Vetiver : an interlude

It is now 20 years since Richard ‘Dick’ Grimshaw and John Greenfield sighted vetiver grass gripping slopes of farmers’ hillside fields in Gundlupet, Karnataka. They had the vision to see it as a many faceted aid for farmers all over the world. It is a measure of their zeal that today vetiver has a growing worldwide cult following. There have been 3 conferences elsewhere in the world to discuss and celebrate its virtues. The fourth meet came finally to its original home: south India.

Between Feb 21 and 23, the Fourth Workshop on Vetiver systems took place in Cochin. The venue was Hotel Sarovaram, an ecologically sensitive hotel built around a rainwater saving pond. I am glad I attended the meet. The worldwide enthusiasm for the little known grass was astounding. There were close to 300 participants and the number of papers covered were devoid of scholar’s usual pedantry. They were easily understandable, well illustrated and evoked much participation.

There was also a display of vetiver products. Of note were the fine handicrafts turned out in Thailand. Slivers of the leaf were spun, twisted and braided to make hats, mats, boxes and accessories. Vetiver has relevance in agriculture, environmental protection, soil and water resource management and livelihoods. I heard with interest that a dense perimeter of vetiver discourages snakes and termites; that ash from the leaves is cementitious; that its leaves can be used as roofing that last longer than coconut thatch.

Dick Grimshaw was in attendance. His enthusiasm and active involvement resulted in several illuminating interventions throughout the conference. During breaks he was accessible to everyone and doing his best to knit the vetiver network even stronger. A good summary of the meet by Dick can be found here.

P Haridas the man who had started me off on vetiver was a self-effacing presence, quietly making the conference go clockwork. It was thanks to him that I have been a devotee of the grass and see it play a great part in restoring the land at pointReturn.

My first rendezvous with the grass, described in the previous link, was in Oct 2006. It was driven by an eagerness to get the work started at pointReturn without due preparation. For instance the extent of the property had not yet been formally surveyed as it was just 3 months since the purchase deal had been registered;the line we planted turned out to be outside the pointReturn campus. Nor had the property been fenced. As a result, though the row took root well during the rains, itinerant cattle soon made a feast of it.

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