Saturday, December 20, 2008

TVNI awards Vetiver Systems Hawaii a "Certificate of Technical Excellence"

This week The Vetiver Network International awarded several of its members well-deserved Certificates of Technical Excellence. These certificates recognize high quality work and a demonstration of a high level of knowledge in specific areas of the Vetiver System technology.

Classification of those certified and their area of excellence make it easier for potential customers to assess their capability and expertise. Vetiver Systems Hawaii LLC is very pleased to announce that it has received its Class 2 Certification for "Vetiver propagation and nursery management, soil conservation, and Vetiver information dissemination." VSH appreciates the support of its customers and readers, and congratulates its international friends and colleagues who also received certifications. The 2008 list includes:

Class 1: Qualified in at least three areas of specific applications:
Doug Richardson - USA Vetiver Propagation and Nursery Management, Slope Stabilization, Landscaping and Agriculture
Mary Noah Manarang - Philippines Vetiver Propagation, Erosion Control, Slope Stabilization, and Contaminated Land Rehabilitation
Roley Noffke - South Africa Propagation, Erosion Control, Slope Stabilization, Contaminated Land Rehabilitation, and Vetiver Community Involvement

Class 2: Qualified in at least two areas of specific applications:
Norman Vant Hoff - Indonesia Vetiver Propagation and Nursery Management, Waste Water Management and Pollution Control
Yoann Coppin - Madagascar Vetiver Propagation and Nursery management, Slope Stabilization, and Vetiver Community Involvement
Don Miller - New Zealand Erosion Control, Watershed Conservation, Vetiver Propagation and Comunity Involvement
Marco Forti - Italy Vetiver Propagation and Nursery Management, Erosion Control, Soil Conservation and Vetiver Information Dissemination
Alberto Rodriguez - Puerto Rico Vetiver Propagation and Nursery Management, Soil Conservation, and Vetiver Information Dissemination
Mary A. Wikowski - Hawaii Vetiver Propagation and Nursery Management, Soil Conservation, and Vetiver Information Dissemination

Sunday, December 14, 2008

If it's raining, it's Vetiver weather!

It doesn't take much to return Vetiver's true mission to front and center. Well, I suppose it depends on whether you consider 14 inches of rain in 12 hours to be "much."

Heavy rains on Oahu swamped local homes and farmlands on its North Shore, central island, and leeward coast, hitting hard the communities of Laie, Hauula, Haleiwa and Wailua, Waipahu and Waianae, among others. Raw sewage overflowed from Ewa Beach cesspools, and that problem resurfaced (!) in North Shore communities which historically suffer when their septic systems cannot handle heavy rain. Wahiawa and Sand Island wastewaster treatment plants overflowed, too. Honolulu Harbor and the beleagered Lake Wilson were the depositories. Military waste treatment facilities were equally unprepared. My Marines at MCB Kaneohe Bay lost thousands of gallons of untreated sewage into Kaneohe Bay and the Mokapu Central Drainage Channel. The army at Schofield Barracks deposited nearly a million gallons of effluent into Kaukonahua Stream and into its storm drains. Coastal waters turned brown from runoff, and motorists were greeted with the first mudslides of the season.

A levee in Waianae Valley constructed by the city to prevent water from flowing into residents' backyards along Puuhulu Road burst, forming a brown stream that destroyed the very yards it was intended to protect. Homeowner Virgil Haynes lost her beehives.

AND...a very simple technology could have anticipated the annual devastation and mitigated the results: the VETIVER SOLUTION.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cane Fire! Vetiver hedges protect sugar cane, too

This is the second story today that I've cockaroached from The Vetiver Network. The following exchange between Dick Grimshaw and John Greenfield addresses the application of the Vetiver System to agriculture dear to Hawaii: sugar cane fields and native forests.

From Dick Grimshaw:

The recent fires in California remind us of its devastation to property and to the local ecology. Often these fires are so hot that they burn off most of the ground vegetation. Recovery is
slow and, during the delay, the land is exposed to rainfall and resulting erosion, high rainfall runoff, and sometimes land slippage.

Plenty of evidence shows that it's difficult to burn green Vetiver. Although Vetiver may burn off, sometimes completely, when it's dry, it recovers quickly within weeks. This enables the hedge to meet its design objectives.

Green vetiver hedges are very dense, and fire has difficulty penetrating them. Under these conditions, the hedge acts as a fire break to slow creeping fires. Where Vetiver in Fiji was grown in conjunction with sugar cane it survived the annual fire that was set before the cane harvest.

