Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vetiver makes the News!

Oh, what fun it is featured by veteran KHON TV news anchor Kirk Matthews on his Go Green2 segment. This week marks the anniversary of the December 11 '08 flood that submerged huge swathes of the Windward and Leeward coasts. That fact was not lost on Kirk, who masterfully added flood footage to our interview. Thank you, Kirk and KHON TV2, for your role in educating the Hawaii community about this remarkable plant!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday wishes to vineyards, in backyards, and everywhere!

Dick Grimshaw, the executive director of The Vetiver Network International (TVNI), shares his wishes for the new year and a note of appreciation for Vetiver-enhanced wine:

"Just thought I would send you all an email of good cheer for 2010. In doing so I add this image of Vetiver and grape growing in Robertson, Western Cape of South Africa. Anelia Marais, who sent it to me, tells us that it is cut four times a year for mulching and has done a terrific job in weed suppression. She says, 'To my (very uneducated) personal taste the Vetiver wines are wonderful, with a subtle flavour. I find that the normal triticale/wheat cover crop's wine has a sharp taste.' Sounds as though Roberston might be a suitable site for a Vetiver conference!!

Dubbed the 'valley of vines and roses', the Robertson district's lime-rich soils make it eminently suitable for racehorse stud farming, and of course, for good wine. The construction of a major dam at the beginning of the century brought reliable and inexpensive irrigation which led to the proliferation of Robertson's many wine estates and cooperatives.

Situated in the Breede River Valley region, the average annual rainfall is around 400 mm. Although summer temperatures can be high, cooling coastal winds - less than 100km away - channel moisture-laden air into the valley. Today, Robertson wine is renowned. While traditionally considered white wine territory and known for its Chardonnays, Robertson is also the source of distinctive fortified dessert wines and some of the Cape's most revered Shiraz.'

If Vetiver does this for grapes, imagine what it can do for other perennial cash crops!

I am really pleased with the progress that the Vetiver System has made in the past year, starting with an exceptionally good visit to Kenya, and Ethiopia where the Vetiver System is strongly moving forward. I'm pleased to report expanded use of Vetiver in India, China, Philippines, and Madagascar, among other countries, and a lot of new interest in Central and South America, USA, Italy and southern Africa. The internet offers many more references to Vetiver Systems and this unique plant.

Although I normally don't select special people for attention, this year I want to recognize the efforts of: Jack Bertel and Warren Sullivan, who are working hard to employ Vetiver in the coastal areas of the southern United States; Alberto Rodriguez for his dissemination of Vetiver information in Puerto Rico and throughout his region; Don Miller in the Pacific, who has captured the imagination of the Coral Reef folks; Fernando Costa Pinto and Paulo Rogerio of Brazil, Carolina Rivas of Chile, Yooleny Cruz of Costa Rica; Shantanoo Bhattacharya in India; Debela Dinka in Ethiopia; Elise Pinners in Kenya, and Liyu Xu in China; and Yoann Coppin in Madagascar.

Of course I thank all the old Vetiver stalwarts - Paul Truong, John Greenfield, Roley Noffke, Mark Dafforn, Criss Juliard, Narong Chomchalow, and Jim Smyle - along with many others who continue to provide feedback and support. Thank you to all of you for your support and for sharing information about Vetiver.

The use of forums and discussion boards has allowed us to share our ideas and feelings with many others, and the feedback on their usefulness has been positive.

The Vetiver System is now accepted by many people looking for appropriate technologies that can address the problems at hand. We are lucky that Vetiver has many applications, is low cost and relatively simple to understand; and meets some of the challenges of the changing and more extreme climatic conditions that we face today.

As our gift, you will, by Christmas day, be able to buy from the Spanish version of the Vetiver System Technical Manual that Oscar Rodriguez - coordinator of the Latin America Vetiver Network - was so kind to translate, or get a free download from Esnips.

On that note I wish you all well."

I join Dick in wishing you a peaceful holiday season, and a prosperous, healthy New Year!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Just cruisin' with....Vetiver??!!

Alarmed that people are diving off cruise ships to meet their demise? Horrified that some are tossing others overboard? Sleepless because of the worry?? It's time for Vetiver to step in!

