Paul Truong
TVNI Director for Asia and Pacific
Brisbane, Australia

May 2012

Although VS has been successfully used for erosion and sediment control and phytoremediation in countries around the Mediterranean (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Algeria and Morocco) since early in the 1990s. These plantings have been relatively small in scale.

In March 2012, on the invitation of Marco Forti, Coordinator of the Italian Vetiver Network and Etienne Richard, CEO of Kepwater Engineering in France, I visited Italy and France. The following is a short note on these visits.



Marco Forti is based in Cagliari the capital city of Sardinia, the largest island on the west coast of Southern Italy. Marco has used vetiver grass for various applications in the last 10 years and has found that under appropriate management, vetiver thrives under the Mediterranean climate, hot and dry summer and cold and wet winter.
The most pressing environmental issue facing Sardinia now is the offsite pollution caused by mining wastes, both ancient and recent. Copper and Gold mining was first carried out by the Roman in Sardinia and the deep drainage of their tailings now contaminated several lakes where water supply is sourced. In recent time, bauxite mining and Alumina production were carried out in large scale on the island. The mining and processing wastes were left un-rehabilitated when the mining companies closed their operation.
Marco is working on a plan with local government to use VS for:

In addition to the large area of mine tailings and overburden mentioned above, a very large area of Sardinia is covered by a very poor and shallow soil, unsuitable for cropping. This land can also be planted with Vetiver for bio-fuel production.
On March 7, together with Marco Forti and Massimo Lavena, I gave a Seminar on the global application of VS and its potential application for the above purposes. The seminar was well received by local authority officials and environmentalists. It was broadcast by both radio and TV the following day.
            A very large land area in the Valle del Sarco River basin (South Lazio region, between Rome and Naples) is highly contaminated with chemical residues from an old chemical factory. Extract from a recent report on the problem:

In March 2005 the valley was granted the status of disaster area under analytical results of samples of dairy farm products which showed levels of beta-hexachlorocyclohexane (β-HCH) many times higher than those required by law. On the basis of tests carried out has established an environmental pollution of extensive contamination of the river Sacco. The studies carried out so far have shown the existence of a cause-effect relationship between the presence in sediments and waters of the river Sacco of the molecules HCH (alpha-beta-gamma) and the contamination of agricultural land next to the river and subsequently the possible transfer to humans through the food chain (from fodder to livestock products). A recently concluded the project "Health population in the area of Valle del Sacco "conducted by ASL Roma G, ASL, and FR Department of Epidemiology ASL RME, on behalf of the Lazio Region to assess the state health of the population. The survey results showed concentration values in the blood of βHCH higher for those who live in close proximity (within a mile)of river Sacco. The concentration of β-HCH increases with the age of the subjects to indicate that the contamination has characteristics of chronic accumulation.
The central government is very interested in using VS as a phyto-stabilisation method to control offsite pollution. On March 13, a meeting was arranged by Marco for me and Massimo Lavena to meet up with a private sponsor and University of Rome1 staff (Official Advisor to the Italian EPA). I presented the Powerpoint and had a lengthy discussion with the people concerned. They were all very impressed and will prepare a Recommendation and Plan of Action for the Authority. 



Kepwater Engineering is a well-established wastewater treatment company with projects in France and overseas. Currently I am working with Kepwater on several wastewater disposal projects in Morocco. Due to the success of these projects Kepwater wants to extend the works to France: Using VS to treat wastewater.
However the main limitation for this application is the cold winter, as Kepwater wanted to use it on the Pyrenees and possibly the French Alps. I have no doubt that VS can be used on the Mediterranean coast but on the Pyrenees and Alps???
The main reason behind this idea is that although the Pyrenees has very cold winter with minimum temperature down to minus 100 and -150C every winter, the summer is very hot and dry. Preliminary trials in Lourdes have shown that Vetiver can actively grow at least 6 months a year, and it has survived -150C last winter (one of the coldest and longest on record) in both France and Italy.
Tourism is the main industry of the region and summer is the main season for tourists, which increases the sewage effluent output many times over the normal level, so the existing treatment plants cannot cope with this temporary surge of effluent. Therefore there is a niche spot for VS here, as long as it can survive the cold winter and flourish in the summer to dispose the excess effluent output.
In a meeting in Pau, the regional capital of the South West Region, attended by a large number of government agencies responsible for Environmental Protection and wastewater disposal, I presented the potential application of VS in treating and disposing the excess effluent in the summer. In his presentation Etienne Richard pointed out that removable plastic “glasshouses” can be used to protect vetiver in winter and if needed, to extend the growing period with the installation of “glasshouses”, which are being extensively used locally for cut flowers and vegetables, they are very effective and low cost to install and maintain.    
The attendees were very impressed with our presentations and will set up trials this coming summer to find out the best way to protect Vetiver in winter, determine its growth rate in spring and summer, and its capacity in disposing excess effluent in the summer. If successful, they will “patent” its protocol and promote this application, not only in Mediterranean countries, but also colder regions of Europe!!!
There is a compelling case for a more cold and saline tolerant WONDER GRASS.