A Periodic Newsletter

Number 5 April, 2001


I received a CD recently from Paul Truong entitled "The Vanishing Delta" that tells the story in pictures of his recent visit to Vietnam where he observed riverbank erosion in the Mekong Delta. My wife and I enjoyed a holiday in Thailand in February and were also struck by the erosion problems along the banks of the Mekong, Kwai and Kok rivers up which we travelled in large and small long-tailed canoes. These canoes are powered by motor car engines with a long shaft to the propeller, because of the shallowness of the water. They, and other much larger, high-powered vessels, travel up the rivers with considerable speed creating much wash that steadily erodes the river banks. These high-powered boats are a relatively recent phenomenon but the problem they are creating is already significant and, in the long-term, this could become serious if nothing is done. Needless to say, Paul advocates the use of vetiver to stabilise the river banks. The practice has now been well established and proven elsewhere, notably in China. The problem, as always in what we are trying to do, is to try and convince appropriate authorities to take action before an identified problem becomes severe or even catastrophic. Similar thoughts could have been made in regard to the danger of land slippage in South American countries as a result of hurricane damage. And look what happened there following Huricanes George and Mitch! Those farmers who had planted vetiver hedges protected their land and survived the ravages well that decimated the holdings of others who had not.

During my wife's and my recent travel I regret that time did not permit visits to members of the Vetiver Network in New Zealand. I particularly regret not having been able to see the work of Don Miller in Gisborne since he is working as far south of the equator as we are north. So there is relevance in our respective experiences. However, we were able to spend a most enjoyable day with Paul and Julie Truong who took us to a number of sites in the Brisbane area where vetiver was being used under different circumstances.

Information Dissemination

As reported in the last Newsletter, funds provided by The Royal Danish Government have been used by TVN in support of dissemination of technical information. These funds are being used to maintain TVN's newsletters, home page, reprinting of technical handbooks, production of CD-ROMs, etc. Some of these funds will be granted by TVN to national and regional networks to help them produce technical data specifically for their areas of operation.

I have recently received a consignment of the English language version of the small green handbooks that have now been updated. These booklets are the basic extension tool that supports vetiver establishment and maintenance. In the past large quantities have been distributed within the many countries where vetiver is being grown globally. They have been very well received as being clear and concise descriptions of vetiver cultural practice, well supported with line drawings.

The ideal complement to these handbooks has now been produced in the shape of colourful brochures of which I have a supply. These contain some 60 pictures supported by concise notes depicting vetiver application in many countries throughout the world. The brochures are of A4 size, printed both sides and folded into 6 sections.

Rogerio de Souza Lima, National Coordinator for Brazil, has translated the brochures into Portuguese and will be printing them in bulk shortly. He has kindly offered to let me have copies and, in due course, I will be able to supply these within EMVN on demand.

Also available through me are CDs produced by Paul Truong and entitled "Vetiver System Resources". These CDs contain a collection of recent documents and slide-shows demonstrating the use of vetiver for soil and water management.

I also have a limited number of a recent Technical Bulletin produced by The Pacific Rim Vetiver Network entitled "Techniques of Vetiver Production with special reference to Thailand" by Narong Chomachalow of the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board, Bangkok. This is now the fifth high quality technical publication produced by PCVN. The clear text in this latest production is very well supported with some excellent photographs.

PCVN generously send me quantities of their quarterly Newsletters, the latest being number 16. These tend to collect in my office because I lack demand from within EMVN to forward copies onwards.

I would be happy to supply any of the above to recipients of this Newsletter on demand. However, mailing costs will be high and EMVN funds are extremely limited. So I would be grateful if those requesting copies who have not previously made donations to EMVN funds would do so at the time of making their request.

Training Course - Thailand

The Training Course that was conducted in Thailand between 19th - 30th November was most successful. Thirty one trainees from 15 countries attended the course. Regrettably, EMVN was not represented. This was a big disappointment as I felt the region would benefit considerably through representation.

A copy of the pictorially supported report has been sent to Heineken Breweries Co. in Amsterdam whose financial support permitted the course to be undertaken. It is very much hoped that this successful use of Heineken funding will result in continued support from Heineken Breweries of the Vetiver System in countries where the company has strong commercial interests.

The 12-day Training Course consisted of lectures, study tours and field work to observe and participate in vetiver uses and utilisation in the northern and central parts of Thailand. Lecture topics included a wide range of vetiver practices in both agricultural and non-agricultural practices including handicrafts.