Although alarm and horror haven't been cited as (prime) motivators, it seems that our Oil of Tranquility is due for subtle introduction into the otherwise stressful avocation of --- you guessed it, luxury lining!

"We've heard of cruise ships that smell like bunker oil and suntan lotion, but figs and almonds--and Vetiver?

These are some of the essences that will comprose a signature fragrance that MSC Cruises plans to infuse into its newest ship, the five-month-old MSC Splendida, according to a report today by industry watcher Seatrade Insider.

The news outlet says the fragrance, which will feature overtones of Vetiver, a perennial grass, was designed to enhance passengers’ sense of well-being and luxury by evoking the Mediterranean.

'Fragranced hotels are becoming a big thing and research proves that holiday memories are composed of a myriad of sensory experiences, with scent playing a key role. Seatrade Insider says the fragrance, dubbed MED by MSC, will be subtly dispersed in select areas aboard the ship via the air conditioning system and infused into cabin toiletries, table linens, bedding and towels.

MSC's fragrance announcement comes two months after luxury line Silversea said its next ship, the Silver Spirit, would have a menu of scents that can be infused through cabins upon request.

Renowned Italian perfumer Laura Tonatto has developed three options for Silversea passengers: Oltre, designed to evoke the boundless sea; Albi, made with lavender and touted as a de-stresser; and the orange-infused Fiori d'Arancio, billed as calming."

ALSO ONLINE: Sexually-charged 'cougar cruise' sets sail; Facing complaints, a cruise line no longer will add tips to bills; Recent attacks on tourists in Nassau have some passengers on edge

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vetiver...sweet (er, savory)!

Always attuned to the use of Vetiver as or in fragrance and food, today I noted Veronique's post concerning "The Best Chocolate in the World." If you can swallow her initial, immodest premise that French chocolate is the best (she's tossing the gauntlet, Hawaii chocolatiers!!), then consider that Christian Constant is using botanicals in his chocolate.
"Christian Constant adds a touch of essential flower oil and spice to enhance the taste. I loved the cinnamon and jasmine green tea chocolate, and the Yemen flavor. If you dare, try Vetiver, neroli, frangipani, ylang-ylang or lemongrass," she writes. Christian Constant 37 rue d’Assas Paris 6e 01 53 63 15 15
I love learning the ways that chefs employ Vetiver in their culinary creations. Those of us who delight in its fragrance appreciate Vetiver's addition to a crisp gin and tonic, and ice cream (not necessarily together!). It also makes a lovely, savory martini. Bon appetit!

Friday, December 4, 2009's not just for the birds.

This feed by G. Mahadevan of The Hindu just in from Kerala, India, the birthplace of Vetiver. Our favorite plant will take a lead role in stabilizing a lake and creating a forest-like environment for birds:

Polluted and stagnant water, crumbling banks and dwindling fauna may soon be a thing of the past at the lakes inside the Thiruvananthapuram zoo. The old-world charm of the 3.5-acre lake is being recreated as part of a substantial cleaning and beautification project being implemented by the Centre for Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD).

The de-silting of the small lake at the zoo has already started. The silt from the small lake and the large, 3.5-acre one, will be deposited at the island in the middle of the latter. Clumping bamboo and Vetiver (Raamacham) will be planted along the perimeter to prevent soil erosion. In addition to purifying the air, Vetiver plants also soak up heavy metals present in the lake’s water, COSTFORD director P.B. Sajan told The Hindu.

Varieties of fish endemic to the State, and quickly reproducing, will be introduced in the water body to ensure an adequate supply of food for the large number of birds, including migratory ones, that visit the lake every day. The 1.5-acre patch of land that straddles the lake and the zoo’s boundary wall will be densely planted with trees, creepers and climbers.

The idea is to create a forest-like environment for the birds to rest and nest. Visitors will not be permitted to access this part of the lake.

An observation deck and a tower will allow visitors to see the birds at their natural best. While the deck will jut out into the lake to allow visitors to see the fish, the tower will be tall enough to allow a clear view of the lake’s island. The designs of the deck and the tower will complement the lake’s ambience.