On Vanuatu (South Pacific) Vetiver hedges were used to improve moisture and soil fertility to facilitate the replanting of forests destroyed by fire. This successful process is described on the TVNI website. The new forests were also subject to fire; those that were burned recovered quite quickly because the Vetiver started regrowing (ex-hibernation) as soon as the tree canopy was incinerated. The revived hedges reduced erosion and runoff which helped the trees to recover quickly.

Find representative images of this Vetiver recovery at:

John Greenfield responds:

Dick has made a valid point here: green Vetiver hedges in the tropics are virtually fireproof. Let me make a slight correction to keep the record straight.

Dick reports that Vetiver in Fiji grown in conjunction with sugar cane survived the annual fire that was set before the cane harvest.

Unlike nearly every other cane-growing country, no cane in Fiji was burned before harvesting. If it was, the sugar company penalized the grower, because burned cane results in slightly caramelized sugar that costs more to refine. In Fiji, growers burn the trash generated by the cane harvest. (Like Hawaii,) Fiji has no snakes, or dangerous vermin that would require a pre-harvest fire, but you do have to watch for hornets.

The amazing thing about Vetiver hedges in the cane fields is that, following harvest, the cane grows rapidly and in a matter of months completely shades the vetiver from the light. At the next harvest, (12 months later for ratoon crops ,18 months later for plant crops) the hedge is plunged into full sunlight, then must survive the heat of a trash fire before once again being shaded again by the next ratoon crop. This process repeats for years but doesn’t effect the Vetiver's viability. I don’t know of many plants that can withstand this rough treatment.

Vetiver breaks wind (!) and nurtures banana trees

Alrighty, then! Back to business--monkey business, that is.

California's "Dr. Banana," Doug Richardson, has worked with bananas and Vetiver for many years. A couple of years ago he and I chatted about Vetiver, bananas, and Hawaii's climate. I wondered whether Vetiver's proven effectiveness as a moisture barrier would contribute to mold in Hawaii banana trees. Doug assured me that Vetiver is an interesting chameleon. When conditions are wet, Vetiver acts as a wick to release moisture; it retains moisture during dry times.

Enjoy the following excerpts from a recent exchange between Doug and Criss Juliard, and John Greenfield's response:

From Criss:

Vetiver surrounds banana plantations as a windbreak along the coast in Morocco; in Senegal, we set up an erosion trial on a banana plantation. On a slight 3-degree slope, we planted one-half hectare with Vetiver hedgerows following the contour, and, next to it, one-half hectare without. Surprisingly, the banana trees planted next to the hedges produced ripe bunches about 4-6 weeks earlier than those without. We concluded that the Vetiver hedges retained moisture and made that moisture available to the plant, both strategic conditions for better growth and yield. While neither plot had drip irrigation, both had received the same amount of gravity-fed water.

In Senegal, I gave some vetiver plants to a plant pathologist friend, who transplanted them near some of his banana trees. He was surprised to observe the superior growth and development of the trees near the vetiver, compared to those further away from it, even though he didn't water the vetiver. When he dug a small trench around one of the banana trees to check its roots, he found its root system decidedly turned towards the vetiver, and concluded that a symbiotic relationship had developed between the two plants. He suspected that vetiver roots were better at dispersing water than his own watering regime. One of the problems we faced early in our relationship with Senegalese banana growers was their preference for flood irrigation. Slowly, large and small plantations converted to drip irrigation, measured and timed. Senegal has now been transformed from net importers of bananas to net exporters! Candidly, part of that shift resulted from the persistent civil disruptions in neighboring Ivory Coast countries that could no longer supply the Senegalese banana market.

I hope your expanded banana plantation is highly successful. Try installing Vetiver on some parts and not on others. In Morocco we've been planting bananas using a technique we learned in Lebanon. Plant a banana plant at each corner of a square meter (3') hole, and install an irrigation outlet at each hole. We found that planting the banana plant 50 cm below the surface eliminated nematode problems, and that one simple tie around the four grown trees eliminated the need for individual “tutors” and the risk of anything touching the bananas.

Doug's response:

I tried to obtain some photo images of a banana/Vetiver planting I did in California in 1999. In my experience, bananas and Vetiver work very well together. However, I found Vetiver's beneficial influence was not limited to bananas. Along with bananas, I planted dozens of other subtropical fruit trees that are considered marginal specialty crops in our area. Almost without exception their growth exceeded our expectations.

I agree that Vetiver greatly improves the moisture regime for the plants in its vicinity but I suspect that an equally powerful factor is the microbiological activity in the rhizosphere of the Vetiver and its attendant impact on the nutritional status and vigor of nearby plants. Vetiver's potential as a nurse crop has been touted in the literature and my experience is consistent. Its use as a windbreak is also a strong contributing factor to the rapid development of plants grown with Vetiver. I have used drip irrigation and microjets with bananas, and both produced acceptable results. Some papers suggest that drip is superior to sprays in the subtropics because it doesn't wet and cool the banana's pseudostems in our heat-deficient environment. However, the sprays provide more humidity. I need more time with a new planting to discern.

