This is no sweet ball but a Seed Ball - an innovative & economic way of growing plants ensuring their survival

volunteers from KPIT lending a hand in making seed ball

Every year we see lakhs of trees getting planted by spending crores of rupees for Environment day or otherwise but has anyone taken a count of how many of them have actually survived? How frustrating it would be when you come to know that the sapling that you have planted has breathed its last due to lack of care and nurturing or due to cattle grazing.  In these days of depleting forests and disappearing greenery in and around us there are individual samaritans who have dedicated their lives to protecting nature and finding innovative ways to regenerate plant species.  One such person is Mr. Gangadhara, an agriculturist who has given up agriculture living in Kasaraghatta, a small village near Nelamangala about 35 kilometers from Bangalore. Having experimented in many ways and means to grow and protect plants he has planted more than 5000 plants himself and nurtured them to become big trees for the last 25 years.  Despite that he says “ I have failed in my mission for the last 20 years hence I have come up with this concept of Seed Ball”.

 Seed Ball is an innovative way to grow plants.  It basically consists of a mixture of red soil (mud) and cow dung mixed with other bio compost.  The semi solid mix is prepared by adding little water proportionate to the quantity of mixture after which a particular plant seed is inserted in it.  These semi soft seed balls are allowed to dry in the sun and stored to be used later. These seed balls are thrown near hills, lakes, ponds so that they sprout and become plants and eventually trees that help in capturing and retention of rain water.  So, what’s the big deal in it? A seed ball provides the required moisture imbibed from rain water and manure for the seed to germinate, nurture and eventually grow as a tree.  When you plant a sapling, it needs watering, shelter for protection from grazing cattle etc.  Despite that, the success rate of the survival of the plant is only 10%.  “Where as in the case of Seed Ball it is more than 50%” says Mr. Gangadhara.  

It all started nearly a decade ago when he got inspired by his meeting with Mr. Subhash Palekar, a well known agriculture scientist from Amaravati in Maharastra, one of the proponents of natural farming based on cow’s byproducts and natural manure and reading the book ‘a desert turns into forest’ which dwells into the regeneration of lakes and ponds with tree plantation.  He began his initial days when he underwent a leadership training from the locally based Institute of Youth & Development way back in 1990 and went on to form a self help group called “Water Management Cooperative Society” that planned and worked on construction of check dams, regeneration of water ponds and lakes for water conservation.  His hard work and urge to achieve something has brought him to the current stage today. “My projects have been visited and studied for research purpose by foreigners from more than 50 countries” claims Mr. Gangadhara while sharing loads of pictures from his album.  

One day when Gangadhara was discussing this inspiration with his friend Ganganna, he heard a story about how a mango seed after having been eater and thrown in a surrounding had sprouted and become a glowing plant without any nourishment.  This discussion gave Gangadhar the idea of first throwing seeds in the areas such as lake beds, foothills etc. Later on he realized that if a seed can become a plant without nourishment, what can happen when it is provided proper nourishment in the form of soil and manure.   His acquaintance with Mr. subhash palekar enlightened him about the fact that no one goes and plants trees in nature especially on the hills. They grow themselves. Anything that grows naturally needs no nurturing.   After a long thought process he came up with this idea of Seed Ball.

A seed Ball is an age old concept that protects the seed from pests like rats, squirrels etc.  says Kiran B.C , Co-ordinator of Corporate volunteering from Youth for Seva an NGO that helps corporates and NGOs to collaborate for conservation.  “ It helps in sowing before the monsoon hits the ground every year” he adds.  “We are planning to complete the preparation of seed balls by this month end and get them ready to be thrown around by next month by volunteers when the monsoon hits full swing”. Says Gangadhara

Each seed ball costs nearly 1 rupee 5 paise a piece and another 1 rupee to arrange for it to be thrown in areas where it can grow by itself.  Whereas each plant needs a maintenance of Rs 2000 to Rs 5000 for 3 years including watering, shelter and protection according to Gangadhara.  To get a firsthand experience of his work I visited the villages of Kasarghatta, Aladahalli, Mahimapura and Kerekuttiganuru near Nelamangala. As I went along in his bike to inspect where he is undertaking this activity he says with pride “we have created seed balls of Grass, jack fruit, pongamia, Jetropah, tamarind, neem (Indian Lilac), seethaphal and mango trees as well”.  “We are creating a variety of seed balls which would cater to not only human beings but also nature including for cattle to graze, monkeys and birds for fruits.  “We have suffered a lot in the form of quarrels between villages when they let loose the cattle to graze the fields where we had nurtured plants. We have faced police complaints also”. Adds with frustration

So, who helps Gangadhara in Seed Ball project? Youth for Seva, an NGO based out of Bangalore has enabled some of the corporates to fund and volunteer for this program. Organizations like KPIT, Cisco, Philips, MICO and some educational institutions have lent a helping hand.  KPIT, an automobile engineering & IT services company has pitched in with both funding and volunteers.  “30 of our volunteers have prepared about 5000 seed balls says Ms Priyanka Bhille in charge of KPIT CSR Bangalore region. “We have cleared weeds in the area where saplings were planted earlier to make way for water to reach the roots during rains. We are also planning for creation of farm ponds near Nelamangala” she adds

Probed about the challenges that he faces Mr. Gangadhara says “These days I’m fighting against the planting of two particular varieties of trees which is Eucalyptus (popularly called Nilgiri tree) and Acacia. These varieties of trees consume lot of water and render the surrounding ponds, tanks, lakes dry.  Says Dr Yellappa Reddy noted environmentalist & former Secretary for Ecology & Environment, Govt of Karnataka “Acacia & Eucalyptus are not advisable to be grown because wherever they are grown, they do not allow any other plant species to survive leave alone the  grass. Because they contain oil, they do not decompose fast and form humus (soil made of decayed plants & leaves).  They are a semi desert species from Australia which provide no ecological benefit”.  Monoculture (growing only one particular variety of trees in a region) is not advisable in a country like India where there is vast bio diversity says Mr.Gangadhar.  “It is grown because the cattle do not eat them and it gives real estate value to the landlord or can sell the timber to paper mills” adds Dr. Reddy

When asked about what people should do for conservation Gangadhara says “It is not important to plant trees.  What is important is to nurture them.  Do not take up large scale tree planting projects and waste money.  Instead focus on a particular road, surrounding or area to plant trees.  Each individual can own up 10 trees and give them water and take care.  We can see more success”. His advice is when you go on picnics, trekking or any holidaying carry these seed balls and just throw them, they’ll one day become big trees by the time they visit next time. 

This year he is arranging for the preparation of 100,000 seed balls to be prepared and thrown by volunteers and school children.  To measure the success rate he is throwing nearly 5000 seed balls in one particular area alone to track them.

A sweet ball (could be laddoos) fills the stomach but a seed ball feeds a seed to become a successful plant.  Conservation of Nature is the need of the hour and hope this simple yet committed effort by Gangadhara and his friends Umesh, Suresh and Ganganna pay off in the long run for future generation. 

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