As part of the project, rainwater that now drains from the zoo compound will be directed to a settling pond near the small lake, and then flow to the small lake. Water will enter the city’s drainage system only when the large lake overflows. Intermittent flow of rainwater through the two lakes will keep their waters fresh. A spring that feeds the small lake has temporarily been diverted to facilitate de-silting activities.

Once the lakes are cleaned and beautified a fishpond—with a fountain—encircled by benches and seats, will be created on the lawns near the Museum’s Corporation gate. This will replace the present visitor center, which is the bandstand opposite the Museum compound. March 2010 is the targeted completion deadline, Mr. Sajan adds.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Granny (Goose) Goes Green!

Aloha! This month Hawaii's own Granny Goose, aka George Groves, features Vetiver Systems Hawaii on his "Lyfestyles" segment. Granny's among the best known local media personalities, having been a radio and television personna for many years. Check us out! Granny does know best!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vetiver: deeply rooted in Happiness

I just knew there was a reason that Vetiver--the plant itself, not even its myriad applications--makes me feel positively giddy with delight. Apparently my pleasure is well grounded, er, founded. This just in from our Indian friends Sathyanarayana Bhat, Ph.D, and Narayana Upadhyaya, from Aditi Organic Certifications Pvt. Ltd., in Bangalore:

Vetiver Systems for Rural livelihood and Prosperity

Usheera Grass

Indians have known Usheera or Lavancha for at least 5,000 years. Although this humble Indian grass travelled abroad just 25 years ago, people from more than 100 countries now teach us how to use it for applications from organic farming to tsunami prevention.

Ramayana stories teach that twins of Lord Rama, raised by sages, were named after two Natural beings. "Lava" is a type of small bird, and "kusha" is a grass. Fragrant-rooted Khus (from Kusha - Sanskrit)is Vetiver grass! Khus means joy and happiness. Thus Vetiver's aromatic root is considered to be not only useful in Vedic rituals but also as grass that brings happiness. As a matter of fact, Vetiver conserves our nature. It's a life-saving drug, and it is a panacea for all problems of Environment and Farming.

Vetiver has leaves that grow up to six feet and roots as deep as 30 feet! People often call it a living nail. Without exaggeration, this is a fact! Imagine the height of one coconut tree under the ground. This is the depth that this clump reaches underneath the ground! The soil binding and water holding capacity of your land is facilitated by planting Vetiver in your village or farming land. Even bulldozers cannot uproot its strong, deep root system. So this plant definitely can work as a “living nail” particularly in coastal areas, not only to prevent erosion during monsoon months, but also protect against dreaded tsunami currents! Many experiments using Vetiver to prevent landslides have confirmed that it keeps soil together without using cement.

Other uses of Vetiver plant:

Well-grown plants yield lot of leaf material, which is very good mulch.
Its tender leaves are wonderful fodder for livestock. It enriches the quality and increases the amount of milk.
The leaves are used for thatching roofs. Eco-friendly sheds and houses minimize the use of cement.
The grass blades are a good source of raw material for handicrafts and hand-made paper. Thus Vetiver is a good resource for rural employment.
The root system effectively rejuvenates soil, improving soil fertility. In the course of time, Vetiver will convert fallow lands to fertile lands.
Grown in contaminated or heavy metal water, Vetiver can definitely purify it. This is helpful when industrial sewage water flows onto fertile land.
The aromatic oil distilled from Vetiver root is very expensive, so it has good market potential.
Vetiver roots are considered very good Ayurvedic medicine. They are used in Human and Livestock medicine, curing hyperacidity, piles, bleeding disorders, skin diseases, and urinary tract problems.
Senegalese farmers have found that yield is increased when Vetiver is intercropped with horticultural crops. Farmer Tony Cisse says that augmenting fruit trees with Vetiver conserves water and facilitates the increased absorption of nutrients.
Vetiver withstands hostile climates and situations, and even grows in mine dumps, where it gradually improves the soil. It even grows in waterlogged and coastal areas.
Even if fire destroys the leaves, its roots can generate the shoot system.
Diluted Vetiver oil is a very good pesticide and termite repellent. It can also prevent many plant pathogens. A leaf concoction is also mildly fungicidal.
Vetiver leaves are very good raw material for vermi-composting.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Maui--and Vetiver--are No Ka Oe!

