Vetiver Technology Development and Dissemination in China

-- From Agriculture to Engineering

by Liyu Xu

(China Vetiver Network, P. O. Box 821, Nanjing 210008, China)

Presented at the Second International Vetiver Conferrence - Thailand Jan 19 -22 2000


Soil erosion became a critical issues facing our global society, while miracle grass vetiver can play an important role in soil erosion control, land rehabilitation, earth work protections, etc. China Vetiver Network (CVN) promoted the dissemination and extension of Vetiver Grass Technology (VGT) through out the country, through national information service, technology distribution via public mediums, organizing multiple conferences, workshops, and training courses, operating joint field surveys and investigations, arranging demonstrations and bilateral visits, distributing planting materials and mini-grants, etc.

Recent investigation indicated that non-agricultural practice caused 72.0% and 89.4% of the total erosion area and soil loss respectively, which aggravated flooding and other natural disasters, influenced farming production and threatened people's life. CVN put emphasis on the application of vetiver technology for infrastructure stabilization, highway embankment fixing in particular in the recent two years.

Methodologically, the networking was to find factors which might impact VGT dissemination and solve problems through different methods from time to time so that VGT can be disseminated and developed more healthily and smoothly.

KEY WORDS: Vetiver grass, network, soil erosion, engineering

Soil erosion resulted in soil fertility decline and ecological environmental deterioration and formed one of the most critical issues facing our global society. Following increasing population this problem became more serious. For example, the total erosion area in China increased from 150 million hectares in 1950's to 170 million hectares at present, which accounts for 1/6 of the country land, of which soil erosion takes place in the cultivated lands for 45.4 million hectares, almost 1/3 of the total cultivated land (Zitong Gong and Guobao Luo, 1998).

Although there are a lot of soil conservation measures, the most outstanding of these is the use of vegetative soil and moisture conservation measures that are cheap, replicable, sustainable, and fully effective in stopping erosive degradation and increasing crop yield. Many examples from all of the world showed that vetiver as a boundary hedge to be the ideal plant to conserve soil and rehabilitate eroded land.

1.0 Background of vetiver technology development in China

The valuable grass vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) was disseminated to China in late 1980s as a plant for soil erosion control hedges, although it had been introduced into the county as early as in 1950's as a plant for extracting oil from its roots. Since 1980's, the Vetiver Grass has been experimented or tested in most provinces in southern China, as in Jiangxi, Fujian, Sichuan, Hunan, Guizhou, Hainan, Guangdong, Gansu, Henan, Shandong, and Zhejiang Provinces. The dissemination of the technology was promoted through World Bank supported Red Soil Project (Hu Jianye and Xue Huixian, 1998) , while some of the activities were also involved by Asian Development Bank (B. Haagsma et al, 1998). The followings are some results:

- Some nurseries have been established and experiments were carried out or proposed on the biological characteristics; hedge establishment and maintenance; hedgerow impacts on soil fertility, moisture, crop yield, and soil losses;

- Vetiver hedgerows were established in tea, tea oil (camellia), or citrus plantations in many provinces;

- The green Vetiver Handbooks was translated and distributed country-wide;

- Vetiver was used to feed fish, livestock, and to mulch ground surface of orchards;

- Vetiver hedgerows were established to protect river banks and fish ponds;

- Vetiver was planted on saline soil to ameliorate the soil properties as did in Fujian Province of southern China;

- Vetiver pruning were used to cultivate edible fungi and to make small items.

To speed up the extension of the technology in southern part of China, where 70% of the land is mountainous and soil erosion proved to be a critical problem, the China Vetiver Network (CVN) was established at the end of 1996. The main task of CVN is country-wide vetiver technology extension, i.e., to extend vetiver technology to new area or to use the grass to new applications.

2.0 Multiple measures for vetiver technology dissemination

2.1 National information service through CVN publications

The China Vetiver Network was developed based on and in cooperation with the existing national agroforestry network which has been developed for more than seven years with over 1,000 members. The national information service focus its attention on the southern part of China where tropical and subtropical climate dominate. The vetiver publications were distributed to many national universities, research institutions, governmental offices, provincial institutions, and also many county level and some township level extension stations. Many disciplines were involved, including soil and water conservation, agriculture, forestry, ecology, environmental protection, botany, and soil science, etc. The publications include:

- Vetiver Newsletter in Chinese, 4 issues with total 4000 copies each year were disseminated. The newsletter introduces new development, new technology and activities in China and foreign countries.