John's observations:

Let me add my 10 cents' worth. In the 1950s I set up two large banana plantations on sugar estates that were being closed in Fiji. We didn't use Vetiver because the plantations were on alluvial plains in a 6,000mm rainfall area too wet for sugar cane, but ideal for bananas. Bananas need about 40 litres of water a day to reach full production in nine months. The humidity created by high rainfall or too much irrigation encourages Cercospora leaf spot which affects the bunches reaching maturity. Once the tree has thrown a bunch it no longer will produce leaves, and Cercospora can wipe out the essential leaves before the bunch has filled out or ripened.

Irrigation is costly, and, in your case, Criss, Vetiver hedges would do a great job conserving moisture and holding it in the root zone, without humidity problems. But I think that another factor may be in play, and that is the role played by Vetiver’s Mycorrhiza in stimulating banana growth.

Moisture conserved by Vetiver hedges planted across the slope will stimulate and sustain the crops grown by subsistence farmers, and will become increasingly important as the global recession expands. Developing countries will have to support themselves as aid agencies exhaust their funds. Using Vetiver hedges to conserve moisture in Andhra Pradesh, India, farmers actually produced an excellent crop of millet in an area that had been declared a drought disaster.


Your 10 cents is always worth more than a gold mine!

Bananas and proper drainage:
I have not lived in areas with 6,000mm rainfall, but Cercospora leaf disease devastated plenty of small Senegalese banana farms because of overwatering, excess dampness in the roots, and poor soil drainage. Specialists in the Caribbean suggest that healthy banana plants need less than the 40 liters you suggest; they recommend 14 liters/day, spaced over a period of not less than four hours. Bananas that get more water than that are prone to root-based diseases, at least Grand Nain, the variety we were battling. We used raised beds with deeply planted Vetiver. During the rains, Vetiver absorbed and evapo-transpired excess water; during the dry season, Vetiver reduced drought stress by maintaining humidity in the root zone.

At the time, I was not familiar with Mycorrhiza mycelia and the way it worked. As you addressed, mycelia increases roots' ability to absorb nutrients from the soil beyond those the root system can grasp on its own. Nabil El Chowk, my partner in Morocco, has been researching for several years the effect of inoculating plants with Mycorrhiza mycelia he collects from and near roots in different parts of parched lands, where plants grow in a continuous state of stress. He explained to me that Mycorrhizae found near and in vetiver roots have unusual capacities to increase growth and survival of fruit trees, vegetables and ornamental flowers grown on the farm.

So our challenge is how to add to our already bulging Vetiver tool box that the plant not only improves food crop production through soil moisture retention, but also establishes a symbiotic relation, examined through a unique Mycorrhiza in and near Vetiver roots, that allows food crops to develop more efficiently in poor soils. Doug simply refers to the phenomena as the “microbiological activity in the rhizophere.” How do we better market these two advantages in regions where Vetiver is most needed?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Alchemy Works" weighs in

Are talk of the ruinous economy and its actual effects on you and your business getting you down? seems that the scent of Vetiver may help!! (It certainly can't hurt...) Our friends at Alchemy Works provide outta sight insight, and a recipe for success!

The roots of this Earth plant (Vetiver) are ground and added to incense mixtures to give them an earthy, sensual scent. Vetiver is uplifting and helps maintain emotional calm, especially when flashbacks are experienced. Its essential oil is called the Oil of Tranquility. This magick herb is sometimes helpful in processing grief and promotes restful sleep and calm dreams. It is said to help in overcoming negative or fallow times as well. This protective herb is sometimes used magickally to promote love, especially between gay people (showing some Mercury here). Consistent with Mercury/Hermes as the patron of merchants and thieves, some businesspeople keep a bit in the cash register to attract money and repel thieves.

