Donations to The Vetiver Network International

Saturday, December 14, 2013

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The Vetiver Network International needs a little help so that it can keep moving forward!  It needs additional funds through donations to keep it going and to help generate and share the stream of Vetiver System information that has enabled the technology to steadily expand throughout the world.  A “Donate” button has been set on their website at http://www.vetiver.org/#donate  that will allow donations of any size to be received, using an acceptable credit card or a PayPal account.  The act of donating will generate automatically a receipt by email that can support the donation when claiming, if necessary, a tax deduction.  TVNI is a non profit organization and is classified as a charity. Remember also that all donations are used for Vetiver System promotion (as TVNI has no paid staff and has minimal overheads).

I hardly need remind you that the Vetiver System provides an important technology at this time of climate change with particular importance in helping to assure food security through soil and water conservation and soil fertility maintenance; mitigating contaminated land and water; stabilizing slopes; and for reducing the impact of disasters due to extreme rainfall events. There are many examples of what the Vetiver System can do and what it has done - all of which can be found on their website at: http://www.vetiver.org

Selecting the Correct Vetiver Grass for Soil Conservation Projects

Friday, August 16, 2013

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In a recent discussion on The Facebook Vetiver Grass Network, a member from Jamaica was concerned about finding the correct vetiver grass to propagate for a local project. The register of verified vetiver growers in The Vetiver Network International does not include any sources in Jamaica. Without a trusted source, the selection of planting material can be tricky.

Dale Rachmeler, Vetiver Network Director for Sub-Sahara Africa replied in that discussion:
There are at least 11 species of vetiver and lots of cultigens and cultivars. Only one of the species, Chrysopogon zizanioides, is sterile (actually it sets infertile seed very infrequently) - so no viable seeds in C. zizanioides. Its root system is vertical in nature made of a mass of fine roots growing vertically downwards originating from the crown of the plant that is usually 4-6 inches below the surface of the ground,

The flower stems and leaves also emerge from the same crown that has nodes that encircle the crown. New crowns can be formed on the nodes of on the flower stem that appear for up to 12 inches above ground. These nodes are activated when soil accumulates behind hedges and the nodes are covered by that accumulated soil. These nodes then produce new plants that have the emerging crowns and this is the mechanism by which vetiver hedges can protect the front side of the accumulated soil and create a vegetative barrier that rises more or less vertically with the increased accumulation of soil (the creation of natural terraces).

If farmers or other locals see what they think is vetiver encroaching into their fields then it is definitely not C. zizanioides. All the other species of vetiver are seeded and can be invasive. For example, on the African continent you have C. nigritana which is found all over the place in isolated clumps that were formed from seed that is blown mostly by the wind. It has also been used for vegetative barriers but has a much smaller root mass than zizanioides (let's say by a factor of 3-5). For most people it is very difficult to tell the difference between these two species as they look very similar above ground. There is a slight difference of color of the flowers, and the spacing between the flowers on the stem is slightly different. The root color for nigritana is browner than for zizanioides which has a lighter color.

C. zizanioides has spread around the world mainly for its essential oil in the roots (1800s to 1900s) and recently since 1990, mainly because the Vetiver Network has taken it to over a 100 countries for soil and water conservation. In this modern era, DNA typing is available and affordable and is the only definitive way to make sure you have zizanioides. Once you have it, you are set to go and since you can multiply a clone when you grow it in a nursery.

The most practical and reliable way is to know the origin of the nursery material. There is more information on The Vetiver Network International dealing with the species variation and the distinctions between them. A collection of African vetiver is held in South Africa and is being tested for DNA. India holds a collection of all species and they mainly do breeding work for oil bearing zizanioides cultigens. Please continue to ask questions and be curious about vetiver. In the end I think you will find that it is a very worthwhile issue to get involved with.
The plants from Agriflora Tropicals, available to the USA and its territories, at the Agriflora Tropicals store, are certified to be of the non-invasive type by the US Department of Agriculture. In other countries, checking the list of verified sources on The Vetiver Network plant suppliers page is the best first step. Read more about the vetiver plant in "The Plant" section of this blog.

Saving Oceanic Islands with the Vetiver System

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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Oceanic islands, no matter whether they are in the Pacific, (the world’s largest area of scattered tiny islands) or anywhere else in the world as long as they are between the latitudes of 30° North or South of the Equator, will depend on the Vetiver System for their future survival as viable habitats.

