Re-Greening of Panay

Reforesting the Philippines — One Island at a Time

Miag-ao, Iloilo, Philippines — The Philippines has been ravaged by deforestation. Our country has seen a massive decline in its forests, particularly during the last 124 years.  Reforestation is a necessary activity to mitigate the effects of the continuing trend of Global Warming. But restoration of the country’s forest cannot be accomplished by planting trees one at a time.  Despite efforts by government and private initiatives over the decades, the relentless deforestation continues, and the re-planting of trees is barely making an impact on the problem.

Background and history | The Plan | Research and Development

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Background and History

Panay’s forests were heavily impacted by human activity very early in its history. In the 1700s, the Spanish Colonial government had decimated over 90% of the island’s big native trees for shipbuilding needed in the Manila-Acapulco trade and also to build smaller ships. This relentless exploitation left Panay’s ecological balance in tatters. Native plants and animals declined precipitously.  In less than half a century the lowland forests of Panay were destroyed. Each galleon required 7,000 hardwood trees. Hence, the rapid destruction of the hardwood forests.  Shipbuilding moved to Cavite and then later to Bicol as the native hardwood forests were decimated there as well.

The first serious attempt at massive reforestation of this island, called the ‘Greening of Panay’ was undertaken by the Philippine Army at the turn of the 21st century with over a million trees.  The Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had the National Greening Program with 2,818 hectares of new forest in Panay in 2022, with an impressive 1,960,743 seedlings planted.  But, the entire island, the 6th largest in the Philippines, comprise 1,201,100 hectares with a large part in hard-to-reach denuded hills, valleys and mountains.  Thus, an alternative method must be employed if we are to successfully reforest the entire island at a faster pace and less cost.

The Plan

Reforestation using seedball

Panay Island in the Philippines is witnessing a hopeful future for the resurgence of its forests. A unique reforestation program, “Re-Greening of Panay,” by Sulu Garden Foundation, Inc. (SGF), is at the heart of this positive change. The program uses a combination of innovative seed ball technology, island-wide collaboration, and cutting-edge drone technology to sow the seeds of a greener future, helping mitigate the effects of climate change one island at a time. And, SGF starts this program from its home island of Panay.

SGF’s “Re-Greening Panay” program builds upon this legacy by employing a groundbreaking technique – seed ball technology – that is already finding success in places like Kenya in Africa for large-scale reforestation.  Seed balls are tiny spheres packed with seeds of native trees. These eco-friendly balls can be easily dispersed across vast areas, by plane, or – most innovatively – by drone. This approach eliminates the need for laborious traditional planting methods and allows SGF to reach previously inaccessible regions. Once dispersed, the outer layer of clay prevents birds and other animals from eating the seeds while offering protection to the seeds from  the extreme heat of the dry season.  The seed ball’s clay outer shell dissolves during the rainy season, creating the perfect environment for seed germination. 

The concept of seed ball reforestation

Drone technology is crucial for seed distribution in seed distribution. Human involvement remains central to the program’s success. SGF will collaborate with various stakeholders to achieve this goal. The Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry (Hunter) Battalion [3rd Infantry Division] at Camp Monteclaro in Miag-ao and the Fire Marshall’s Office of Iloilo Province has already signaled their intent to participate in this program.  The invaluable technical and advisory support by DENR Region VI, the provincial governments, and local government units are crucial to the success of this program.  Stakeholders from the private sector are equally important. These collaborations will strengthen the “Re-Greening of Panay” program transforming it into a unified island-wide effort. 

The “Re-Greening of Panay” is envisioned as a five-year program that incorporates a comprehensive monitoring system that uses drones and satellite imagery to determine the progress. This allows for continuous evaluation, ensuring the program remains on track.  SGF has already begun the research and development phase expecting completion of Phase 1 by the end of June 2024.  The granulating machine for seed ball production is already operating. Selecting suitable native tree seeds and small-scale field trials have already begun to allow for dispersion before the rainy season and post-dispersion evaluation during the 2024 rainy season.

SGF’s “Re-Greening of Panay” program offers a beacon of hope for the island’s complete reforestation. By combining innovative techniques, fostering community collaboration, and state of the art monitoring, this program has the potential to restore Panay’s ecological balance and create a thriving green future for generations to come.

