Greening the parched earth | Daily News
Plant a Tree to mark 73rd Independence Day :

Greening the parched earth

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa  engaging in a tree planting campaign.-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a tree planting campaign at his residence in 2020.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa engaging in a tree planting campaign.-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a tree planting campaign at his residence in 2020.

Concurrent to the Independence Day celebrations, Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne has initiated a programme to plant a tree at the auspicious time of 09.29 am on February 4 while facing the North. This initiative has been launched with the aim of planting trees that would benefit the future generations of this country.

During the 72nd Independence Day celebrations, 500,000 trees were planted in the country. However, an evaluation of the success of this campaign could not be done last year due to the Covid pandemic.

The State Ministry of Defence has advised the Heads of the government institutions to utilize public places or private lands which have space and plant different kinds of trees while giving the priority to “mee plant”, “kohomba plant” and ‘’kumbuk plant”. The State Ministry has also requested to plant fruit plants or medicinal plants in home gardens.

While highlighting the necessity of planting trees in relation to the Independence Day celebrations, the Ministry has advised the government institutions to appoint one person to monitor the condition of the plants.

Furthermore, all the District Secretaries, Divisional Secretaries and Grama Niladharis have been notified to incorporate the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Irrigation, Mahaweli Development Authority, Department of Forest Conservation in order to successfully complete this program.

According to Global Forest Watch statistics from 2002 to 2019, Sri Lanka lost 9.91kha of humid primary forest, making up 5.7% of its total tree cover loss in the same period. The total area of humid primary forest in Sri Lanka decreased by 1.7% in this period. The same report states that from 2001 to 2019, Sri Lanka lost 177kha of tree cover, equivalent to a 4.5% decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 46.6Mt of CO emissions.

Over 15 years from 1990-2005, Sri Lanka had had one of the highest deforestation rates of primary forests in the world. In that period the country lost more than 35 per cent of its old-growth forest cover, while total forest cover was diminished by almost 18 per cent. Moreover, since the close of the 1990s, deforestation rates had increased by more than 25 per cent. According to the President’s policy statement, ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ conservation of the environment and promoting sustainable development has been a highlight. It states that a strategy will be put in place to re-establish and enhance the green cover on the mountains and hilly areas as a solution to the problem of soil erosion, landslides and the drying of the upper soil layers. Sophisticated techniques and technologies will be introduced to control landslides. Action will be taken to control human impact on marshy lands and mangrove ecosystems and to conserve them.

Therefore, in keeping with this goal special attention would be paid in order to plant more trees, while the tree planting campaign focuses especially on promoting the planting of valuable trees and trees with medicinal value.In keeping with the government’s drive to increase the forest cover, the Sri Lanka Air Force has been tasked with seed bombing in areas where forests have been destroyed, either naturally or due to human activity.

Accordingly, the seed bombing operations commenced in December 2018 and so far around four aerial seed bombing missions have been completed.

Having identified bald patches of forest areas, the Air Force engaged in seed bombing where seeds covered in clay are dropped onto these bald areas within forests targeting the rainy season. The President has also directed the AF to do more seed bombings. According to the feedback received it has been determined that these operations have a success rate of around 50-60 per cent.

The Sri Lanka Air Force under the guidance of the Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana conducted the fourth wave of seed bombing at Lahugala National Park in the Ampara area on January 14. They dropped 70,000 seed bombs over a 60-acre area. The Command Agro Unit at SLAF Base Katunayake in collaboration with the Forest Conservation Department and the University of Peradeniya organized this mission to achieve the aim of improving the forest density of Sri Lanka in order to reach the sustainable development goals of the country by increasing the forest cover from 27% to 32% by the year 2030.According to the Air Force data, the first wave of the mission was executed at Ranorawa Government Forest in 2018 as a pilot project over a five acres land area and approximately 5,000 seed bombs were released. During the second wave, 67,000 seed bombs were dropped over a 60-acre area inside the forest of Lahugala in Ampara in the year 2019.

The third wave which was conducted in December 2020 saw the dropping of approximately 30,000 seed bombs over a 25 acres land area within the Lahugala National Park. Continuous supervision, data gathering and recording are carried out by the Command Agro Unit to monitor the progress of seed bombing missions. This is to monitor how plants from these seed bombs have germinated and are growing in changing environmental conditions.

As in all previous operations, the seed bombs will be dropped today using an MI-17 Helicopter which will depart from SLAF Station Ampara.

The bombs comprised from 8 types of native trees, Ehela (Cassia fistula), Mee (Madhuca longifolia), Karanda (Pongamia pinnata), Mailla (Vitex altissima), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), Kumbuk (Terminalia arjuna), Koan (Schleichera oleosa) and Madatiya (Adenanthera pavonina) which are suited to the Dry Zone.