Non-Magickal Uses
The fibers of this lemongrass relative are often woven into sleeping mats that release a cooling fragrance when slept on. Rats and bugs hate the smell, so it makes a great sachet, keeping away moths and adding a pleasant scent to clothing. It works as a fixative in perfumery and soapmaking, and is a nice alternative to orris root. Add it to fix Earth-based potpouri that includes mosses, lichens and nuts, or combine 1:1 with white sandalwood to make a Vetiver incense. Vetiver is sometimes associated with Capricorn (December 21-January 20).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Musings about Vetiver fragrance and melancholia

A damp Honolulu evening, my wandering fingers, and an insatiable appreciation for the smell of all things Vetiver led me to the Forest Rat's musings:

« Furry Little Creatures
Trees to Thoreau to Terroir

Lately I have been noticing a lot of connections among things. I think about one thing and, while researching it, I run across other interesting things that often connect to something else I've been thinking about.
Well, a couple of posts back (Silent Skies) I was hanging around a woodpile, watching the evening deepen. I commented about the unique scent of the freshly cut logs:
“To me locust wood has an earthy, mossy, slightly sweet, and almost but not quite musty scent. It reminds me of the wonderful sweet perfume of the flowers that cover the tree in white raiment each spring, only it is muted and mixed with the dark richness of the soil that feeds the tree’s inner life.”
At the same time I happened to be reading “The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.” I reached the end of the book and read a reprint of Emerson’s eulogy following the death of Henry Thoreau, which includes this observation:
“He thought the scent a more oracular inquisition than the sight - more oracular and trustworthy. The scent, of course, reveals what is concealed from the other senses. By it he detected earthiness.”
Interesting. I was just thinking about the scent of wood and its earthiness. I thought I'd look into just what makes earth (dirt, soil, mould) smell the way it does.
Even though we might not know what causes it, we've all smelled it: the smell of a freshly plowed field, or the smell of the soil when you dig a hole in the garden to plant a tree or a rose bush, or the scent on the air after a summer downpour (which smells like worms).
That scent is caused by a chemical called geosmin and it is produced by bacteria in the soil called actinomycetes. No one knows why the bacteria produce this compound or why humans find it pleasant. However, I ran into this interesting tidbit - this “friendly” bacteria can serve as an antidepressant which leads researchers to wonder whether we should spend more time playing in the dirt.
This led me to an article about how bacteria in the soil alter the composition of certain essential oils. Investigators have learned that they can alter fragrance by controlling "food" for bacteria, and conclude: “This finding may go some way to explain why the properties of Vetiver oil change significantly depending on the environment in which the Vetiver was grown.”
This path lead me through tangled vines of related words to the french word terroir. Terroir brought me back to the soil. Terroir seems to translate to something like “a sense of place” or “a taste of the soil” or, as one author wrote: somewhere-ness. It's a quality imparted to a crop, grapes in particular, by the locale in which it is grown. So some might say that part of what makes a great French wine great is that it comes from grapes grown in France, in a particular French vineyard, and maybe even in a particular section of a particular vineyard in France.
Although terroir is a complex and controversial concept in the wine world, I just like the idea that places have a taste.
In Silent Skies I wrote:
“Each species of tree has its own unique scent, just as each one has a unique grain pattern, color, and texture. Veteran woodworkers can identify species of wood by smell alone, the same way oenophiles can identify vintages. If you think about it, wooden barrels figure prominently in winemaking, and the type of wood used is critical to imparting just the right flavors and aromas.”
This was before I learned about terroir. Maybe the scent of the wood, like the taste of a wine, depends not only on the species of tree, but also on the plot that reared it. Maybe locust wood near my home has a slightly different scent than wood from Pennsylvania - I’ll bet that it does.
P.S. Another quote from Thoreau where he mixes his senses: “I put on some hemlock-boughs, and the rich salt crackling of their leaves was like mustard to the ear, the crackling of uncountable regiments. Dead trees love the fire.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We CANNOT wait forever!!

In the early 1960s when I first started my professional career as a conservationist and agriculturist in Zambia, soil erosion was a major problem. Nearly 50 years later worldwide erosion is worse. When I worked in Ethiopia 40 years ago, the cost of highway maintenance was very high because of bad drainage and erosion, which are still major and worsening problems in most developing countries. When I worked in eastern Nigeria 30 years ago, the formation of massive gullies was so bad that houses were engulfed. Today the situation is even more dire. When I worked in India 20 years ago, irrigation without recharge was depleting groundwater. Water issues are even worse today. In the past 10 years, water supplies throughout Asia have become increasingly contaminated by agricultural and industrial waste, resulting in serious health problems. Climate change and global temperature changes are causing more violent weather, which results in more frequent and serious storm-related disasters.

What is the world doing about all this?! VERY LITTLE! Why? Politics, cost, the enormous scale of the problem, wrong technologies, agenda conflicts, APATHY, LACK of COURAGE, and LACK of LEADERSHIP. If ACTION is not undertaken on a wide scale many people will die, and our natural resources will be destroyed. The CHALLENGE is to do something, and to do it SOON. Achieving quick results simultaneously in many locations requires community involvement and commitment, and the use of relatively simple technology that can be applied at micro scale.