Research and Development

Production of Seedballs

While seedballs can be made manually by rolling seed and clay together in one’s palms, this method is insufficient for producing the hundreds of thousands of seedballs needed for a large-scale reforestation program. In 2023, Romuli and his co-author from University of Hohenheim (Germany) developed a seedball-making machine to address this challenge. He described the machine as:

“The system generates a rotational motion of the drum that is crucial for forming seedballs from the substrate. The main components include fixed roller, holder rail, V-belt, pulley, tensioning roller, and tachometer. The V-belt wraps around the drum and is connected to a drive pulley attached to an electric motor. A standard V-belt was chosen to allow the use of a standard drive pulley and standard tensioning rollers. The drum is placed on top of four fixed rollers attached to two holder rails at the front and back sides of the drum. As the motor runs, power is transmitted to the drum through the V-belt to create the rotational motion.”

SGF’s mechanical engineering team successfully reproduced Romuli’s machine with the same specifications and tested its performance using locally sourced clay and seeds from Miag-ao, Iloilo. For this test, we used seeds from trees that are in season, namely: Kamonsil (Kamatsile, Pithecellobium dulce), Duldol (Kapok, Ceiba pentandra), and Acacia (Acacia concinna).

The video below shows the seeds and clay (further refined using a grinding machine) used in the production.

With the assistance of soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry (Hunter) Battalion (3rd Infantry Brigade) commanded by LTC Arturo Balgos, Jr, based in Camp Monteclaro (Miag-ao, Iloilo), our production team headed by Renato Nacanan can make approximately 80kg of seedballs in a single operating day, translating to roughly 83,700 seedballs per day.

Impact testing, involving throwing seedballs on the ground from heights up to 5 meters, showed no cracking. Additional testing from higher distances is planned, as seedballs are expected to be dispersed from greater elevations, either manually or via drones.

seed balls
Size comparison of seedballs

Research is ongoing to decrease the weight of each seedball. As shown in the distribution graphs below (based on 525 seedballs), each seedball can range from 2.0 grams to a maximum of 10.7 grams, with an average weight of 6.35 grams. Since seedballs need to be carried up mountain trails or dispersed by drones, minimizing weight per ball is important for maximizing large-scale dispersion. Research and development of improved clay mix compositions are currently underway.

Laboratory and semi-field testing

Indoor Testing.  More than a dozen different seeds were collected by our partners and volunteers (see list on the left). The seeds were cleaned of debris, and dead or damaged seeds were removed before seedball production. This ensures the best chance that seeds will survive dormancy during the dry season and germinate when the rains arrive.

At SGF’s laboratory in Miag-ao, we are evaluating the time it takes for seedballs to crack open and germinate. The seedballs are placed in aluminum trays with soil and watered daily. The data below (as of June 13, 2024) show that kamonsil seeds crack open the earliest, germinate the fastest, and have the greatest yield compared to duldol and acacia. This indoor simulation gives us a range and assurance about likely expectations under natural outdoor conditions. Evaluations are ongoing as production methods improve.

Semi-field testing. 

Miag-ao, Iloilo.  Plots of land beside the SGF Research Station in Miag-ao, Iloilo were used for semi-field testing. Seeds were distributed approximately 6 inches apart and marked with bamboo sticks. Cracking and germination are being monitored, along with weather conditions. After 8 days of monitoring, heavy rain led to faster seedball disintegration compared to the indoor study. This is likely due to the higher velocity of natural rain compared to the sprinkler used indoors to simulate rainfall.

Batan Island, Aklan.  The Rainforest Botanical Garden, an agricultural research station and partner of SGF, provided a site for a similar test. Batan Island has a more intense rainy season than Miag-ao, offering a different environment to assess the impact of rainfall on seedballs. Forty-five (45) seedballs with different species were also dispersed here.


Field Testing

Our first field test has just been recently undertaken in the mountains of Miag-ao in Sitio Erequican in Barangay Alimodias.  Seedballs were dispersed manually from the top of the mountain called Bantyanan (Banjanan). Dispersal of 4,000 seedballs were made by throwing seeds from the top on both sides of the hill with assistance from Philippine Army, barangay officials and teachers of Erequican whose school is at the foot of the hill.  This event on June 8th coincides with SGF and Philippine Army’s medical mission for Alimodias and surrounding mountain sitios and barangays where over 400 people received medical and dental services, food, medicines and other services. The team dispersed the seedballs on the side of the mountain since the top area had cows grazing and some of the local people passing through. Monitoring of this test site, classified as timberland, will be undertaken periodically to assess the fate of the seedballs during the rainy season.

