Report on EMVN's Operations

by Michael Pease





1. Coordination Background

1.01 The first introduction of a field application of Vetiver Grass Technology (VGT) to Europe probably occurred in 1994 through an EC-funded project that sought to determine its applicability under Mediterranean conditions. The project's managing agency was an Italian firm, Tecnagrind, and the General Manager, Ing. Marco Troglia, was appointed as The Vetiver Network's (TVN) Regional Coordinator. However, focus was limited to that area covered by the EC-funded project in Southern Spain and, with the close of the project, vetiver coordination diminished.

1.02 I am resident in Southern Portugal and have followed closely the development of VGT from its first introduction in India, some 15-20 years ago, through my close personal relationships with Dick Grimshaw. I am also a retiree agriculturalist from the World Bank and took over the role of Regional Coordinator in May 1997.

2. Regional Background

EMVN is one of the most recently formed regions within TVN. All the countries in the region lie to the north of the tropics and sub-tropics where VGT is most assured of successful application. The introduction of the technology to the region remains therefore somewhat exploratory for the time being. Those European countries within the region where VGT may have application range from Portugal's Ašores in the Atlantic Ocean to Albania in the East and include, for instance, Cyprus and the Greek Islands. Potential for the use of VGT may lie in West Asia and the Middle East, particularly Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Along the Southern Mediterranean VGT may well have application in the countries of the Magreb, particularly Morocco and Tunisia. Vetiver has been grown for some time in Israel and Egypt but for its production of aromatic oil, not for soil stabilization.

3. Registration of EMVN

EMVN was established as a non-profit making Association, registered in Portugal, in November 1998. This was done with the intention of making EMVN more eligible for external financing as a European entity. However, to date, no financing other than that provided by TVN has been obtained though a financing proposal in EC funding format has been prepared.

4. Technology Dissemination and Communications

4.01 For a period in 1998 EMVN operated its own HomePage which was, in fact, little more than a mirror of the TVN WebSite. After one year this was discontinued in favour of a section within the centralised TVN WebSite. This is more cost-effective.

4.02 EMVN produced its first Newsletter in April 1999 and will produce a second in November. Newsletters are expected to be produced on a biannual basis thereafter.

4.03 National Coordinators within EMVN have been appointed for: Spain (Dr. Maria JosÚ Sanchez); Italy (Ing. Claudio Zarotti); Albania (Dr. Vangjo Kovaci) and; Morocco (Dr. Dale Rachmeler). It is hoped that National Coordinators will be able to disseminate the technology more effectively in the national language.

4.04 Strong e-mail communication links have been established in most countries within the region with much interest being expressed in the technology. Mainly this comes from private individuals rather than public bodies.

5. Country-by-Country Activity

5.01 Portugal

a) Vetiver was first introduced into Portugal by Dr. Antonio Vasco de Mello in 1996 onto his property in north-central Portugal at a latitude of 39╝ 14' North. Dr. de Mello obtained his plants from Tony Tantum in South Africa and they are thriving despite the fact that his property experiences many days of frost during the winter and, probably, maximum cold of about -8╝ C. Dr. de Mello is using his vetiver to protect dam walls and to stabilise the banks of a heavily eroded water course that flows down a cultivated valley.

b) The Coordinator arranged additional importations, firstly a small demonstrational consignment donated by EcoGroup, Florida in November 1997 and then approximately 2,500 slips in March 1998 from Jano Labat of Vetiver Grass Stabilization, Chiredzi, Zimbabwe. Demand for plants was stimulated during seminars arranged by the Coordinator during Dr. Paul Truong's visit to Portugal and Spain in September 1998. As a result a further importation of some 3,500 slips was made, also from Jano Labat, in March 1999. Plants from these three importations went to: private individuals, commercial bodies, NGOs, government bodies such as the Department of Agriculture, Departments of the Environment in Municipal bodies and the University of the Ašores.

c) In 1997 the Coordinator established a Multiplication Nursery on his property in Southern Portugal, 37╝ 7' N where, under intensive management the plants have performed well. Maximum low temperatures are about -5╝ C and mild frosts may occur on some 5-20 days in the year. Total precipitation is about 450 mm per annum with some 5 months dry. With adequate water plants behave normally, reaching a height of some 2 meters and with active root growth. Multiplication rates are about 30:1 per annum.