Very few technologies can meet this challenge. The VETIVER SYSTEM (VS) is one that can. It is easy to train community leaders in VS fundamentals; the work is documented and readily available in the public domain. Vetiver plant material is quickly and easily propagated, and people, given some fairly minor technical support, can identify key locations that require VS application. Here's just one example: A few weeks ago I described the way erosion sediment had destroyed inshore fisheries and coral reefs in Vanuatu. VS stabilized the area and allowed reforestation to occur. By stopping sediment flows, Vetiver allowed the reef and fisheries to recover. This is just one example of thousands of sites that needs help. One publicized application every decade will not solve our problems! Every time a tropical storm strikes the Caribbean, tons of island sediment land in the sea. Effluent from leaking septic systems and other point sources (mines, industrial sites) washes onto beaches and into the sea, and personal property is destroyed. This devastation is predictable and can be prevented. On a small scale, VS can control septic tank effluent. The application of VS followed by tree planting can stabilize point source erosion sites, including watershed minetailings - a source of water borne contaminants. Similarly, VS can stabilize sea walls/dykes, riverbanks, bridge abutments, and roadscan, which can minimize infrastructure and flood damage. The list goes on. This one technology can do it all!

Tens of thousands of paid persons in developing countries are doing very little and making even less impact. They should be retrained and put to work. I can guarantee that these workers will respond positively to good leaders. Schools should introduce VS as part of the curricula for rural children. We know it works! The East Bali Poverty Project changed the lives of 10,000 families by introducing Vetiver to children. No more starvation. No more unbalanced diets. These communities now enjoy good clean water and improved health, roads that don't collapse, and hillsides that don't slide. See If nothing is done, developing communities will eventually vanish, and, so, too, the world's resources. As President-Elect Obama says, "We CAN." I say, "We MUST." Now is the time for ACTION - not TALK.

Dick Grimshaw

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vetiver hedges work with nature to curb erosion

The following is excerpted from a recent letter to Elise Pinners by John Greenfield, author of Vetiver Grass: The Hedge Against Eriosion (1990) and The Vetiver System for Soil and Water Conservation (the 2008 update of his 1987 manual), and widely regarded as the Father of the Renaissance of the Vetiver Movement:

From my 50+ years of experience starting with the Soil Conservation Service, and comparing its widely published schemes with yeomans, border listing, deep ripping, ridge and furrow, through to Fanya Juu – I noted they share one thing in common: all are constructed unnatural systems that work against nature rather than with it. They either move runoff out of the area that it fell in, or accumulate it in "puddles" or ponds that render it unavailable to crops without a lot of effort.

Compare these with the vetiver hedge properly installed across the slope or on the contour. It controls runoff, spreads it out, and allows the runoff to “ooze” through its entire length on its way down the slope, effectively watering the whole area and benefiting the plants. Vetiver hedges welcome the rain; more rain means more moisture is spread over the area. When we first discovered the world’s oldest vetiver hedges in Gundalpet, India, (where they were used to mark farm boundaries), the resulting crop in areas where these hedges crossed the slope had grown in so evenly that it looked as if it had been irrigated. Two reasons support this fact --the hedges eventually level the land because collected silt fills low areas behind the hedge, and the water spends a longer time on the surface, which breaks up surface sealing and allows the water to penetrate to depths where the moisture is needed. Since the hedges do not convey the runoff, it backs up and waits to ooze through the hedge.

When runoff is being conveyed to another outlet like a natural drainage outlet, spillway, waterway, pit or dam, it moves continually. Water from a useful rain does not remain on the ground long enough to break up surface sealing before it's lost as runoff. The more intense the rain, the faster it moves and the less moisture is stored. This pattern results in more damage to a constructed system. A constructed conservation bank can only operate safely for 300 m before it discharges the water it is conveying or storing. Otherwise the bank will overflow and burst. A vetiver hedge, on the other hand, can be run safely for kilometres because it doesn’t convey the water --it filters the water through its entire length. Since constructed systems are built from the same soil you're trying to protect from erosion, they are exposed to the same dangers of erosion and runoff as the unprotected bare ground. They are not "anchored" into the ground. In contrast, the massive root systems of Vetiver hedges anchor them to the ground.

Ridges and furrows, Fanya Juu, contour banks and their ilk are a lot of pain for very little gain. Given his plowing and planting program, the average subsistence farmer lacks the time to put them in place. Once in place, he lacks the time and labor to maintain or reconstruct them. However, once a vetiver hedge is in place, the farmer has little to worry about.

