José Luis Rubio, the vice chair of the European Soil Bureau Network, called Ruys’s invention “remarkable” in its results and told Shorto that it represents “an innovative method” to restoring vegetation to barren landscapes.
So what did Ruys invent? One way to restore degraded soil is to plant trees—lots of them. The catch is that seeds and saplings won’t grow in such soil, but if a young tree becomes large enough that its roots can reach groundwater it stands an excellent chance of thriving. Previous efforts often followed two paths: cumbersome and impractical irrigation techniques, or tossing a few million seeds out of an airplane and hoping for the best. Ruys’s innovation was to develop a doughnut-shaped waxed-paper cocoon, the base of which is buried underground. It contains the sapling, enough water to sustain the tree while it establishes a root system, and a small lozenge of beneficial fungi. The cocoon is cheap, easy to plant, scalable—a community can plant hundreds of acres of them in a short time—and biodegradable.
… In its three years of existence, Ruys’s company has planted a quarter of a million trees in twenty countries… Ruys and his partner insisted from the start that Land Life should be a for-profit company. As of this year, it is breaking even on revenue of approximately 2.5 million euros, with clients ranging from N.G.O.s to private companies to an Israeli businessman who has paid Land Life to plant trees on both sides of the Israel-Palestine border.
The article makes fascinating reading and I wish I had the money to invest in the company.
Read the full article in the New Yorker: "How to Plant a Tree in the Desert"