The simple – and fun! – activity of seed balls is helping improve greenery in parts of India
An amazing group activity has sprung up in parts of India recently, in which the enthusiastic participants get their hands really muddy, all for a good cause.
I witnessed this closely last year in an apartment complex called Cyprus-Oaks located in the bustling southern city of Coimbatore.
Indeed, the culinary actions so familiar to us, of mixing and rolling flour into balls to produce rotis or parathas, are now being duplicated in many urban and rural centres of India.
Not in kitchens, but in backyards, fields and playgrounds, and in the compounds of housing colonies. And the balls are formed, not with edible items, but natural elements taken from the world of farming and forestry.
The product, a seed ball, contains seeds of trees and foliage native to the area, formed from a mixture of clay, red soil and manure.
The moist seed balls are dried in the shade. Then they are strewn on forest peripheries, clearings, roadsides, and on waste or uninhabited lands, just before the rainy season sets in.
Rain moistens the seed ball, leading to germination of the seed within.
The sprouting seed draws sustenance from the nutrients inside, which strengthen its overall growth and its chance of developing into a tree.
Seed balls help to increase the green cover on the land by generating seedlings, and keeping these protected in their tender primary plant life.
Therefore, perhaps seed wombs would be a better name for them.
This technique of planting, actually a long-forgotten tradition in ancient Egypt, was rediscovered in the last century by Japanese natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka.
Natural farmers like him follow the practice of dispersing seeds on their fields with zero or little cultivation.
The seed ball idea developed by Fukuoka rapidly caught the imagination of not only like-minded natural farmers, but of keen ecologists throughout the world.
In fact, many organisations took part in the Seed Ball Maha Abhiyana (Seed Ball mega mission) last year in parts of India.
Making seed balls do not involve much time and cost.
Their subsequent dropping on land is a comparatively easy option for ecological recovery, especially when the dispersal is done on difficult, far-flung or mountainous terrains that cannot be easily ploughed.
If naked seeds are dropped on land, the chances are that they may be swept away by wind or water, or eaten up by birds or rodents.
Encasing them in balls made of well-mixed soil and fertiliser is ideal for them to emerge as seedlings after the first rains.
There is surely an underlying social element that makes seed balls a prized initiative for restoring the earth’s green.
The basic feelings of love and care that go into preparation of meals for family and friends are certainly also present in the making of seed balls.
And rolling balls from moist lumps of clay is sheer fun. Which child, or the child in an adult, can resist the delight of shaping clay balls on a pre-monsoon mild afternoon, enjoying the companionship of like-minded people?
In Coimbatore’s Cyprus-Oaks Apartments, this green engagement got underway in the monsoon season last year, with more than 800 seed balls rolled and then dispersed in the forest area of Siruvani.
Since then, the rains have come and gone, and a New Year has now set in. And somewhere in the forests near Coimbatore, sprouting from the seed wombs created by many loving hands, stand a good number of tiny neem and teak tree seedlings.
New plant life on the lap of Mother Nature, spreading their tender roots on the forest floor, promising to grow into stately and strong trees. Beautiful!
Photos: Chitrakalavani Govindaraj