Earlier this month, Deb and I spent a couple of days in Maui checking on Vetiver installations and enjoying the company of new and old friends. Our first stop was Lahainaluna High School, the oldest high school west of the Rockies, where history and a sense of present purpose converge. As I gazed at the juvenile planting, vivid memories of the lovely March 31st installation washed over me. Under the capable direction of working managers LHS Ag Instructor Keith Ideoka and LHS benefactor Gunars Valkirs, among others, a small group of bright, enthusiastic students nimbly clambered up the bare slope to plant Vetiver slips. As school resumes, and fall relaxes into winter, I trust that these kids--and school leaders--will recognize that the rain has finally met its match. Rushing water will no longer slice topsoil off this slope, leaving its mess on the greenhouses below!

After the school visit, we visited a beautiful Kapalua hillside estate, where a remarkable 10-month old Vetiver installation occupies a prominent place in the landscape design. Kudos to Inoke Taufa and his Friendly Island Landscaping crew, who installed a striking perimeter border and stabilized slopes using plant material from Vetiver Systems Hawaii. In another couple of months, the hedges will be dense and sturdy enough to contain the owners’ four dogs--not that they'd ever want to leave their very special Eden!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's hot...and Vetiver's cool.

Vetiver Systems Hawaii just completed its first exhibition at Pacific Expos' 32nd Annual Home and Garden Expo at Honolulu's Blaisdell Exhibition Hall this weekend. Largely an educational opportunity, I was struck by the number of people who desperately need effective slope stabilization that won't leave them penniless. Vetiver was warmly received, and I look forward to visiting those who'd like to explore Vetiver's specific application to their sites.

We've barely reached the middle of June and the weather in Honolulu is sizzling. Oahu farmers are not immune to water shortages. Ever helpful, Dick Grimshaw sent along this link to a Thai paper addressing (and quantifying) Vetiver's ability to maintain moisture and recharge groundwater:
a hui hou,

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Tale of Two Islands, one w/Vetiver, one w/o: Vanuatu and Molokai

This follows on the heels of 5/31/09 front page articles in Honolulu's two major newspapers, Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star Bulletin, addressing the suffocation of Molokai's reef. Unfortunately, both articles gave solutions short shrift, and cursorily presented fences as a solution. Appallingly absent was mention of the use of vegetative barriers to halt the flow of sediment to the ocean--a low-cost, highly effective, permanent solution to the problem.

How do we know this?

Because we can evaluate the results of a decade-long effort in Vanuatu, whose problems mirrored those of present-day Molokai. From 1995 to 2002, Don Miller, an experienced erosion expert, led a band of dedicated local volunteers armed with sacks of Vetiver slips into Vanuatu's southern gullies, where they systematically installed rows of plants into weathered volcanic tuff and breccia on grades of approximately 35degrees where no plantings had survived. When awash in heavy rains, the bare slopes were dumping high volumes of silt onto nearby coral reefs.

Although the erosion control project was closed down shortly after the installations (the government cited "lack of funds"), the good work had been done. Vetiver slips and indigenous plantings grew into semi-permeable hedges that filtered out sediment before it reached the island's coastal waters and the reef.

Today the Fisheries Department reports dramatically improved conditions on the reefs down current from areas that have been stabilized by established Vetiver hedges for several years. Large volumes of sediment have been retained and some areas now boast a nearly-complete cover of indigenous shrubs on previously infertile, bare, eroding land. Along with the reef, the shellfish industry has recovered, and ni-Vanuatuan fishermen are happy--and grateful.

Could this success story be repeated in Hawaii? Absolutely. Success requires completion of four steps: coordination by stakeholders (landlords and land-users), an installation plan, Vetiver plants, and installers. Whaddya say, eh?! Call me: 808-536-5444. I'll answer.

To see Don Miller's remarkable work on Vanuatu, visit and enter Vanuatu Vetiver to access Don's Picassa gallery.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Vetiver! Now there's a plant you can take to the (em)Bank!