Elise, as you say in Dutch, “We get too soon old and too late smart”


John Greenfield.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thai students apply Vetiver Solution to solve water problems

Thailand's monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been an ardent supporter of Vetiver Technology for nearly 25 years, and recognizes Vetiver's importance to water conservation. More than 400 high school students from 20 schools nationwide responded to the King's first Junior Water Challenge this year. In Thai, the contest is named Pi Num Nong Raknam Tam Naew Pra Rajdamri, which means "Elder Students Lead the Younger Ones to Conserve Water Resources by Applying His Majesty the King's Initiatives."
The project is a collaborative effort by the Coca-Cola Foundation, the National Council on Social Welfare of Thailand, the Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute, the Royal Irrigation Department, the Ministry of Education, and the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board. It intends to educate students about, and raise their awareness of, sustainable water management and conservation. Each participating school generated its own water conservation project and developed water conservation networks in their community and nearby schools.
Among the competitors were students from Huai Yot School in Trang province, the southern region winner, which presented its "Vetiver Planting on the Banks of Huai Yot School's Reservoirs According to the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy." The project aimed to protect two precious reservoirs near the school, which are also its community's major water sources.
During the rainy season, heavy rains usually collapse the reservoirs' banks and reduce the water levels. The annual collapses also contaminate the water with garbage and leaf debris.
The students planted vetiver grass on the reservoirs' banks, using Vetiver's deep thick roots to stabilise the soil and prevent it from collapsing. In addition, "we will use the grass for roofing. Also, we intend to produce paper from vetiver grass in the future," said a Huai Yot School student. They also plan to use their school as a vetiver grass distribution centre.
More information about the Raknam project is available at

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bacteria may hold fragrance secrets

Washington, Nov 1 (ANI): The day is not far when bacteria will yield perfume, says a new study, which has discovered bacteria in the root of Vetiver, a tropical grass, whose oil is used widely in the cosmetic and perfumery industries. The bacteria apparently boosts production of essential oils, and changes the molecular structure of the oil, giving it different flavours and termicidal, insecticidal, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.
The researchers, led by Italian microbiologists Pietro Alifano, Luigi Del Giudice, and the plant biologist Massimo Maffei, focused their study on Vetiver grass through interdisciplinary research. They found that Vetiver root cells produce a few oil precursors, which are then metabolised by the root bacteria to build up the complexity of the Vetiver oil. The researchers found the bacteria in the oil-producing cells as well as in root locations closely associated with the essential oil.
Vetiver grass is the only grass cultivated specifically for its root essential oil, which is made up of chemicals called sesquiterpenes, which the plants use as pheromones and juvenile hormones.
Also present in the essential oils are alcohols and hydrocarbons, which are used primarily in perfumery and cosmetics. The perfumery and flavouring industry could benefit from the increased variety in fragrance and taste that these bacteria provide to these oils. The bacteria responsible for this transformation include alpha-, beta- and gamma-proteobacteria, high-G+C Gram-positive bacteria as well as microbes which belong to the Fibrobacteres / Acidobacteria group.
This research opens new frontiers in the biotech arena of natural bioactive compounds. Pharmaceutical, perfumery and flavouring industries may now exploit the selected microbial strains and widen their metabolic libraries, said Professor Alifano. The metabolic interplay between a plant, which offers a few simple molecules, and root bacteria, which biotransforms them into an array of bioactive compounds, increases fitness and reveals economical new survival strategies, said Professor Maffei.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ethiopia and Vietnam report Vetiver successes

From Debela Dinka - Sustainable Land Use Forum, Ethiopia. According to our partner NGO in Illubabor, Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resource Association (EWNRA), 17 of 22 districts in Illubabor Province are using vetiver technology, or about 17,000 households. The remaining five districts are expected to adopt the technology. The major impacts of vetiver are: decreased rate of soil erosion; increased yield of maize, sorghum, vegetables – as much as 50% - resulting from soil and water conservation; reduced siltation of wetlands and streams; groundwater recharge which then improved flow of springs, streams and wetlands; survival rate of tree and coffee seedlings reached more than 80%. Vetiver is also used as mulch in coffee plantations; thatch for houses, stores and shades (vetiver grass gives long time service); mattress making (it repels fleas and other insects); homestead hedgerows for beautification; making rope; income (farmers sell vetiver clumps as planting material); and the green leaves of vetiver are cut and spread in and around homes during holidays and social gatherings, including weddings.

In 2001 Paul Truong (Australia) visited his native country, Vietnam, and introduced the Vetiver System to his former colleagues.