- Vetiver Fact Sheets (Vetiver & Soil Conservation), 4 issues totaling 8000 copies each year which introduce substantial technology to extension stations were mostly distributed to county extension stations.

- Agroforestry Today, a quarterly journal in Chinese published for 7 years, in which the vetiver grass being one of the major subjects were distributed with an averaged circulation around 1,200 copies each issue.

-- Vetiver Research and Development, a proceedings of International Vetiver Workshop held in Fuzhou of China 1997, totaling 1000 copies distributed (Liyu Xu, 1998).

Different publications were produced and distributed to different readers with different cultural background from scientists to master farmers. It bridged the gap between research and extension and accelerated the dissemination of the technology.

2.2 Technology dissemination through public mediums

Although many thousands of copies of vetiver publications were released country-wide in the past few years, there was still a strong demand for vetiver information dissemination. As a large agricultural country, there are thousands of research institutions at from national to provincial to prefecture level. Besides, there are many thousands of extension stations at county and township level involving agriculture, forestry, soil and fertilizer, soil and water conservation, livestock etc. Besides, there are also thousands of institutions involving in engineering subjects and also ecology and environment. To accelerate the technology extension, multiple papers introducing vetiver were prepared and published in national or regional journals, newspapers, and television stations. the followings is just a few of examples:

-- Chinese Journal of Ecology,

-- Soil and Water Conservation,

-- Soil Science,

-- Soil and Water Conservation in Fujian,

-- Science of Jiangxi Province,

-- Resources and Environment in the Yangtze Valley,

-- Reference Information (a daily newspaper),

--- Journal of Ecology.

2.3 Conferences and training courses

To promote vetiver technology dissemination, various conferences were organized by CVN in cooperation with different regional, national, or international institutions. These conferences provided opportunity for scientists and technicians to exchange ideas, learn new technologies, establish cooperation and linkages, and seek for new projects with joint efforts. Besides, many small training courses were held for master farmers and technicians to disseminate substantial technology.

For example, supported by The World Bank, The Vetiver Network, Natural Science Foundation of China, an international vetiver workshop was organized in Fuzhou of China in October 1997 and 100 participants attended the workshop. The main topics include:

Through the workshop many old users learnt new vetiver applications, while new users obtained basic information and started their tests after the conference. And many vetiver users established cooperation with their neighbors.

Just two years later, another international conference titled “Conference on Vetiver Bio-Engineering Technology for Erosion and Sediment Control and Civil Construction Stabilisation” was organized in Nanchang October 1999. In addition, some other meetings with vetiver as the only one or one of the major topics were held by CVN or its cooperative institutions in the recent few years, such as:

-- South China Soil and Water Conservation Meeting (Xiamen),

-- Soil Erosion and Conservation Workshop (Jiangxi),

-- Vetiver Network Meeting of Fujian Province (Fuzhou)

-- Yangtze River Flooding and Soil Conservation (Wuhan),

-- Sustainable Agriculture in Yangtze River Basin (Nanjing),

-- Vetiver for Edible Fungi Cultivation (Fuzhou),

-- One-day Training Courses in Fujian and Anhui Provinces, etc.

-- International Conference on Vetiver Bio-Engineering Technology for Erosion and Sediment Control and Civil Construction Stabilisation (Nanchang).

All of these conferences plus many small training courses played an important role in disseminating vetiver technology and establishing follow up cooperation. Because the different meetings put emphasis on different subjects and different groups of people, the vetiver technology was disseminated to from universities, national research institutions to extension stations at county level or township level.

2.4 Joint field surveys and investigations

Aiming at disseminating vetiver technology and exploring new users and new vetiver applications, field surveys and investigations were carried out in Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hubei, Hunan, and Anhui provinces in the recent few years. These investigations were organized by the China Vetiver Network and cooperated by numerous multi-disciplinary institutions at national, provincial, prefecture, county, and township levels. Through these investigations, team members learnt experiences from established vetiver application models and proposed new applications. In addition, by distributing vetiver publications and discussing with local technicians and master farmers, team members encouraged more and more people to test and use the grass.