During the last couple of months, I've met many people on Oahu who were affected by the December flooding. Mother Nature's handiwork is pretty remarkable. She quickly carved out huge hunks of earth, displaying none of her typical finesse. Owners of property adjacent to waterways lost as many as 15 feet of land. Dwellers in the affected areas cleaned up silt and debris for weeks. I don't need to tell Hawaii residents that the dirt ultimately landed in the ocean. The governor declared a disaster and a flood of federal money was finally released. Now's the perfect time to take a measured approach to stabilizing our banks--not only the multinational institutions that profited mightily while ruining our economy, but the embankments that protect our waterways and ensure that our homes remain "flood-free" areas.

Not surprisingly, Dick Grimshaw has wise perspective on the subject. Refreshed after his recent trip to Africa, where farmers still sing praises to the World Bank agronomists, like Dick, who introduced them to the Vetiver System more than 20 years ago, he shares some prescient observations:

We face major economic and environmental problems from river bank erosion and the collapse of dikes and levees. Climate change accelerates these changes by bringing extreme wind and rainfall events. Although many people are familiar with the Vetiver System and have carefully studied the supporting research data and results of actual site applications and promote its use to stabilize water-related structures, others find it difficult to accept the fact that Vetiver is uniquely suited for such purposes. The latter normally cite three main reasons for not using Vetiver: (1) a preference for native plants; (2) fear that Vetiver will escape and invade the environment, and; (3) other species are better suited to slope stabilization.

Let me address these concerns.

1. Native plant preference. If native plants can solve the problem at reasonable cost and for the long term, we certainly support their use. Remember, though, that native plants typically are very site specific, and perform well under some conditions. They generally cannot withstand the wide range of challenges posed by a particular site, including prolonged flooding, wave action, erosion, changes in soil composition, human activity and misuse.

2. Vetiver might become invasive. All evidence suggests otherwise for cultivars of Chrysopogon zizanioides that have been derived from the south Indian non-fertile Vetiver. These cultivars are named "Sunshine," "Monto," "Karnataka," "Silent Valley," and others. DNA research performed by Adams and Dafforn clearly link these cultivars as a single clone that is widely used throughout the tropics, and are all non-fertile.

The USDA Forest Service maintains a risk assessment data base called Pacific Island Eco-system at Risk (PIER). Applying 50 criteria, this data base classifies all potentially risky plants based on their potential for invasiveness. Plants with ratings of 1 or less are acceptable. Vetiver's rating is -8, the lowest risk of invasiveness. Compare Vetiver's rating with some other plants commonly used for soil conservation and bank stabilization:

Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) Rating 18
Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylum) Rating 5
Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) Rating 18
Guinea grass (Panicum maximum) Rating 17
Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandastinum) Rating 18
Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) Rating 18
Switch grass (Panicum virgatum ) Rating 11
Vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides) Rating -8

You can review these ratings and those of other species at:

3. Choice of species for river and levee stabilization. River banks collapse because of current damage, wave action, the wetting and slumping of non-cohesive soils and/or by piping caused by the rotting of dead lateral tree roots. A cardinal engineering rule is not to allow trees to grow on embankments next to water. Past designs for bank protection have included rock and rip rap or a combination of rip rap and turf grasses such as Bahia grass. However, under extreme flooding and storm conditions, these measures have failed quite dramatically and expensively. On the other hand, the Vetiver System is an effective alternative. Forty provinces in Vietnam now use VS to stabilize sea dikes and levees, with a high degree of success and at great cost savings. Research underlying this work has been completed by the Vietnamese and by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, one of the world's leading centers for hydraulic research.

Let me quote some concluding remarks of the study entitled "Vetiver Grass for River Bank Stabilisation" by D.J. Jaspers-Focks and A. Algera, Delft University of Technology, C.B. van Bossestraat 11, 5612 SC Eindhoven, The Netherlands (

Vetiver grass is a sustainable and innovative solution to protect river banks and dikes. It thrives under a wide variety of conditions. Although growth rates are lower with a high groundwater level, it still thrives around the SWL, in contrast to sod-forming grasses. This clearly shows that Vetiver can be used at SWL as well as on dikes where the phreatic level can be low.

Vetiver is able to establish a full-stop of bank erosion caused by rapid drawdown. Therefore it provides us with strong indications that it is highly suitable as an anti-erosion measure. A combination of cohesive soil and Vetiver provides the best protection against erosion, which implies that it is highly suitable for banks in delta areas, which consist predominantly of cohesive soil.