From Tran Tan Van - Vietnam. Vietnam, like most countries, suffers natural disasters and environmental degradation. The threat from future rising sea levels puts Vietnam in the top five most endangered nations. Yearly 1000 people die during storms; as a result of toxic pollution of waterways, annual average property damage is $300 billion U.S. The government understands the need to mitigate these effects but has resorted to using piecemeal, conventional engineering works that are very expensive, technically complicated and are not durable. The introduction of VS into Vietnam seven years ago was, for Vietnam, “a timely glass of fresh water to the thirsty desert traveler.” The Vetiver System has been tested, demonstrated and adopted by the government, the research community, the private sector and individuals. The speed of its adoption over large landscapes attests that it is indeed the solution to our myriad problems. Vietnam represents one of the world’s most successful cases of VS use.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Going green in Panama's cloud forests

Special to The Miami Herald
Angel Aguirre suffered some strange looks from neighbors a few years ago when he began refashioning his farm into a model of sustainable agriculture -- using organic fertilizers made from chicken droppings and rice husks, and making pesticides from chili peppers and water.
''They thought I was crazy,'' he said, standing on a hillside above his onion fields. ``Ten years ago nobody used organic products here. My father told me this wasn't going to work.'' Not only is it working, Aguirre, the president of a local environmental farm support group that goes by the acronym FUNDICCEP, said his farm is thriving and the philosophy of sustainable farming is spreading. Especially today, with the rising cost of fuel and farm supplies, his methods are beginning to make sense to others.
''My neighbor has asked me to help him with the type of irrigation I use,'' Aguirre said.
Even in the best of times there is nothing convenient about farming in Cerro Punta, a tiny town perched 6,000 feet above sea level. The fields are planted on hillsides so steep that tractors can only drive vertically up and down the crop rows. If they tried to drive horizontally, they would risk rolling over. This means water from rain and irrigation runs off quickly.
But the advantages outweigh any problems. The rich, dark soil -- the Barú Volcano, Panama's highest peak, towering overhead -- coupled with the moist climate creates perhaps the most fertile region in the country, one with four growing seasons a year. As a result, the nearly 900 farms of Cerro Punta, population 7,000, grow 80 percent of Panama's vegetables -- excluding rice, wheat and corn. Every patch of dirt, whether it's next to the little market in town, or in someone's precipitous backyard, sprouts onion bulbs, carrot tops, heads of cauliflower and feathery-leafed herbs. Cerro Punta is Panama's salad bowl.
The town occupies another important environmental niche. It is the gateway to a forest corridor between two large and environmentally important parks -- Barú Volcano National Park and La Amistad, which is shared with nearby Costa Rica.
The farmers here, however, have not always been the best stewards of their land. For at least three decades they have relied on synthetic fertilizers to grow their crops and man-made pesticides to protect them. Environmentalists say the pesticides, including Paraquat, which is banned in Europe and is available in the United States only with a special license, poison people, land and water. And harsh fertilizers strip the soil of nitrogen, requiring more and more fertilizer to compensate, leaving the ground weakened and vulnerable to unwanted fungi. Additionally, because of the steep topography, these chemicals wash off the fields with the first rain, coursing down the mountainside into rivers that provide drinking water to communities downstream.
Aguirre said the number of farms like his in the region is maybe 10 percent of the total. ''But 80 percent of the farms use some organic methods,'' he asserted.
The problem is that the industrial way is cost-effective, at least in the short term. Sustainable farming is labor intensive. Aguirre has planted barriers of vetiver, a grass with a dense root system, so he can plant his crops horizontally in stepped fashion. This prevents the rains from washing off the nutrient-rich topsoil, but requires more manual labor because tractors can't be used.
José Abdiel, who also uses sustainable methods on his farm, concedes, ``You need a lot more men to help with with the harvest. And a lot more money.'' But over time, the ''green'' farms reap savings in gasoline (no tractors), mechanized equipment and expensive industrial chemicals like the alternative fertilizers and pesticides. And the savings can be significant.
A 100-pound sack of synthetic fertilizer costs about $56 at the local supply store. The fertilizer Aguirre and Abdiel use, made by an environmentally-oriented farmer's collective called Amipila, costs only $5 for the same amount, according to Amipila. The collective sold 6,744 sacks by July this year, compared with 6,344 for all of 2007. It only started selling them in 2001. The savings can't always be measured in money. Hundreds of residents and farm workers have been poisoned (some fatally) from overexposure to farm chemicals. And although no study has been done to provide a conclusive link, healthcare workers here say the town's rate for asthma, leukemia, and stomach and liver cancers is about 1 percent to 3 percent higher than the national average.
''When I first started working in this town 15 years ago, we had about 60 cases of acute poisoning a year involving agricultural chemicals,'' Dr. César Vega Miranda said. But with gradual education and environmental awareness ``we're down to about eight or 10.'' The farmers' dependence here on synthetic chemicals is not necessarily their fault. It was, some say, thrust on them.
In 1968, a military coup ousted Panama's democratically elected President Arnulfo Arias. A military junta seized control and a series of strongmen ruled the country for the next 20 years. ''We weren't allowed to organize, and if there was a farmer's group or cooperative, it was controlled by someone in the state,'' recalls local environmentalist David Samudio. There was virtually no contact with the outside world. The years of military rule occurred amid momentous change sweeping the agriculture industry worldwide -- the so-called ''green revolution.''
Scientists had developed high-yield varieties of corn, rice and wheat and were aggressively exporting them as a means to stamp out famine. These were hybrid seeds that absorbed a lot of nitrogen from the soil, helping them grow quickly, but requiring synthetic fertilizers loaded with nitrogen. These crops were also more susceptible to pests and disease, requiring synthetic pesticides. In Cerro Punta, it essentially became government policy to saturate crops in chemicals, according to George Hanily, former program director for the Nature Conservancy in Panama and great nephew of President Arias.
The dictatorship ended in 1989, when the U.S. military invaded and ousted then-ruler Manuel Antonio Noriega. Within a few years of democracy's return, environmental groups that had been working in Costa Rica to save La Amistad reached across the border. The result so far are local groups like FUNDICCEP and Amipila, as well as partnerships with international groups like the Nature Conservancy, which has teamed up for a widespread environmental outreach campaign.
The organic fertilizer plant is such a success that one was built in a nearby town, and a campaign is underway to work with neighboring coffee farms.
''Now even my father sees, little by little, it's working,'' Aguirre says.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vetiver traps sugar cane and corn borers

