STATUS REPORT -- EUROPEAN AND MEDITERRANEAN REGION, HE VETIVER NETWORK (EMVN) - APRIL-NOVEMBER 1998

 

Overview

Since the last EMVN Status Report the majority of activity in the region has occurred in Portugal. It is very much hoped that on the next occasion there will be more to report from other countries within the region where interest and positive responses have been expressed, but not yet brought to fruition through research or field application activities.

Visit of Dr. Paul Truong

Paul and Julie Truong visited Portugal and Spain between September 9-18 which gave a considerable boost to our activities. Paul spoke at two well attended seminars/field days in the Algarve and also visited a number of locations where vetiver was established in March 1998. These included those of a non-government organisation concerned with the protection of a sensitive mountain region (Serra de Monchique) which has suffered considerable erosion in recent years. He also visited Antonio Vasco de Mello's property in Central Portugal (39ºN) where vetiver is thriving, having been established in April 1996. Paul was also able to appreciate some of Portugal's soil erosion problems particularly in regard to the need to stabilise cliff-tops and protect disturbed soils along engineered structures, notably highways and dams. His visit, which was reported in the press, stimulated interest in the potential of Vetiver Grass Technology to address critical aspects of soil erosion and soil stabilisation in this part of Europe. As a result we are now initiating action towards making a further importation of 1 cu. meter planting material in March 1999 to meet the increased demand. In Spain, Paul met with Dr. Tíscar Espigares of the Universidade de Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid who accompanied us to view vetiver planting activities in the harsh climatic and pedologic conditions near Lorca, Murcia region where vetiver was established some 4 years ago. Engº Diego Frutos, the responsible agricultural technician, was an enthusiastic and excellent host who sees considerable potential for VGT as a stabiliser of engineered structures in this part of Spain. Drip irrigation ceased for the hedges at Lorca in about March 1997 but they are nevertheless performing well in a 250mm environment, protecting the steep banks of an access road leading to a reservoir. Control blocks on either side of these plantings show severe erosion and gullying.

Conclusions arising from Dr. Truong's Visit

My personal conclusions or lessons learnt out of Paul's visit were as follows:

• In Southern Europe it is likely that we should give primary focus to agro-engineering uses of VGT ahead of agro and forestry uses. Findings in China and Australia, for example, indicate that VGT when applied to such structures as highway embankments and cuttings are some ten times cheaper than classical engineered approaches. Thus, in drier parts of Europe drip irrigation of vetiver hedges established along highway embankments would still be considerably cheaper, more permanent and more environmentally friendly than an engineered alternative. Under such circumstances, irrigation would be critical and justified in the drier areas (say 300-700mm p.a.) to ensure rapid and effective establishment and long-term continuity.

• Paul places considerable emphasis on periodic application of inorganic fertiliser--diammonium phosphate) to ensure vigorous and continued field hedge growth and we would follow this practice.

• Hitherto, for the Region, I have recommended maintenance trimming of field plants (to say 40cm) at least once per year to stimulate tillering and root growth. Paul advises that whilst desirable, this is not strictly necessary. This can be important for doubters of the technology who would otherwise be concerned regarding annual maintenance costs.

• In Southern Europe our climatic conditions provide us with tighter margins of planting times than in the tropics. I feel, therefore, that stimulating early establishment could be of particular importance in EMVN where the emphasis will be primarily on agro-engineering uses of VGT. During Paul's visit we put together a paper summarising four techniques for aiding early establishment with contributions from Paul, Dick Grimshaw and Criss Juliard. These are described elsewhere and include: manure-tea; sand pots; strip production and individual pots.

March '98 Plantings

Reports and viewings of the plants that were imported from Zimbabwe in March, and which were established in 14 locations ranging from the Açores to Southern Spain, indicate that the majority of plants are now well established and subdivisions have been successfully carried out. By Spring of 1999 there should be a good plant resource base in Southern Portugal and a steadily increasing knowledge as to vetiver's performance or limitations in Southern Europe.

DNA Analysis Programme

Under the overall coordination of Dr. Paul Adams of Baylor University, Texas, the following accessions were obtained from Spain (ex Dr. Juan Tasias and Engº Diego Frutos) and are being multiplied in the Coordinators nursery: Malaysian, Sabak Bantar, Parit Buntar, Sabah and Karnataka. The programme will be expanded considerably with the receipt of some 13 further accessions from Bob Adams which will be established under professional management in a commercial nursery located in the Eastern Algarve.

Northerly Limits of Vetiver Establishment

Contact has only recently been established with growers of vetiver in the Piedmont Region of Northern Italy. Vetiver was apparently established in 1997 and some 3,000 plants are doing well at 45º 20' N at Vercelli which is about equi-distant between Torino and Milano. This may be the most northerly latitude at which vetiver has been established and we will monitor its future performance with considerable interest. It is early days yet and 1997/98 was a warmer than usual winter in Northern Italy. Encouragingly, reports from Albania indicate that the vetiver that was established at about 40º N some two years ago is doing fine.

Achnatherum splendens (jiji sao)

The above comments on latitudinal/climatic limitations to the establishment of vetiver are particularly pertinent to our European conditions. We are therefore taking considerable interest in the possible application of jiji sao within EMVN at latitudes and climates where basic temperatures are too cold for vetiver's survival. We are liaising closely on this matter with Professor Liyu Xu and wish to identify research bodies in Europe that might be interested in examining the potential of this relatively unknown plant as a vegetative means of soil conservation and soil stabilisation under European conditions. There is also the possibility of a joint Sino-European exercise to examine the potential or limitations of this grass in much greater detail.

Use of VGT in Cyprus and Gibralter

EMVN has provided advice to an engineering consultancy firm, Allot & Lomax of Sale, Manchester on the use of VGT relative to a large, steep and complex hillside that surrounds a proposed power station project in Cyprus. This may be typical of the agro-engineering projects which could employ VGT effectively in the EMVN region. In similar vein, EMVN has drawn the attention of the Ministry of Defence UK to the possibility of using VGT in stabilising the Eastern face of the Rock of Gibralter which is currently being decommissioned as a water catchment area and which the Government of Gibralter in association with the MOD proposes to be vegetatively rehabilitated.

Registration of EMVN

The Deed registering EMVN as an official body in Portugal was signed in November by six founding members coming from Albania (2), Germany (1), Portugal (1), Spain (1) and United Kingdom (1). TVN funded this formality which formalises EMVN as an European-based body. Whilst the informational and reporting links to TVN remain as before there is now financial and organisational responsibility within Europe. It is hoped that this action will strengthen the position of EMVN in its upcoming application to the EC for finance covering the period 1999-2001 or to other European-based funding bodies.

Lectures

During the review period lectures supported with slides were given to Universities in Spain and England.

Mike Pease

13th November, 1998