A single hedge of Vetiver planted on the outer slope of a dike can reduce the wave runup volume by 55%, in contrast to sod grasses that provide no reduction. Planting multiple hedges along the contour of the outer slope might result in even more reduction. Installing Vetiver on existing dikes may substantially reinforce them.

The advantages of Vetiver over conventional methods with the use of stone are many:

Vetiver is not invasive and no significant diseases are known. Vetiver will, in contrast to traditional methods, increase in strength over time. Vetiver is an economically attractive solution. In most Southeast Asian countries countries Vetiver can be planted cheaply, while solutions consisting of stone and concrete are expensive in delta areas.
Vetiver allows people to protect their own property. Since its cost is low and it is easy to use, local initiatives can be easily achieved.
Vetiver can be an aesthetically good solution and is a socially-acceptable solution for bank protection.

This research study also found:

Influence of soil type and phreatic level on Vetiver:

* Cohesive soil reduced the growth rate of Vetiver by approximately 50% compared to a noncohesive soil, which is significant. Further, a decrease in phreatic level of 0,17 m resulted in significantly higher growth rates, in the order of 10-20%.

Vetiver as bank protection against vessel-induced loads:

* The influence of Vetiver on small scale mass failure was tested using a physical model test. The drawdown caused by passing ships was reproduced using a wave flume. The amount of eroded material of cohesive soil (clay) was approximately 8-10 times smaller using Vetiver. The erosion of non-cohesive soil was also reduced dramatically. A combination of cohesive soil and Vetiver had the lowest amount of erosion and, after approximately 800-1000 cycles,the erosion fully stopped.

Given its high evaporation rates, Vetiver in hot climates can act as a pump to remove excess water in embankments and thus reduce hydraulic pore pressure in the soil. The likelihood of slope collapse increases significantly when hydraulic pore pressure increases. Add to this Vetiver roots' high tensile strength (4-6 times greater than Bahia and other grasses), and we have a very formidable and useful plant for slope stabilization.

Although other nations are using VS applications, I remain very concerned that Vetiver's potential is not being exploited here in the United States. We certainly recognize that people have different agendas. However, although the profitability of using hard engineering techniques is much higher and undoubtedly more attractive to the designer and vendor, it's not to the taxpayer who ultimately shoulders the cost of porkbarrel or ill-conceived Federal and state projects, as well as the cost of their damage and failure.

The greatest block to wider use in this country is the unfounded fear that Vetiver might become an invasive plant--which it most definitely is NOT--and an often deliberate neglect and even scorn of good science (of which there is A LOT) by people who should know better and who fail to properly investigate the true value of this remarkable plant and its applications.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A rose by any other name is still...Vetiver

Whether you call Vetiver grass Vetyver, Vetivert, Akar Wangi (Indonesia), or Khus Khus (India), it's the same plant, and a quite remarkable one at that! Dick Grimshaw crunches the numbers and summarizes the benefits of the Vetiver System:

As resource and infrastructure protection, Vetiver

Reduces soil loss by up to 90%, and rainfall runoff by up to 70%.
Improves soil moisture, reduces nutrient losses, and reduces the impact of drought--increasing crop yields up to 50%.
Improves the survival and growth of planted trees by as much as 80%.
Stabilizes inhospitable areas, creating a welcoming environment for re-establishment of indigenous plants. (Rick Barboza, this application has your name on it!)
Improves groundwater, stream and spring flow, and regeneration of wetlands.
Improves water quality and reduces pollution by containing and treating waste.
Protects farm canals, drains, roads, and buildings, and reduces maintenance costs.
Protects land and property from floods.

Vetiver helps farms and farm families by generating
Long-lasting mulch which holds soil moisture, organic matter and nutrients.
Forage, up to 70 tons of dry matter/ha (high-yield) if managed and cut regularly.
Durable thatch and rope that last much longer than other thatching material.
Fuel, since mature grass has a high energy value, and potential as a community energy source (direct burning as green fuel and as feedstock for biogas plants).
A pest-control system of push-pull maize/sorghum stem borer reduction.
Handicraft material. Vetiver leaves are long, slender and stiff; like lauhala, it's wonderfully suited to weaving.
More Vetiver plant material. Sales of plant material can be highly profitable.
Fragrant roots for use in cooking, medicine (internal and external), and aromatherapy.