Prior to attendance on the course participants, in general, had little knowledge of the VS. However, evaluation at course-end showed that participants appreciated the quality of the training provided and gained much in knowledge of the VS. It is interesting to note the observation by some participants that future courses might focus on the financial and economic factors to VS usage. Perhaps, in general, TVN has paid too little attention to the economic factors that justify the promotion of the VS.

The Eden Project

In the last Newsletter, I mentioned my intrention of visiting The Eden Project near St. Austell, Cornwall, England. I and a group that I took with me were conducted round by Dr. Ian Martin, who heads the Botanical Department. The vetiver plants supplied by EMVN look well and, at the time of my visit, were still in the quarantine greenhouse. I plan on a follow-up visit before too long when I hope to be given the opportunity of discussing further with the planners how best the concept of the VS might be displayed within the overall presentation.

As to the Eden Project itself I can only repeat what I said in the previous Newsletter that this is a dramatic and imaginative 21st century project that well deserves a visit by anyone interested in plants and the impact they have on our environment.

The Eden Project was opened to the public in March by HRH The Prince of Wales. It has clearly caught the public imagination, judged by attendance numbers that have exceed expectations by a considerable margin. It is likely that, in the light of this public support, a sixth biome will be added that will be specific to the arid regions of our planet.

Hopefully, within this vast display our own VS can play a small part.


A Conference is to be held at Birmingham University, England in September under the title: "Hedgerows of the World - Their Ecological Functions in Different Landscapes". Because of its specific focus on 'hedgerows' this conference promises to be of particular interest to the Vetiver Network. Also, because of the conference location there are likely to be discussions on hedgerow matters that are more relevant to our climatic circumstances in EMVN. It is also likely that participants will be more attuned to the potential value of hedgerows in controlling erosion, water run-off, loss of plant nutrients and as a soil stabiliser in engineering projects. This contrasts with a number of other international conferences that focus on such aspects as soil conservation, degradation, desertification, irrigation and drainage. Under these wider headings the context within which the VS is presented is much more restricted.

Paul Truong has prepared a paper that will be available at the Conference. It also includes my name as co-author although I have contributed little. Because of lack of funds, it is unlikely that the paper will be presented in person. Nevertheless, because of the TVN contribution we will receive copies of papers delivered and a summary of Conference deliberations. I will summarise these in the next EMVN Newsletter.

Another to draw to the attention of readers is the 12th Conference of the International Soil Conservation Organization (ISCO) to be held in Beijing, China on May 26-31, 2002. The title of this conference will be "Sustainable Utilization of Global Soil and Water Resources". This links in closely to our own International Vetiver Conference, also to be held in China, but in 2004, that has the title of "Vetiver and Water". Readers will recall that Paul Truong and I presented a paper and poster display at ISCO's 2000 Conference which was held in Valencia. I commented on this in an earlier Newsletter.

Hedgerow Technology in Temperate Regions

In past Newsletters, I have mentioned the interest and scientific research that is being undertaken in vegetative hedgerow technology in its application in more temperate regions. The concept of using grass barriers for erosion control in the United States was proposed by the USDA Soil Conservation Service about 40 years ago but for a variety of reasons it was not adopted. Now that it is being given renewed attention perhaps we will see this technology and with it, the VS, being more widely examined as an inexpensive, practical and proven solution to these environmental problems. It is acknowledged, however, that warm-season grasses are probably better candidates for hedges because they are generally more robust and tend to have stiffer stems and increased tillering within the hedge than most cool-season grasses. Ongoing work in the United States highlights some other narrow stiff-grass barriers that have a similar function to vetiver for erosion control and soil stabilisation. Eastern Gamma Grass (Trypsacum dactyloides L.) appears to be one that has considerable potential. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is another but it is interesting to note that because of its height and great bulk problems of crop loss in adjacent crops are likely to occur.