2.5 Demonstrations and visits

Watching is better than hearing. To encourage people to use vetiver technology various demonstrations were established by CVN in cooperation with numerous institutions. The demonstrations showed people with different applications, such as:

-- vetiver for tea and orange tree garden terrace protection,

-- vetiver for red soil amelioration,

-- vetiver as a component of agroforestry systems,

-- vetiver for newly built terrace stabilization,

-- vetiver for edible fungi cultivation,

-- vetiver for river and coastal bank and fish pond stabilization,

-- vetiver for sand dune fixing,

-- vetiver nursery management.

Accompanied by the organization of conference tour, these different models were extended more quickly and smoothly. Most of the demonstrations were established at sites with transportation facilities and by local technicians acting as interpreters, which was good for visitor to accept and duplicate new technology. Different demonstrations were established for different group of people. For example, in AgriWorld of Suzhou city the grass was planted along river banks, field borders, ditches as a `environmental grass' introducing to college and middle school students.

2.6 Distribution of planting materials and mini-grants

In order to encourage new users to start vetiver program mini-grants was established and disseminated to the institutions with different disciplines. For example, in 1998, altogether US$ 10 375 was sent to 17 recipients from 7 Provinces. The mini-grants were approved based on:

-- the applicants' responsibility, i.e. it is hoped that the grant recipients can do work well and very possibly to send feedback to CVN;

-- the regional distribution and subject balance;

-- if the recipients can seek money from other sources.

In addition, CVN organized millions of planting materials and transported to hundreds of institutions free of charge. All of these encouraged more scientists and technicians to test and use the grass. So far most of the recipients sent us feedback and used the mini-grants and/or planting materials very effectively and successfully. As most of the recipients were those who did not know or did not see the grass before, the first thing they did when they had received planting materials was to establish nursery for reproduction. And then they distributed both planting materioals and technolgy to their neighbors.

3.0 Vetiver technology introducing to engineering institutions

General speaking, in the past decade since 1980's the vetiver grass has been used mostly for agricultural purpose. That is millions of hectares of range land was protected by vetiver grass. However, in the recent 20 years following national economic reform the rapid development of various constructions led to dramatic disturbance of earth materials and resulted in large amount of new soil erosion, that influenced agricultural production and caused the destruction of ditches, dams, and reservoirs and caused frequent flooding which threatened people's life. Taking Guangdong Province as an example, in the period of 1986-1992, the agricultural practices caused 811.30 km2 soil erosion with a amount of soil losses for 21 716 100 m3, accounting for only 28.0% and 10.6% of the total erosion area and soil loss respectively (Li Guangzhi and Guo Suoyan, 1998), i.e. the non-agricultural practice caused 72.0% and 89.4% of the total erosion area and soil loss respectively. Most of the eroded area and most eroded materials was caused by mining, construction of highway, railway, power construction, quarry, etc. (table 1). These non-agricultural practices caused huge sediments in ditches, rivers, and reservoirs, and dramatically influence agricultural production and threatened people's life. Of non-agricultural factors, the construction of highway consisted of an important component. In China for example, since the national economic reform the construction of highway forms the major component of economic development and was deemed as an important channel

(Table 1. Soil erosion and economic losses in Guangdong Province (1986-1992) EXCLUDED)

for poverty alleviation. The total length of highway increased from 1 118 000 km in 1994 to 1 186 000 km in 1996. The annual increase reached 34 000 km. However, caused by financial limitation many highway embankments were not properly protected and caused serious new erosions.

Consequently, we decided to do our best to introduce vetiver technology to highway and other engineering institutions:

(1) CVN translated the article on vetiver grass in engineering application written by Diti Hengchaovanich into Chinese and distributed to 1 200 highway institutions via our Vetiver Newsletters.

(2) In cooperation with experts and engineers from Highway Bureau of Jiangsu Province, and Survey and Design Academy of Communications of Jiangsu Province, we prepared articles to introduce vetiver and its application in highway aspects. These articles were published in several highway journals as:

(3) The CVN introduced vetiver at several regional and national highway conferences, such as East China Highway Conference in Xiamen in June 1998, National Superway Conference in Kunming in November 1998.

(4) In addition to the International Vetiver Workshop organized in Fuzhou October 1997, we organized the International Conference on Vetiver Bio-Engineering Technology for Erosion and Sediment Control and Civil Construction Stabilisation in Nanchang in 1999.

(5) CVN invited senior engineers and directors to go abroad to visit demonstrations. When they came back they acted as active technology disseminators. It was proved that they played a very important role in technology dissemination.