What an extraordinary plant!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Vetiver Solution, or, why we do what we do

Sometimes people wonder at the passion we Vetiverites display when discussing Vetiver and its applications. Friday I found our zeal matched by that of Ray Anderson, Time Magazine's "green CEO" and featured luminary in the movie, The Corporation. I attended his address at the University of Hawaii and learned the reasons that, 14 years ago, he totally revised the business-as-usual focus of his successful carpet company.

Quietly compelling, Anderson, 74, speaks in a warm Georgia drawl with persuasive authority and unmistakable commitment. His personal epiphany occurred in 1994, when he considered how he would answer a journalist's question, "What is your company doing for the environment?" The query led him to Hawkins' Ecology of Commerce, specifically the chapter entitled "The Death of Birth." He resolved then to become part of the solution and to lead his company to sustainability, "one mind at a time." Since then, he's presided over a dramatic shift in the way carpet companies manufacture and reclaim their products, so-called "life after life," dispelling the arguments of contrarians along the way.

Anderson believes this culture shift is the second in American life. The first was the industrial revolution. He calls the second "Rachel Carson's revolution. Stakeholders have to decide their relationship to the Earth. The choice is to hurt it or help it." He's watched the green building movement develop momentum and tremendous clout in the marketplace. He witnessed attendance at the annual Green Building Conference grow from 134 in 1997 to more than 25,000 in 2008, and credits the rising levels of public awareness. "How many of you know an ex-environmentalist?" he queried. When no one raised a hand, he remarked that the response mirrors that of the approximately 150 audiences he addresses each year. He's convinced that, given the opportunity to change "global climate disruption" and improve our environment, the vast majority will change their lifestyles. The others will ultimately die.

So, why do we Vetiver pioneers buck the status quo? Because we believe that businesses and individuals, given the opportunity, will choose to use a proven, green technology to improve the environment.

My credo?

I believe that people, given a viable, economical solution, want to eliminate the runoff that creates a deadly brown lei around our coastline and chokes our reefs.
I believe that our municipal entities want to stabilize and green the slashes and gaping red holes in the hillsides that line our highways and roads.

I believe that the military wants to restore and heal the earth that it regularly ravages during its training exercises.

I believe that homeowners would rather establish small Vetiver leachfields than suffer inevitable blankets of sh*t created by overflowing cesspools and septic tanks following heavy rains.

I believe that homeowners, given the choice, would choose a vegetative barrier over conventional concrete and re-bar to stabilize the slopes on which their homes perch.

I believe that Vetiver is bioengineering for the 21st Century whose time is now.

Vetiver is a soft engineering solution that protects slopes, banks and cuttings that, in many cases, is environmentally, technically and economically superior to hard engineering solutions. It's green, economical, and permanent. And its formidable root system has a documented tensile strength of 75 mPA (one-sixth mild steel).

Infrastructure protection. Planted on slopes, banks and cuttings, Vetiver is a permanent, stabilizing solution.

Vetiver stops excessive soil erosion. (Tantalus? Kahekili Highway? Kailua Road? Pali? Waianae?)
Vetiver planted on unstable slopes reduces rockfalls and landslides. (Hawaii Kai? Nuuanu?)
Vetiver protects causeways and floodways. (Laie? Waialua? Haleiwa?)

Sewage/wastewater/sanitation treatment. Planted in constructed wetlands and leach fields, Vetiver filters wastewater.

Vetiver roots filter wastewater outfalls and landfill leachates. (Lake Wilson? Waimanalo Gulch?)
Vetiver dries soakage areas and improves percolation.

Land management. DLNR, Marine Corps, Navy, Army, OHA, KS/BE?

