Virtues of vetiver

The quickest way to fall in love with vetiver [ vetiveria zizanioides ] is to count the many ecologically gentle ways in which this simple, hardy, Cinderella grass can serve and better our lives.
For centuries, Indian farmers have survived on slopes and steep hills by planting this grass along contour lines to prevent rain water runoff, soil erosion and loss of soil fertility. In Tamil it is known as ‘vetiver’, in Malayalam ‘ramaccham’ and in Hindi ‘khas khas’. Its fibrous roots grow three metres into the soil binding it and increasing porosity which in turn aids rain water percolation. Its crown can grow over a metre high. It is a hardy plant that tolerates any type of soil- saline, degraded, polluted, drought prone or water logged.
If planted during the wet season or well watered till it quickly establishes itself, a row will grow within a year to become a thick impenetrable hedge – a green permanent wall. [See this picture]
Vetiver belongs to the grass family much as bamboo does. If it is kept trimmed and prevented from flowering, it is said to live for half a century. A green vetiver wall makes bull-dozers [-sought for bunding or trenching], stone walls or back-breaking labour redundant. The savings in money and diesel are obvious.
For a farmer, not only is soil moisture increased but organic matter is retained. If civil engineers get off their addictions to machine and high tech fixes, vetiver can be a low cost alternative solution to prevent land slides, stabilising embankments and siltation of canals and water bodies. The annual mud slides that wash away railway tracks can be prevented forever by vetiver hedgerows.
There has been a huge world-wide interest in vetiver ever since Richard Grimshaw and John Greenfield -employees of the World bank- rediscovered vetiver in 1987 in Gundlupet in Karnataka’s ghats. They found there a farming tradition which used vetiver to reclaim and sustainedly grow crops on sloping fields. Their enthusiasm led to the World Bank forming the Vetiver Network [TVN] to propagate the adoption of this native son of India all over the world. China, Thailand and Vietnam have since shown greater acumen in profiting by vetiver than the Indian establishment has done.
There are now regular International Vetiver Conferences, with scarcely any active official interest in India to promote use of this native asset. The TVN website is a mine of information, even if it has an amateur flavour [- and much of the information is annoyingly set out in pdf files that require to be downloaded].

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