[This article is contributed by guest blogger John Greenfield - Director, The Vetiver Network International]

I developed the Vetiver System using contour rows of vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides) over 50 years ago for the Fiji Sugar Industry to stabilize farm land in the Fiji Islands. It was extremely successful and is still there today. This system of sustainable hedges is fully applicable to all other tropical developing countries in order to sustain their agricultural production in every aspect.

Vetiver Systrem vs contour banks
Vetiver Systrem vs contour banks
The standard methods of constructed soil conservation still being taught at temperate climate universities throughout the world, do not work in the tropics and especially in tiny ocean islands exposed to short duration and high intensity rainstorms and hurricanes. The constructed system of ‘conservation’ is expensive to install. Because of its design characteristics, it takes up too much land to be properly installed, is short lived, and is extremely expensive to maintain. The constructed system is designed to collect runoff, divert it to a safe outlet and dispose of it ‘safely’. This is the last thing a rain-fed farmer on a small tropical island wants. The constructed system because it acts like a drain, is also the worst system for replenishing freshwater aquifers in these tiny island atolls. Rainfall must be evenly distributed over the surface so that it can find access to the aquifers and replenish them before being lost to the sea as runoff.

Recently, in the South Pacific, we have seen the devastation of the little island Niue as a result of a 300+ kilometer/hour hurricane. The island of Niue is typical of so many of these little islands and atolls, it is 260 square kilometers in size, has 4,108 ha of arable land of which 470 ha are, or were, in permanent crops. For sustained viability, this land and the surrounding marginal land will need stabilizing to prevent soil loss and runoff. This can only be done in the tropics using the Vetiver System, a dynamic system of hedges across the slopes around the island.  These hedges of vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides), once established, are permanent and effective barriers to soil loss and runoff. Ocean islands depend on rainfall to replenish their fresh water aquifers, usually on ‘perched-water tables’.

In their natural state, these little islands had some jungle cover which provided fuel wood and building material, but more importantly the jungle’s undergrowth and leaf-litter spread the rainfall run-off out, slowed it down, gave it a chance to seep into and replenish the natural aquifers before it ran in to the sea.

With greater population pressure in recent years - tourist resorts, paved roads, airport runways, and other constructions, these jungles - and especially the undergrowth - have been destroyed. Gardens which used to produce sufficient food to mix with the fish and shellfish from the reef and lagoons are now producing next to nothing. Runoff is uncontrolled; top soil is disappearing fast and, where it enters the sea polluted, it kills the reef. Not only are food stocks going down but, due to pollution, fish stocks in the lagoons are diminishing also. Where the coral of the barrier reef is damaged, there is no protection from the next hurricane, and the storm waves can now be devastating.

Tourism has created another major problem . . . rubbish. This trash, especially plastic containers, bottles, and
Vetiver on a beach - Bali
Vetiver on a beach - Bali
wrapping all non biodegradable. This is being dumped in the drainage network and eventually ends up out at sea. Vetiver hedges planted in the drainage network filters all this rubbish out of the runoff and holds it back for collection and proper disposal.

 In their present state, these islands can be supplied with food, health needs and infrastructure by aid agencies and the ‘outside world’. Because of their isolation, we cannot supply them with sufficient water (or soil), nor keep up the supply. Rainfall must be controlled so that it isn’t wasted as runoff or polluted by poor rubbish disposal; this is the only way to ensure water supplies to these little islands and keep them habitable. Very few of these small islands have any rivers or streams; they depend on rainfall to replenish their ‘perched water-tables’ - and the only way this can be done is by controlling the runoff and giving it a chance to soak in to the ground.

Vetiver grass hedgerows can be very valuable in preventing erosion and water damage to tracks, wells and gardens within the island’s housing areas, and in protecting roads (even against tsunamis which will go over the hedges and not under them). The hedgerows should be coupled with urban tree planting in housing areas, trees which could serve as shade as well as a source of timber; food; fuel or forage. When planted along embankments and in catchment areas, vetiver hedgerows can also reduce erosion of roadsides and airfields. If there are streams in the country, the hedgerows are also extremely important in permanently reducing stream bank erosion and sediment loads entering streams, reservoirs and harbors. The massive root system of the vetiver plant (measured down to six meters in Thailand) forms an extremely dense ‘underground bio-dam’ across the slope, and is capable of clarifying water and not only maintaining but increasing year around water flow of springs and streams by holding back runoff and giving it a chance to find an underground aquifer.

Because of their soil filtering function, natural terraces begin forming behind vetiver hedgerows soon after planting. Not only do hedgerows mitigate erosion, but empirical data indicate that the survival, growth and production of trees and annual crops planted behind the hedges can be increased by as much as 50% by conserving topsoil, increasing the availability of nutrients and moisture for these plants.

