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The simple 'seedballs' giving Kenya's forests a helping hand

At first glance, the round black pellets could easily be mistaken for animal dung. But these hardy little balls contain acacia seeds that are helping regrow Kenya's depleted forests. In a tranche of razed forest bordering the Masai Mara wildlife reserve, a team of rangers scatter generous handfuls of "seedballs" around the bald clearing to give nature a fighting chance to regenerate.

Video Transcript

- Every day, rangers patrol the Mara National Reserve in southwest Kenya to check on the elephants and spot illegal human activity that destroys their habitat. They have just discovered an area where loggers cut down trees to make charcoal in the [INAUDIBLE] forest. Quickly, the team scatters handfuls of balls of seed around the clearing.

JACKSON MAITAI: So we are throwing them where we see there's a lot of destruction so that we're expecting another new forest to regrow. That is because we need to have the forest here so that the elephant which are here can actually get food and habitat.

- The balls are acacia seeds coated in charcoal. Kenyan entrepreneur Teddy Kinyanjui came up with the idea to address a common problem. His company now sells seeds of 14 different indigenous trees.

TEDDY KINYANJUI: In nature, when you just throw out bare seeds, a lot of those seeds get eaten by mice and birds and insects. So we protect them in the charcoal dust so you can throw them out year-round. You don't have to wait for the rainy season. Then it will sit there coated in its little protective coating, wait until the rains come, which washes the dust away, and then the seed is back to its natural state and able to start growing.

- Illegal deforestation has chipped away over half of the [INAUDIBLE] forest in the past 20 years. This was to clear land for pasture and crops and to make charcoal, a cheap fuel. Rangers have sowed masses of the seed balls in the past three years to counter the cutting down. On this particular day, they scattered nearly 20,000. Growing trees is important to avoid soil erosion and floods, explained Marc Goss of the Mara Elephant Project.

MARC GOSS: And those trees provide like a sponge. So the rain comes down, it hits the trees, and then goes down the trunks of the trees and diffuses slowly into the ground. So what's super important from that perspective is when-- if you don't have that, then the water falls directly to the ground and washes over the top of the ground and pulls all the soil out from underneath.

- Out of millions of seed balls, only up to 10% end up growing. And it is a long project. Trees take time to grow. This local Masai family scattered seed balls more than a year ago. Today, the saplings are waist high.