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!