Vetiver grass hedges planted across the slope of steep hillsides establish extensive root systems and begin reducing erosion within the first year. A study by scientists from Texas A&M after Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, shows that erosion was reduced from "92 tons of soil/ha/yr to 0.9 tons/ha/yr on steep hillside farms that were protected by contour hedgerows of vetiver.” The only farms that weren’t destroyed during Hurricane Mitch, the most violent hurricane ever recorded, were those protected by vetiver hedges.

What is needed now is to get a small island as a demonstration area using the Vetiver System, to show the aid agencies the economic effectiveness of this system and be used as an example to the rest of the world’s ocean islands. We would need to get approval from the governing body of the island or island group to lay down such a demonstration covering the full benefits of the Vetiver System on one island. We would need to get approval to import the planting material, the experts and labor to lay out the demonstration and the funds to cover this plus a maintenance period of at least three seasons. We would also need to budget for a high-standard documentary to be made of the demonstration for further publicity of what can be done in such threatened areas . . . before it is too late.

Additional reading:

The Essentials of Rainfed Farming in Subsistence Agriculture

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

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This article is contributed by guest blogger:
John Greenfield - Director, The Vetiver Network International

As everyone who has ever had a basic garden knows, growing plants requires soil moisture - not just rain.  Individual plants cannot harvest enough water on their own from the rainfall runoff that passes them by. This essential moisture has to be held in the soil where it is available to the root system of the plant and not lost to the drainage network.  This is the basis of “rainfed” agriculture.  An extremely simple fact, but one that seems to be constantly overlooked as scientists try to develop the perfect “drought resistant plant”. Rarely will you see mentioned "controlling runoff" mentioned in research papers on rainfed farming.

In India, for example, I have seen millet crops germinate as the result of 9 mm of rainfall at the beginning of the wet season – then there was no further rain for six weeks.  Those little plants withered and died, and the farmers lost that crop. What is worse, some farmers not only lost their crop, but they also lost their seed and couldn’t ‘replant’. The district was declared a drought area, but this announcement was no help to the farmers, they were now desperate.

Fortunately for us, we had been trying to get these farmers interested in the “Vetiver System” (VS) by telling them that vetiver hedges had the ability of slowing down runoff, spreading it out and giving it as chance to soak into the soil while filtering the silt and nutrients out of that runoff. The increase in yields they would see from practicing VS would convince them that this essential technology of moisture conservation - initially labor intensive but not expensive - was essential to their future. 

We had held a meeting of these farmers to explain VS, and got some farmers to volunteer their land to try the system out. Those farmers received the same rainfall as their neighbors but, in their case, their vetiver hedges retained the 9 mm rainfall, spread it out, and let it soak in to the soil.  This gave their plants sufficient moisture to carry them through the six weeks without rain.  After this dry period the rainfall was more than adequate and the farmers with VS produced some of the best crops they have ever had.

All that is required to achieve that essential vetiver barrier is the planting material and a farmer’s bare hands (as can be seen in the picture of an Ethiopian farmer planting just such a hedge). No bulldozers, engineering, dumpy levels, administrative staff, costly vehicles or support infrastructure.  No foreign experts, no meetings to plan contour-layouts.  Just the farmer and some planting material can achieve a permanent system of soil and moisture conservation leading to sustainable crop production and increased yields without losing his soils and nutrients through erosion.

Vetiver hedges do not have to be planted on the contour and are actually more useful planted across the slope; this makes it easier for the farmer to follow them with his plow. In spite of their massive root system (see picture) vetiver hedges do not compete with crop plants in anyway. In fact, they may enhance growth near the hedges due to the extra moisture and nutrients held there, and their symbiotic mycorrhiza the benefits of which crop plants can also share.

This vetiver system is different from constructed soil conservation systems that are actually rainfed negative, especially in the tropics, by diverting the rainfall runoff in to waterways. Contour banks, diversion banks, and absorption banks and are a total misconception when it comes to rainfed farming.

Vetiver hedges can hold back 300 mm of runoff, but the rainfall that filters through the hedges naturally waters the land immediately below the hedge – this is the ‘flow through system of soil and moisture conservation".  Vetiver hedges, because of their massive root system, cannot be breached – whereas conservation banks, once full to overflowing, are easily breached and can cause massive gullying when this happens.

Not even the best bred, drought tolerant crop plants (there is no such thing as drought resistant plants) with weed and pest control and ideal fertilizer applications with all their inherent costs, will produce a sustainable crop result without the essential soil moisture.

