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Vetiver has done its job! 14 years later stable slopes, clean road drains, and now mainly native species

The Vetiver System supports Community Resilience at a time of uncertainty - Part 2 - Water

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Figure 1: water oozing from spring line (PC- Anno Farms)
This is the second article about using the Vetiver System to help build community resilience in these uncertain times when many communities can expect little support from government or others to deal with increasing problems created by climate change, continuing poverty, and very limited financial resources. 

As noted in Part 1 most rural people in the tropics and semi arid areas are poor, and, even when out of poverty, most are unable to manage the environmental crises that currently, and in the future, will confront them. Most communities worry about being able to make a decent living from their small farms or businesses, they worry about the quality and availability of their water supply, they worry about potential disasters that may isolate them from neighboring communities and services, they worry about educating their children, and they see continuing and unabated health challenges often linked to environmental and social mismanagement.  These concerns are magnified because most communities lack access to low cost technologies that might help them overcome some of their problems. The Vetiver System (VS) is one of a number of technologies that can help them. VS is low cost, relatively simple to understand, safe, and over the past 30 years is well proven.

The Vetiver Grass Technology, (VGT) used for decades by farmers in south India as a tool for soil conservation, was reintroduced and "institutionalized" by John Greenfield of New Zealand whilst he was working for the World Bank in India in the 1980s.  At that time the objective was to establish VGT as a more appropriate erosion control technology than the traditional engineered contour bunds. Later VGT formed the basis of a number of other applications that collectively are known as the Vetiver System (VS), these will be reviewed in future posts to this blog.

This article discusses the application of VGT for sustained and improved water supplies that meet community needs. The availability of water and its quality has become of prime importance to sustaining human and animal life on our planet. This is of primary importance to many poor communities, both in urban and rural areas. A more reliable supply will reduce risks and costs, and for farmers assure crop and livestock benefits. VGT hedgerows as noted in part 1 will increase soil moisture and will enhance groundwater. Hedgerows reduce rainfall runoff by as much as 70%, and provide, by some estimates, 20% recharge of ground water.  Reduced runoff and recharge results in better down catchment flows, stronger spring flows, sustainable well water supplies, and fuller surface reservoirs. 

The Vetiver System supports Community Resilience at a time of uncertainty - Part I - The Farm

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Figure 1:Hassan Ali and family from Ethiopia - a leading user of the
Vetiver System and who  is as a result much more resilient to uncertainty
I propose to write about how the Vetiver System can help build up community resilience in these uncertain times when many communities can expect little support from government or others to deal with increasing problems created by climate change, continuing poverty, and very limited financial resources. The review will be carried out over a number of post. Most rural people in the tropics and semi arid areas are poor, and even when out of poverty most are unable to manage the environmental crises that currently, and in the future, will confront them. Most communities worry about being able to make a decent living from their small farms or businesses, they want to educate their children at higher levels, they worry about the quality and availability of their water supply, they worry about potential disasters that may isolate them from neighboring communities and services, and they see continuing and unabated health challenges often caused by environmental mismanagement. These concerns are magnified because most communities lack access to low cost technologies that might help them overcome some of their problems.

The Vetiver System (VS) is one of a number of technologies that can help them. VS is low cost, relatively simple to understand, safe, and has over the past 30 years been well proven. The Vetiver Grass Technology, (VGT) used for decades by farmers in south India as a tool for soil conservation, was reintroduced and "institutionalized" by John Greenfield of New Zealand whilst he was working for the World Bank in India in the 1980s. At that time the objective was to establish VGT as a more appropriate erosion control technology than the traditional engineered contour bunds. Later VGT formed the basis of a number of other applications that collectively are known as the Vetiver System (VS), these will be reviewed in future blogs. The grass when planted as a hedgerow across the slope significantly reduces soil loss and rainfall runoff. As a result soil fertility is enhanced (increased organic matter, reduced nutrient loss, and nutrient enhancement through increased soil micro-organism activity), crop water availability is improved (enhanced permeability and rate of infiltration), ground water is better recharged is less polluted, and; and farmers can use other crop improvement technologies with less fear of "man" induced drought, flood damage, etc. that can lead to economic disaster. Additionally there are many bi-products that further enhance farm income including vetiver grass use as forage, mulch, thatch, fuel, medicine, crop protection (integrated pest management), and material for handicrafts. All these uses are quantified in the many research and "feed back" papers and documents found at the TVNI website - www.vetiver.org.

 One of the most successful and widespread on farm application of vetiver has been in the Mettu-Gore region of western Ethiopia, where it was introduced in the 1990's by the Austrian NGO, Menschen fur Menschen, with some financial support from TVNI. Today tens of thousands of small farmers are using vetiver in that region. Here are some examples from Ethiopia showing how VGT has been successfully used on farms at any scale.

