Exxon-Mobile Plants Vetiver From The East Bali Poverty Project

Sunday, July 26, 2009

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When I first read about this project a few months ago, I was duly impressed by the quality of work and happy for the visibility that a client like Exxon-Mobile meant for a Vetiver colleague. But this story goes beyond being another Vetiver success story in a remote location that I am unlikely to ever visit. This was the work of the folks at the East Bali Poverty Project (EBPP) in East Java, Indonesia, a mountain community that has made Vetiver both a source of income and its foundation for a better future.


In September 2008, the civil engineering contractor constructing the inland oilfield for Exxon-Mobil in Bojonegoro, East Java, Indonesia, requested that they survey and quote for supplying and planting Vetiver on the slopes of a newly constructed oil platform. The Vetiver was needed to stabilize the slopes of approximately 2 meters of fill, to prevent any erosion from runoff from the 125,000 square meters of concrete platform. The runoff during monsoon rains would otherwise carry a lot of it away.

A total of 34,000 Vetiver slips were required for the 3,000 square meters of slopes, planting Vetiv
er rows at 80 cm (32 inches) measured down the slopes, and 10 cm (4 inches) plant separation along the contours, to ensure sufficient plants to cope with the enormous runoff. They started planting at the start of the rainy season (end of November 2008). Amazingly, a three-man team completed the planting in five days. The attached “after” photo, taken at beginning of May 2009, shows the fantastic growth and zero erosion of the oil platform side slope five months after the planting.

SUMMARY OF EAST BALI POVERTY PROJECT

The East Bali Poverty Project (EBPP) is a non-profit organization established in 1998 by David J. Booth, a British resident of Bali after an appeal for help by an isolated mountain village, forgotten by time and progress. Surveys in 1998 revealed thousands of people, in 19 isolated hamlets, living in abject poverty - without water, sanitation, roads, schools, health facilities or electricity. By 2009, sustainable community livelihoods opportunities had opened in Vetiver grass sales and dried Vetiver handicrafts.

Today, malnutrition and child mortality are almost eliminated, due to improved access and other facilities that have been enabled by the power of Vetiver grass – the stabilization of roads; the stopping of mountain homes from slipping down the slopes; the establishment of permanent hedges that allow vegetable gardens on steep and sandy farms that could only grow cassava and corn before. With the philosophy of “helping people to help themselves”, the EBPP project delivers both ecological and humanitarian results under conditions most others would have termed impossible. Please visit the EBPP web site for a complete view of this amazing story.

Hawaii Legislature Evaluates Vetiver as a Vegetative Erosion Barrier

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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Although the USA has badly lagged the rest of the world in the implementation of vegetative soil erosion controls, we are finally seeing steps in the right direction. Sometimes these "baby steps" come from where you least expect them. Of all places, the Hawaii Senate in State Concurrent Resolution SCR176 is requesting their Department of Land and Natural Resources and their Department of Transportation to research the use of Vetiver as an erosion barrier.

In the resolution, the senate recognizes that in spite of millions of dollars having been invested in "
hard engineering structures", soil erosion "continues to compromise road safety, pollute streams and coastal waters, and kill reefs". The Senate also established that "additional mitigation work could be completed if effective methods of slope stabilization and soil erosion prevention were more economical, environmentally-friendly, and readily available".

In conclusion, the resolution states:

"BE IT RESOLVED by the Senate of the Twenty-fifth Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session of 2009, the House of Representatives concurring, that the Legislature requests that the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation research the use of vegetative erosion barriers, particularly Vetiver grass, to minimize soil erosion and prevent the resulting runoff from damaging roads, streams, coastal waters, and reefs and to stabilize stream banks, hillsides, and other threatened sites."
The summary page with the ongoing status of the measure can be seen here: Hawaii State Legislature SCR176.

Given that
Hawaii is probably the most conservative and protectionist state when it comes to exotic plants, this is a major milestone. Vetiver has been in Hawaii for many years, and evidence of its merits is very evident, so this should probably move along very rapidly. What the good senators may not know, however is that their state Department of Agriculture has a regulation in place that requires a two-year quarantine for the importation of any grass. I suspect that there is not enough Vetiver supply in Hawaii to support a project of this magnitude in the short term. Given Vetiver's well documented non-invasiveness, it should not be part of this extreme regulation.

I suggest we all keep an eye on this one.
Stay tuned . . .

Client Profile - Vetiver in a Backyard Orchard, Los Angeles, CA

Sunday, July 5, 2009

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Whenever I have the pleasure of telling people about the uses of Vetiver and the proper planting method, I always make a point of saying that the two things that Vetiver dislikes the most are ice and shade. Oversimplified as that statement may be, both of those conditions may kill or stun the plants and planting under tree canopies should be avoided when planning a landscaping or soil conservation project.

Nevertheless, a few weeks ago I received a very kind email from UCLA law professor Grace Blumberg in west Los Angeles praising the Vetiver plants that she and her husband Donald, both UCLA Master Gardeners, had purchased from us on the Internet and planted last February. The message included a collection of photos of their semicircular hillside backyard with a very nicely laid out drip irrigation system and a collection of small trees set between the Vetiver rows. In my book, the shade from those little trees would be detrimental to the Vetiver in a few years, so I wrote back raising a red flag about the possible shade issue.

Happily, Grace was a step ahead of me. She quickly explained that they had planned and distanced the trees according to a novel concept of "Backyard Orchards" where the trees will be regularly pruned and allowed to grow no taller that arm's reach for ease of maintenance and harvesting. This technique results in a lower yield per tree, but a greater yield per acre with reduced harvesting cost. This technique is detailed in the web site of Dave Wilson Nurseries and is now been used by some California commercial orchards as well. With this management, the tree shade is unlikely to become an issue in this orchard.

The Blumbergs are quickly becoming Vetiver champions in their own right. Beyond their own backyard, they are already sharing their knowledge where it can be put to good use. In Grace's own words:
"We consider the Vetiver a great success. Beside its many fine qualities, we love the appearance of the green Vetiver rows between rows of the fruit trees that we planted at the same time. We are both University of California Master Gardeners and, within the next few months, we will be presenting a brief PowerPoint presentation on Vetiver to a meeting of the Los Angeles County Master Gardeners. The mission of the LA County Master Gardeners is to teach low-income adults and school children in low-income schools how to grow their own fruits and vegetables. There is considerable local land that is unutilized because of its steep grade. Hence, bioengineering with Vetiver promises to be a local godsend."
It is very rewarding and valuable when our clients take the time to give us feedback and share their experiences with us. This is one story that I felt important to pass along. I also learned my lesson . . . never argue with a lawyer that knows more than you about gardening. (said with a tip of my hat)

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