Global Warming

Recently, I received an article that Narong Chomchalow has prepared for the next PRCVN Newsletter. The following is a précis. Thailand is one country that has suffered from exceptional weather patterns, resulting in much flood damage for example. This may well be attributable to global warming and the greenhouse effect. Vetiver has a role to play in helping mitigate disasters that may arise in the future through its absorption from the atmosphere of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. Precise details as to how much CO2 vetiver absorbs are unknown. However, CIAT scientists have shown that two species of savanna grass in South America may remove as much as 2 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually. One of these grasses, Andropogon guyanus, is closely related to V. zizanioides. The CIAT scientists recorded that the two grasses store as much as 53 tons of CO2 as organic matter per hectare per year. This is on account of their extensive rooting system that deposits the organic matter up to one meter deep in the savanna soil. Narong speculates how much might be removed from the atmosphere and fixed in the root system by vetiver grass with its much more extensive and deeper rooting system. He goes on to calculate that if a hectare of deep-rooted grass absorbs 53 tons of CO2, a square meter would absorb about 5 kg of this greenhouse gas during a year's growth. One can extrapolate further to show how extensive areas of vetiver could play a major role in absorbing the global increase of CO2 resulting in overall global cooling.

Articles for Publication

Recently, I was asked to contribute an article on the Vetiver System for the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) in the United Kingdom. The SES includes in its membership some internationally renowned geographical explorers. Hitherto, the Society has focused purely on exploration, often in some of the most inhospitable parts of the planet. It is interesting to note that such a body is now linking its pure exploration to a wider concern on environmental issues.

News from the Region

I have received a report from the National Coordinator for Italy, Claudio Zarotti. This publication is well supported with pictures but, it is in Italian so, at the time of writing this Newsletter, I am still awaiting a translation. It is good to see the strong activity for vetiver usage in Italy under Claudio's direction.

It is also pleasing to be able to report that Leo Toledano has agreed to take on the role of National Coordinator for Israel. Vetiver has been growing in Israel for some time, probably in excess of 20 years. Leo's company is a contractor in land stabilisation and erosion prevention. So he is particularly interested in the application of the VS as a tool in bio-engineering. We now have 5 National Coordinators. I still look forward to seeing vetiver activities develop in Greece and Turkey, countries where I feel sure the VS has considerable potential application. The vetiver nursery that Leo has established in Israel is well located to supply plants to Turkey or Greece. Interested parties, please note.

Recently we had a flurry of interest in Portugal that we might be called upon to supply a large quantity of plants to a help stabilise the soils of a dam located on a mine in Western Spain. Nothing substantial has so far emerged. However, this example does show that engineers within our region are turning increasingly towards vegetative solutions to land stabilisation problems that have hitherto been addressed only with expensive engineered solutions.

Arising from this enquiry, Sandy Robertson whose orchards are in central-South Portugal, examined some plants that he established two years ago primarily as windbreaks for his fruit trees. He wanted to see what sort of multiplication rate he might expect if he was to supply plants for the mining site in Spain. The result was about 200:1. This is remarkable. But it must be borne in mind that his vetiver plants receive the same fertigation as his fruit trees. So, management could not be bettered. Nevertheless, it does show what can be achieved in a multiplication nursery under ideal conditions.

Vetiver Essence

Some time ago someone sent me a photocopy of a page from "Wilkes Priceless Recipes - a valuable collection of tried formulas and simple methods for ….people in every department of human endeavour". By its appearance it was published, in England, many years ago. Under the heading 'toilet articles' the recipe for vetiver essence is as follows: "Two pounds of the root of vetiver (cut small), moisten with a little water, macerate for 24 hours, then beat in a marble mortar, macerate in sufficient alcohol to cover for 8 or 10 days, and strain with pressure; filter through paper and in a fortnight repeat the filtration."

The European and Mediterranean Vetiver Network

In November 1998 we formalised EMVN as a registered body in Portugal. The purpose of doing so was to ensure that it had a European image with audited accounts held in a European country. This we believed would make it more attractive to would-be providers of finance. Regrettably, to date, we have not yet been successful in following through on our aims to make EMVN financially independent of TVN. This year, as in others, we continue to depend upon whatever funds TVN can allocate to us. This amounts to very little because of the demands of a growing number of regional and national networks, not to mention the operation of the central Network. I have now taken the decision to place EMVN in suspended animation as far as its formalised functions are concerned. All this means is that we will cease to spend money and time on committees required within our formalised status. In all other respects EMVN will continue to operate as before, this Newsletter being one example.

HomePage and EMVN Coordinator

Information on the Vetiver Network and the Vetiver System can be viewed on: There is a section on EMVN affairs. I can be contacted at Quinta das Espargosas, Odiaxere, 8600-250 Lagos, Algarve, Portugal; tel/fax: 351-282-79.84.66; e-mail: [email protected].