Now, almost all of the highway institutions from national to provincial to county level knew vetiver and start or wish to use the grass. Besides, some of the institutions from railway, mining, power stations etc. also knew the grass more or less.

4.0 Experiences in national networking

From above description we can see that CVN has played an important role in vetiver grass technology dissemination and extension through out the country. General speaking, what CVN has done is to encourage people as many as possible to test vetiver and to transfer the technology to others. Methodologically, the networking is to find factors which might influence VGT dissemination and solve problems on time so that VGT can be disseminated and developed more healthily and smoothly. Following is some examples.

Application models Although VGT is easy to grasp, it may be failure if the technology can not be properly used. The technology was introduced into China for years. However caused by language problem much experience obtained from foreign countries was not fully transferred into China. Once the technology was not properly used it would act as a negative sample showing people that VGT was not so successful as expected. To solve this problem CVN established some demonstrations in different province to show people how to use the grass under different conditions and for different uses. For example, during the very hot and dry season we demonstrated farmers to use vetiver pruning as mulch to reduce evaporation and protect crops.

Keeping VGT out off secret A opposite example is that when people used VGT successfully and got profit from selling planting materials, contracting projects with highway bureaus, cultivating mushrooms etc., they may want to keep it in secret, in order to make more profit without competition. As a result, the dissemination of technology was again influenced. To solve this problem CVN disseminated the basic knowledge and successful experiences via its publications with large circulation in order to break through possible blockades.

Quality control Following increasing enthusiasm in using vetiver for highway stabilization, CVN established bridge between highway institutions and farmers who produce planting materials so that the highway institutions got plenty of planting materials to start their protection job while farmers got considerable profit from selling seedlings. Unfortunately, another problem occurred. Some farmers sold their low quality planting materials planted many years ago and accompanied by cooked account of the amount of tiller numbers to earn money, which caused the damage of highway application. To solve this problem CVN prepared a paper on the quality of planting materials and widely distributed to highway institutions telling them how to select high quality planting materials.

International exchange VGT is a technology without borders. In the recent two years CVN invited international experts from various countries to visit China introducing their experience. For example, many China's highway institutions got interests in vetiver application becaue vetiver can save them 90% costs compared with traditional concret protection. They established demonstrations themselves, or they contracted the projects with agronomists. However each of them could not arrange demonstration successfully as done by Mr Diti from Thailand. Therefore we organized an international conference to invited Diti and other international experts to give lectures and to give in situ comments to both engineers and agronomists. We encouraged our scientists and engineers to study foreign experiences and to learn from each other and to co-establish demonstrations. Besides, we organized Chinese engineers to visit foreign countries such as Thailand and Philippines.

Inviting partners from multiple disciplines Since many disciplines involved in VGT while each discipline acted as an independent kingdom, we must invite people from different disciplines to study and disseminate VGT. For example during the workshop in Fuzhou 1997 which was co-organized by Fujian Provincial Soil and Water Conservation Office there were no engineers to attend because engineers might consider it to be non of their business. To solve this problem we invited chief engineers from highway constructions to visit foreign countries and then invite them to coorganize the “Conference on Vetiver Bio-Engineering Technology for Erosion and Sediment Control and Civil Construction Stabilisation” in Nanchang 1999. Most of the conference participants were engineers. The method was proved to be very successful. For the same reason we invited engineers to co-prepare articles for various engineering publication.

To sum up, VGT has developed and disseminated very quickly in the recent few years through national networking. There will be a great jump in the 21st century.


Haagsma B., Deshen Wang, Taiwan Yu, and W. A. Stoop, 1998, Low input technologies for rehabilitation of degraded red soils in southern China, Contour Vol. x, No.1, p. 11-19.

Hu Jianye and Xue Huixian, 1998, Research on the application of vetiver to red soil development. In: Liyu Xu (ed) Vetiver Research and Development, Agricultural ScienTech Press of China, Beijing, p.54-59.

Liyu Xu, 1998, Vetiver Research and Development, a proceedings of International Vetiver Workshop held in Fuzhou of China, Agricultural SceinTech Press of China, Bejing, p. 200.

Zitong Gong and Guoba Luo, Human-induced soil degradation in China. In: Zhihong Cao (ed) Soil, Human and Enviroment Interaction, China Science & Technology Press, Beijing.