Google map view of the seedball dispersal site in Erequican, Miagao, Iloilo (10.69892° N, 122.13789° E)

Work in the Future

Our work in this advocacy is fast evolving.  We expect to complete most of the major scientific validations by the end of 2024.  Manual planting of seedlings remains a viable effort in easy to reach areas of public land and in private lands.  Reforesting the approximately 200,000+ hectares of public lands in the inaccessible terrains of Panay requires a modern method. describes the unique issues and solutions to this problem in their 3-part series in 2023 and really worth reading to give you more perspective.  Here, we present the challenges on the Re-Greening of Panay program for 2024 and beyond.

  1. Production needs to be upgraded with lighter seedballs and production levels raised 16 fold from the current 83,700 seedballs at full operation each day.  Assuming a 25-day work each month, this translates to production of 2 million seedballs a month or 25 million in a year.  Assuming the target of reforesting 20,000 hectares (10% of the public land of Panay Island) at 2 seedballs per sq. m. requires 400 million seedballs (20,000 ha x 10,000 sq m/ha x 2 seedballs/ sq m). To make this possible, we need to increase production 16 times.  Either increasing the number of granulating device by 16 times or re-engineering the system to create a larger more automated system than what currently exist.
  2. Clay deposits will exhaust current supply and need to locate many more sites to obtain the clay of the similar type we require.
  3. The 400 million seedballs cannot be accomplished with manual dispersal alone.  Drone technology needs to added into the mix of resources to make this possible.
  4. Creating team work with Public and private institutions, associations and groups with this same advocacy will also take time to organize.
  5. Staffing and equipment requirements can be staggering.  Assembling an exceptional staff of foresters, biologists, engineers, IT and AI experts, production staff and logistics personnel can be challenging.

SGF Environmental Sciences Laboratory

The Real Challenge

While the challenges of reforestation are vast and complex, ranging from ecological restoration to navigating socio-political landscapes, the most daunting hurdle lies in securing the necessary funding. This disconnect between recognizing the problem and taking meaningful action is mirrored in the financial barriers faced by organizations like SGF. 

As Leonardo DiCaprio aptly puts it, 

I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems. I believe mankind has looked at climate change in the same way, as if it were fiction.

SGF is determined to realize its ambitious goal of reforesting the Philippines one island at a time. However, transforming this determination into tangible progress hinges entirely on forging partnerships with like-minded organizations and individuals who share the same environmental vision. This echoes sentiment:

Climate change is the greatest threat to our existence in our short history on this planet. Nobody’s going to buy their way out of its effects.

 Mark Ruffalo

Ruffalo’s sentiment emphasizes the need for collective action and shared responsibility in addressing the climate crisis. The path to a greener future requires significant financial investment in planting trees and ensuring long-term maintenance.

SGF is actively seeking collaborations with forward-thinking entities, both public and private, that recognize the immense value of reforestation in mitigating climate change, restoring biodiversity, and creating sustainable livelihoods. By pooling resources, expertise, and passion, SGF and its future partners can unlock the potential to heal our planet and build a brighter tomorrow. 

We all need to step up and contribute to a cause greater than ourselves, recognizing that every action, no matter how small, can have a ripple effect on the future of our planet. 

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

 —Native American Indian proverb

Suggested reading

  1. has published online a 3-part articles on the current views of worldwide reforestation.  Problems, methods and new opportunities of faster reforestation via AI, drones, satellites and drones were featured in this 2023 series.
  2. S Romuli, A Jesser, C I Nwankwo, L. Hermann, J. Muller. 2023. Low-cost drum regulator for mechanized seedball production. HardwareX, vol. 13, e00397.
  3.  Cadiz, R., Landicho, M., & Aparente, M. (n.d.). ERDB Research, Development and Extension Strategies for the Production of High Quality Planting Materials. Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, College, Laguna 4031, the Philippines.
  4. FAO and UNEP. 2020. The State of the World’s Forests 2020. Forests, biodiversity and people. Rome.


Contact us:

Jonathan R. Matias


Miag-ao, Iloilo 5023 Philippines

Thea Carmelle B. Sumagaysay
Manager, Environmental Planning Office

Phone: +63 939 076 9934

The data above as of June 13, 2024. 
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