Seed ball broadcasting/ sowing and vetiver plantation are the recently emerged solutions to the standing issue. These are cost-effective, take lesser time, multiply fast, cover larges areas and require minimum no maintenance. Hence, incorporation of seed balls and vetiver grass in the overall plantation plan will only enhance the plantation and produce faster results.