Vetiver contour hedges promote sustainable farming on slopes. (Coffee, tea, banana, grapes, basil...)
Vetiver stabilizes eroding river banks. More economical than gabions, Vetiver reduces sediment loads from run-off, improves water quality, and reduces nutrient loads and eutrophication risk.
Vetiver stabilizes and protects storm water and irrigation canals. Its leaves filter sediment and rubbish, and its roots filter soluble nutrients and chemicals.
Vetiver stabilizes aquaculture ponds and access paths.
Mature Vetiver and fencing wire effectively confine livestock.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fore!! Of course Vetiver takes on "rough" challenges

We Vetiver enthusiasts admire Vetiver as a truly multi-faceted plant. We tout its ability to stabilize slopes and stop erosion. Its roots smell great and disgust the Formosan ground termite. Vetiver removes contaminants from water and soil. However, it looks great, too! As a landscaping plant, it adds height to ornamental settings, and individual plants and hedges can be shaped and manicured. When allowed to bloom, its sterile purple flowers are striking.

Dick Grimshaw reported last week that the premier course Golf du Chateau in Mauritius features Vetiver on its links. Agriflora's Alberto Rodriguez was hot on the story. He reports:

It takes a spectacular setting such as the golf course Golf du Ch√Ęteau in the island of Mauritius to drive this point home and give us new appreciation for our hard-working plants. Landscape artist Patrick Watson selected the grass for this course, and Peter Matkovich of Matkovich and Hayes Golf Estates Solutions in South Africa transformed his vision into reality, using Vetiver to line the fairways. Vetiver was selected not only because of its beautiful contrast to the green paspalum at different times of the year, but for its ability to stabilize the soils on its steep slopes, particularly since Mauritius is subject to high rainfall. Needless to say, you don't want your ball to land in this “rough!”

As with most landscaping grasses, Vetiver needs care and maintenance to maintain this elegant look. Consistent watering, fertilization and bi-annual cutting and cleaning are required, but, for those up to the task, the results can be amazing.

Hawaii landscapers, course designers and developers, take note!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Madagascar--Vetiver a savior in desperate times

Through Dick Grimshaw, Yoann Coppin of Madagascar reports that he and his fellow Malagasy farmers are convinced that the Vetiver System can solve their many problems related to soil fertility, depleted water resources and other natural resource issues, particularly those implicated by the loss of tropical forest, and destruction of coral reef:

Since the end of December I have been in the village where in 2003 I undertook my first project with Vetiver on the East Coast: to conserve soil on sloping lands following cut and burning, and to promote sustainable agriculture. Although it has no electricity, no phone network, and no internet access, some rainforest remains, with an impressive biodiversity, and that is now rare in Madagascar. This village is a wonderful place, but the widespread deforestation, resulting from traditional agricultural practices, and exploitation of its precious wood resources, destroys more and more of its wealth. Cyclone Ivan and a particularly dry 2008 have impacted the vegetation, soil and groundwater. My 70-year-old friend has never seen the village's coconut trees in such poor shape: their leaves are brown, and only a few trees produced coconuts last year. We're supposed to be in the rainy season but the weather is dry and the sun shines hard. Educated people know that, apart from climate change, these changes are the result of the way we manage our environment. On the mountains, where some small forests survive, farmers cut and burn before cultivating, which reduces water and vegetation. No one takes care of the soil and maintains its fertility, even on sloping lands with fine, cultivable soils. During the rainy season, erosion strips the soil and leaves rivers full of sediment that ends up on the coral reefs. Mangroves are cut and burned for real estate development, resulting in more coastal erosion (fewer and fewer coral reefs and mangroves), less protection against cyclones, less groundwater, less fertile soil, and fewer forest and marine resources. Even as we watch our environnment diminishing year after year, no efficient initiatives are undertaken. The Vetiver System could be the solution, and I would like to start a new project.

In any case, since 2003 a lot of villagers have adopted Vetiver in this area. Before I initiated my project the area had no Vetiver. Only a few farmers adopted it to conserve soil and water because there was neither money nor time to sustain the project. In contrast, in another area where I worked for nearly two years for an NGO and introduced Vetiver, many farmers use Vetiver for farm soil and water conservation at their own initiative. They saw its benefits, especially for ginger and tumeric. When I first promoted the Vetiver System there, I gave farmers plant material and money to plant it on their land. Now they use Vetiver at their own expense. This proves that Vetiver is an efficient solution that farmers can apply on a large scale with huge potential for other applications. Now is the time to act, because the environnmental situation in Madagascar is desperate; the thermometer reads that only 10% of the rainforest remains.