Those of you involved in sugar cane and corn production might appreciate that Guatemala's largest sugar plantation is now using large numbers of Vetiver slips to stabilize its fields. An interesting side observation is that Vetiver has reduced the incidence of sugarstem cane borers. As in the case of the maize borer, the moth prefers to lay its eggs on Vetiver leaves rather than on the cane or corn. The moth does not damage the Vetiver, however, the larvae, when hatched, dislike its hairy leaves and tumble onto the ground where they die or are gobbled by other predators. This follows Johnnie Van den Berg's (South Africa) "push-pull" proposals for the use of the Vetiver System. See:

Dick Grimshaw

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Vetiver System shields coral reefs from sediment

Dick Grimshaw writes:

I have frequently written about the need to use the Vetiver System to rehabilitate eroding land and thus stop eroded sediment from moving downstream to coastal waters where it destroys coral reefs and coastal fisheries. VS is particular useful for small island erosion rehabilitation.

Since erosion on small tropical islands tends to be massive and close to the beach and sea, stabilizing a particular area will generate immediate benefit to the adjacent water and coral. Don Miller, a New Zealander who works on Vanuatu in the south Pacific, has, over many years, inspired local people to reforest a particularly badly-eroded area near Port Patrick. [By the way, Vanuatu is 1,090 miles east of northern Australia, 310 miles northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and south of the Solomon Islands. Thank you, Wikipedia!] The results have been spectacular. View a modified Power Point presentation at
In my travels around the world I've seen many instances of coastal waters turned brown by sediment flows. If you don't travel, take a look at Google Earth images of Hawaii, Fiji, Jamaica, Honduras, the Indonesian islands, and many more. The Vetiver System is the best, cheapest, and greenest way to address the problem. In addition to halting sediment flows to the sea, it prevents sewage and other pollutants from reaching pristine beaches, improves groundwater (reduced ground water on many islands is becoming a major problem), increases crop yields and generates biomass for fuel, forage, and, as value-added products, handicrafts. The Vetiver System is available to everyone who wishes to use it, and, if applied correctly, it will work.

We grow grass...Vetiver!

Well, it's true...we grow grass...and so much more!

Our six-year-old dream is reaching fruition, as our farm is now producing commercially-viable numbers of vetiver plants that are improving the complexion of Hawaii.

Vetiver IS changing the world. It's changing the environment. It's holding moisture in arid land. It's securing top soil, and restoring top soil to areas where it's been depleted for years. It's recharging aquifers. It's enabling farmers and communities to maintain viable farmland and potable water.

Vetiver hedges are stabilizing moisture and increasing the yields in coffee and banana groves.

Vetiver's has no rhizomes, and its seeds are sterile. Ours is not the first island to embrace the Vetiver System. It's welcome and working in Fiji, Guam, Haiti and Indonesia, among others. It's a non-invasive clump grass, two feet in diameter at maturity. won't grow larger!

The roots form an amazing vertical net that penetrates 12 feet deep!

Help spread the word, and this many countries are decades ahead of us. Vetiver works...hard!