Former Reddit CEO Develops Terraware: Software for New-Generation Afforestation

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Although CO2 emissions are rising, more forests are being cleared every year. Terraformation is developing innovative software to counteract this loss of biomass.

Author Benjamin Lucks:

Translation Lana O'Sullivan, 05.29.23

Although CO2 emissions are still rising, more and more forests are being cleared across Europe every year. Compared to the period between 2011 and 2015, the loss of biomass in European forests increased by a third between 2016 and 2018 according to a recent study. This means we are producing more carbon dioxide on the one hand and also destroying forest areas that could convert CO2 into oxygen on the other.

The company Terraformation wants to counteract this development through something called effective afforestation, the process of introducing trees and seedlings to areas not previously forested. The company, run by former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, has been developing solutions for more effective afforestation for the past couple of years. In order to help companies with the procurement and control of seeds, they now produce software called “Terraware” and accompany the entire reforestation process.

Software to streamline a life cycle from seed to tree

The aim of the software is to monitor tree growth and ensure the afforestation process goes as seamlessly as possible — from the delivery of seeds to the fully grown plant. Terraware is easily accessible as a web app. Companies start by creating an inventory of their seeds and then plan their planting in the associated project.

Terraware takes care to ensure that the needs of each future tree are met. For example, when cultivating a new species in an area, users must specify how its seeds need to be stored and in which ecosystem the plant can later thrive. Terraware then uses this data to provide field workers with individually tailored data for each seedling.

© Terraware / Screenshot: Reset.org
The Terraware web app can be accessed conveniently via your browser.

The planting of the seeds, the care of the seedlings as well as the monitoring of the later forest areas, i.e. all actions that cannot be realised in the office, are supported by Terraware via a smartphone app. Employees can use the mobile field app to save notes, take pictures and store GPS coordinates to keep the database created at the beginning up to date.

With software support, Terraformation aims to avoid afforestation bottlenecks. Meanwhile, database-supported planting helps to ensure the biodiversity of new forest areas and their survival over several generations.

Seed Banking in the Terraformation Academy

In addition to the development of its own software, Terraformation offers detailed information on the handling of seeds online. The Terraformation Academy is roughly divided into the areas of “collecting”, “storing” and “germination and rest”.

The data will, in turn, help other projects correctly identify plant seeds when they are sourced, and then plant them to suit their needs. This data goes on to improve the effectiveness of Terraware’s software.

© Terraware / Screenshot: Reset.org
Information on seeds from the Terraformation Academy can be entered directly into the Terraware software.

Terraformation views one of the main problems of failed reforestation projects as that seeds are often planted in the wrong place, contrary to their needs. Dr Marian Chau, Head of Seed Banking at Terraformation, is quoted on the homepage as saying: “To plant one million trees, we need at least three million seeds”. Improving the efficiency of reforestation is therefore an important goal for the future.

The Seed-to-Carbon-Forest-Accelerator

To help other start-ups and companies, Terraformation also runs an “Accelerator”.

In an accelerator, a company supports other companies and start-ups through coaching; the transfer of knowledge and the provision of necessary resources.

Terraformation does not describe the Accelerator’s goal as being driven by profits. Instead, the aim is to support “thriving forests and communities that conserve biodiversity”. Companies and groups can apply for access to the accelerator, provided they realise “large-scale and successful projects that are able to generate significant amounts of carbon credits.”

Terraformation aims to develop reforestation that will last for generations and help both the environment and the surrounding communities.

In addition to its own projects, Terraformation is gathering expertise and experience on the carbon market with its Seed-to-Carbon-Forest-Accelerator in order to support sustainable afforestation.

Afforestation is an important means of climate protection

Studies show how important the topic of reforestation is as a means of combating climate change.

The study by the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich, however, goes one step further. With the help of satellite images, they valued the global potential for effective reforestation — in other words, areas that could theoretically be covered with new forest. The study put the figure at 4.4 billion hectares, 1.6 billion more than the existing forest areas in 2019.

The potential for reforestation is highest in Russia, the USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China. And it is precisely here that solutions like Terraware can ensure that planted forests remain healthy for decades and actually act as an effective means of combating rising CO2 emissions.

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