5.02 Spain

In 1994 an EC-funded project sought to determine the application of vetiver under Mediterranean conditions. The selected site was a steep slope of some 60% on an access road leading to a reservoir near Lorca (37╝ 42' N) in Murcia Region of Spain. The area has a harsh climate with precipitation of only some 300 mm per annum, 5-6 months dry and poor soils. Vetiver hedgerows were established at distances of approximately 1 meter vertical interval in two blocks of land with control blocks either side. Drip irrigation was provided for all plants during the first two years of establishment. Thereafter, within each block, three sections were defined receiving a) continued irrigation; b) reduced irrigation; and c) no irrigation. Since 1998, i.e. for the past two years, no maintenance or irrigation has been provided whatsoever. Nevertheless, the plants have survived well and the hedges are proving effective not only in controlling erosion but in providing a micro climate under which native species of plants have become established. Control blocks on either side show severe erosion with deep gullying and rilling.

5.03 Italy

In Italy research work has been conducted on biomass production and salt tolerance by Dr. Vito Sardo at Catania University, Sicily. In 1998 a privately owned nursery located near Milano (45╝, 25'N) established a holding of vetiver plants originating from the EC-funded project in Spain. Some plants have been distributed to a number of growers elsewhere in the country. Long-term performance under conditions of prolonged cold as experienced in more northerly regions has yet to be determined but initial results are not unexpectedly negative. The nursery is now being moved to near Pisa where climatic conditions will be much more favourable to vetiver production. Generally, within Italy, considerable interest has been expressed in VGT. The technology is likely to have considerable application particularly in the South.

5.04 Albania

In 1997 the internationally financed Albanian Private Forestry Development Project imported plants produced by tissue culture from EcoGroup, Florida. The Coordinator visited the project in July 1999 and inspected all plantings. There is no doubt that vetiver has a role in certain localities where climatic conditions are suitable. However, in many locations winters are severe and vetiver would either not survive at all or, at best, would perform unsatisfactorily. The prime focus is to address problems of erosion on smallholdings. However, much could also be done within the bio-engineering context of stabilising steep slopes of roads, dams etc.

5.05 Other Countries

VGT undoubtedly has potential application in such countries as Greece, Syria, Turkey, Morocco and the Spanish off-shore islands such as the Canaries. Expressions of interest have been received from the above mentioned but, to date, interest has not yet been translated into the introduction of plants.

6. Overview

6.01 General

There is adequate indication from results of field applications, some of which were established nearly five years ago, that VGT has potential in many countries within EMVN, particularly in Southern Europe, Western Asia and countries bordering the Southern Mediterranean. This is reinforced by the climatic and pedologic parameters for effective vetiver hedgerow establishment under tropical and sub-tropical conditions which indicate that VGT would also be appropriate in many locations within EMVN. In Southern Europe it is probable that the most important immediate applications will be within a bio-engineering context, stabilising road and rail cuttings and embankments, protecting dams and reservoirs, controlling leachate on industrial and municipal landfills and protecting against erosion the landward side of erodable cliff-tops.

6.02 Climatic Factors

Because of the less favourable growing conditions (cold winters and long hot summers) in many parts of EMVN, relative to tropical and sub-tropical regions, much emphasis needs to be placed on the known techniques for promoting early establishment. Also there is need for a better awareness that vetiver is no different from most other plants in that it requires management attention in the early years of its establishment following planting. For instance, regular watering, some fertiliser application and gap filling is important to early establishment of an effective vegetative barrier. Since it has been shown in Australia and China for example, that vetiver grass hedgerow barriers can be established on engineered slopes at about one tenth the cost of engineered means, e.g. gabions, gunite etc. it is still economic to provide water for the vetiver in its first two years of establishment even if this has to be transported.

6.03 Achnatherum splendens (jiji sao)

Many countries or regions within EMVN have geographic and climatic limitations to the potential for establishment of vetiver grass due to prolonged and intense cold in winter. Jiji sao may well have application in some of these localities since, in China, it has been shown to have a much a higher tolerance to cold than vetiver. It would, therefore, be desirable to test Jiji sao in a number of locations within EMVN to determine its application where vetiver would be unsuitable.

6.04 Limitations on Expansion

Availability of plants was a limitation on expansion but supplies are now available from within the region in Portugal, Spain and Italy. The major problem to overcome is expansion of an understanding of the technology and potential of VGT. This requires finance which is currently limited to that provided by TVN. Some opposition, mainly from within academia, has arisen to the concept of introducing a 'new plant' that is seen as having potential risks of invasiveness and disease-spread. If the financial limitation was removed expansion of VGT usage within the region could be expected to result from the impact of seminars, demonstrations and personal visits.

Michael Pease

Coordinator, European & Mediterranean Vetiver Network

Quinta das Espargosas, Odiaxere, 8600-250 Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Tel/fax: 351-(0)82-79.84.66; e-mail: <[email protected]>