The drone flies two meters above the ground, over lands that have suffered from mining that is now a thing of the past. The landscape has suffered profoundly from human activity. Now it’s a matter of regenerating the area and ensuring that a new forest takes back its rights. For this, the French startup Morfo, founded in 2021, imagined a device to restore forest ecosystems on a large scale: varied and encapsulated seeds and fast and efficient planting using drones and artificial intelligence.
“Today, on Earth, it is estimated that around 900 million hectares are available for revegetation, explains to WE DEMAIN Adrien Page, co-founder of Morfo. These lands are devastated directly or indirectly by human activity. This could be due to ancient mining, desertification, salinization, due to giant fires, very heavy logging, etc. To restore these soils, it was necessary to find a solution that could be applied on a large scale. Drones are one answer. »
Agritech, drones… and love for the forest
Adrien Pages co-founded Morfo at the end of May 2021 with two partners from French Guiana. “Both have seen the ravages of human activity, and more particularly mines, on forests. One of them even took care of the environmental management of mines in Guyana. We find ourselves in these forestry themes and a common desire to have a positive impact through entrepreneurship”he explains.
But to act on a large scale, conventional planting methods are quickly limited. “The use of drones allows us to sow up to 50 hectares of land per day, which would be impossible manually”, emphasizes Adrien Pages. Concretely, Morfo is based on three technological bricks. The first is agrotech, to study, understand and learn about the ecosystems to be regenerated. The start-up therefore set up a laboratory to study the plants and see how they behave according to field conditions (soil, climate, pollution level, etc.). Morfo is gradually expanding its catalogue, which currently includes 150 to 200 different species (trees, shrubs, plants, etc.). “The aim is to recreate nature in the best possible way with a real variety of species and looking at the surrounding forests for inspiration”explains Adrien Page.
The second brick is drones. They have the advantage of overcoming terrain difficulties, being able to cover large areas in a single day, and they can also be used to analyze data. They can cover 1 hectare per flight and work from 2 to 20 meters above the ground, above the trees if necessary. Finally, the last brick is analysis and follow-up to provide support over time and ensure the success of projects.
Custom plantations imagined in the Morfo laboratory
“Of course, we analyze the quality of the soil and the climate, but the flyover of our drones from the earth is also very valuable in defining what kind of seeds will be planted. Topography, hydrography… data analysis allows us to create a planting scheme that is qualitative and accurate on a large scale”, explains Adrien Pages. Morfo makes use of more than 150 species available and will also define the density of the plantations according to the variations of the terrain. The start-up has an internal research center, but also works together with the IRD (Institute of Research for Development), Inria and Cirad (French organization for agricultural research and international cooperation for sustainable development). tropical and Mediterranean regions), as well as two research partners in Brazil.
It is necessary to anticipate the loss rate, know the average germination rate of each species, take into account the need or not to create a forest cover… and adapt according to the local configuration. “None of our reforestations aims to use the trees for logging in the future, but we take into account local populations and possible needs, for example, planting fruit trees in certain areas”adds the co-founder.
See you in a few tens… hundreds of years
Regenerating a forest is a long-term job. “We work mainly on reforestation in tropical regions, where development is quite fast, but remains on the scale of nature. Once the seeds are planted, our assisted natural regeneration creates a process and is accelerated by our system, but then we have to let nature take its course. For a tropical forest, we will know in 25-30 years whether our efforts have borne fruit and whether we can consider a forest to start over again. But it will take 150 to 200 years to find a true primary forest“ he guarantees.
In terms of costs, Morfo’s process results in operational and implementation expenses three times lower than a traditional manual planting process. On the other hand, expenses are higher upstream to analyze the terrain and species needed, but also downstream to ensure monitoring over time. In short, the cost will be relatively the same, but with more diverse forests on a large scale. To date, Morfo has planted 300 hectares since its creation in 2021 and intends to exceed 1,000 hectares by the end of 2023. The objective is to exceed 100,000 hectares before 2030, as soon as the process goes to scale.
Three types of customers for Morfo
Who is Morph regenerating these forests for? The startup has three types of customers. The first is the extractive industry, which has the obligation to recreate the forests after the end of mining operations. The second is the infrastructure industry such as roads and dams that want to partially repair the damage caused by the construction of their structures to limit their impact. Finally, States and public institutions.
A fourth profile begins to emerge: that of companies seeking solutions to restore land degraded by their activity or for projects that enter the carbon contribution mechanism. On this subject, Adrien Pages wants to be cautious: “We don’t want to be an alibi, but to offer quality projects. Therefore, we study requests carefully before responding favorably.“, warns.
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