Figure 2: Google Earth image (1/2014) of Hassan Ali's farm near Gore 
- western Ethiopia. 8°11'11.23"N, 35°21'2.58"E

 Hassan Ali and family A small farmer in Gore District, Hassan Ali, started using vetiver about 20 years ago and soil fertility and "rainfall security" he was able year after year to increase his income to enable him to educate his children through university. He also was a key person in the area to teaching other famers about the benefits of VGT that has resulted in the spread of the technology. "Seeing is Believing"- Figure 2 is  a 2014 Google Earth image of his farm with his vetiver hedgerows marked with a "V" in red, and some photos that I took in 2009 to match some of the locations on the GE image - marked as yellow numbers.

The Vetiver System and India - It takes a generation!

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A recent quote from a senior official in West Bengal India:

"Soil erosion is one of the largest environmental issues facing the earth today; and the river banks region of India, with heavy rainfall, is particularly affected. Erosion devastates infrastructural activities- landslides, erosion by river and flood water take heavy toll of developed infrastructure. From an engineer’s perspective sustainable asset management has posed as a gargantuan task because of soil erosion. Traditional hard engineering is now found to be inconsistent with the three pillars of sustainability - economy, social and environmental. Hard engineering interventions to prevent erosion have been attempted over decades in the region, incurring large financial and environmental costs, and with limited success. This in combination with limited State budgets makes finding an alternative, low cost, environmentally sustainable solution imperative. One such method that shows considerable promise is Vetiver grass."

30 years ago (a generation ago) John Greenfield and I, when working for the World Bank in India, re-introduced the Vetiver Grass Technology (VGT) as an alternative to the engineering approach  - the latter did not work very well - too expensive, heavily subsidized, badly maintained, and mostly ineffective.  We were not very popular for promoting vetiver grass hedgerows as components of World Bank funded projects (Indian Watershed Projects in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh States) as an alternative and better technological and economic solution; questions were tabled in the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, some people even wanted to ban the technology!

Well, as you can see from the above quote, we have come a long way from those days, thanks to a new generation of professionals and the pressure created by climate change and social needs that demand alternative, effective and lower cost solutions.

News from China

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The second year of a new project: ”Vetiver and agroforestry for poverty reduction and natural resource protection in the Dabie mountains of China”, supported by Germany, continues to promote VS technology in this very poor part of China.

Mr. Yong Lu, associate professorfrom School of Economics and Management, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, has redesigned our website http://www.vetiver.org.cn/  When opened by Google Chrome browser it can be nicely translated to English

A new book “Vetiver System Research, Application and Extension”, edited by Xia Hanping and Liyu Xu will introduce new VS development since 2008 in China and in the world. This will follow a book titled “Vetiver System: Theory and Practice” published in 2008.


We will establish a new network: Southwest China Vetiver Network based on  Kunming to promote VS development in a region covered by many mountains.
Vetiver Coordinator, Liyu Xu.

Vetiver as a livestock forage

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Liyu Xu, Vetiver Coordinator for China, has been promoting the Vetiver System for 20 years, and continues to provide us with feedback on the use of vetiver in south China.  Most of the areas that he personally is involved with are relatively high rainfall and hilly areas where soil is poor and where people are poor.  In Yunnan province a group of farmers have formed a cooperative to support the production of cattle and goats using vetiver as the main source of feed. Liyu's note is at: http://www.vetiver.org/CHN_cooperative%20of%20raising%20cattle.pdf and is well worth reading.  The bottom line is that when grown as a forage, and managed and fed on a rotational cutting system at a time when the vetiver leaf is young it is possible to get good growth and substantial increase in incomes.  It is interesting that these farmers also sell some of their vetiver as plant material to local construction companies for slope stabilization and other purposes. In addition on farm erosion and rainfall runoff is reduced. Seems to be a WIN WIN situation!!

I have been writing about the potential of these  multipurpose applications of vetiver for a number of years now.  This one from Yunnan is a good example.  Vetiver is grown and managed (not just as a hedge) as a forage crop supporting in this case 3 head of cattle/ha; it is cut as forage every two or three weeks (at larger scale it could be strip grazed); some of it is being harvested and sold as planting material; it is drought tolerant, it grows with minimum inputs, and is protecting and enhancing the soil. The cow manure will either be used for biogas production or returned to the land.  The cooperativer structure is interesting, quote "The cooperative operates as a combination of company, cooperative, and farmers. The Yunnan Vetiver Sci-Tech Co. Ltd, a branch company of Kunming Guangbao Biotechnology Engineering Co. Ltd is a shareholder in the form of technical service, seedling supply, and Vetiver plant material repurchase; the cooperative distributes seedlings to farmers in terms of individual need; and the farmers individually cultivate the Vetiver.  Worth trying in other countries????
Dick Grimshaw


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