In many parts of India, the only fertilizer the subsistence farmer has is made from his farmyard manure and straw. With commendable effort this fertilizer is gathered up as compost and carried to the field in "head loads" and applied by hand. Unfortunately, if the first rains are relatively heavy, the fertilizer is floated away and lost to the drainage network. We found that with the benefit of vetiver hedge barriers that spread out the runoff and slow it down, the fertilizer is not lost.

In conclusion, the essential ingredient of rainfed farming is the control of runoff.

John Greenfield introduced the Vetiver System concept to India in 1980s.  He is the "Father of Vetiver" and authored the "Green Book" - Vetiver Grass-A Hedge Against Erosion. He is a director of The Vetiver Network International and lives in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

The Agriflora Tropicals Store 2.0

Monday, April 29, 2013

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Vetiver Solutions Logo 100x100Our Agriflora Tropicals web store just came back from a major facelift.  Although I still can not find a color scheme and wallpaper that I like better, almost everything else got fine tuned and reorganized. In its new incarnation, Agriflora 2.0 is now exclusively a store for vetiver plants. Sadly, we decided to say goodbye to the heliconias, gingers, and bananas that were the cornerstone of our beautiful farm. Our new logo with the curvy contour lines of our vetiver hedges is a better symbol of our new direction and will be replacing our aging Red Caribaea heliconia image everywhere.

The new layout places all the educational information about vetiver in tabs accessible from every page including sections about the vetiver plant, the vetiver system, planting and caring, our production method, our professional credentials, frequently asked questions, and a page that displays the latest post in our Vetiver Solutions Blog and Blog Vetiver Puerto Rico.  Fans now have easy links to our Facebook page, our newsletter, and our other sales venues at Amazon, eBay, and Facebook.

Buyers now have an easier and faster checkout experience through PayPal Express.  Google Checkout, never a popular payment method, is no longer interested in supporting sellers with Puerto Rico addresses and has been removed after our several ineffective attempts at communicating with intelligent life at their end.  We apologize to the very few customers that ever used it.  It will not be missed.

Please come and take a look. Your comments below will tell  us if we got it right. Please do not leave the store without giving a “Like” to our Facebook page and registering for our newsletter.  I’ll see you there.

Vetiver Grass in Vertical Carbon Sequestration

Saturday, April 20, 2013

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I am sure that you have heard me say before that we have only just started to discover the many applications where vetiver grass can make a significant contribution to improve land, air, and water environmental problems. This excellent article, VetiVertical City in Shanghai, China, published online by Architect, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects, opens the floodgates to the possibility of urban installations where vertical fields of vetiver can play a role cleaning the polluted city environment.

Granted, this comes directly from the Easier-said-than-done Department and it is still a conceptual proposal by italian architect Eugenio Aglietti. Nevertheless, seeing a detailed presentation like this (note that there are 12 pictures in the scrolling photo strip) means that architects, engineers, and city planners have taken notice of the possibilities offered by our favorite plant.

The article tells us that Shanghai is one of the Chinese cities with the highest levels of CO2 emissions per capita and held the lead as the biggest carbon dioxide emitter between 2004 and 2007. Could we ask for a better testing ground?

In a previous article in this blog in 2009, Vetiver in Carbon Sequestration, I discussed some of the early research using vetiver for this purpose. It seems that the idea is now moving from research to reality. The article estimates that 4,000 billion Vetiver plants all over the world would be needed to handle the global excess of CO2. Let's get to work!

Introducing the Agriflora Vetiver Newsletter

Friday, March 15, 2013

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Agriflora Vetiver Newsletter Cover Page
After putting it off for an incredible long time, the first issue of the Agriflora Vetiver Newsletter went out last Friday, March 8 to the first group of email subscribers. Even if it does not become a collector's issue, the newsletter will present news and other useful information that will help you learn about vetiver and its many applications around the world. In addition to its well-known merits in soil conservation and erosion control, vetiver is finding a place in phytorremediation, wetland construction, water quality improvement, alternate fuel, and other bioengineering scenarios.

As reader of this blog, you have the option of receiving a copy of the blog it via email so you do not miss any posts, subscribing to the new newsletter - or both.  Check the column on the right for both subscription options.

If you want to opt-in to the newsletter right now, click on the Agriflora Vetiver Newsletter Signup Form and fill out a few details. If you missed the first issue or any others, you can still get your copy from the Archive. I hope that you enjoy reading it, and I promise not to share your information or use it for any other purpose.


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