Experiences of the Latin American

Vetiver network - Dissemination and Promotion

By Joan H. Miller

(Coordinator - Latin American Vetiver Network, San José - Costa Rica)

Presentation at the Second International Vetiver Conference, Thailand. Jan 18 - 22, 2000

Abstract

The Latin American Vetiver Network (LAVN) was established in October 1995 to disseminate and to assist with the exchange of information in Spanish regarding the use of vetiver grass within the region. The LAVN has been successful in its goals of dissemination (as is indicated by an increasing membership, inquiries, and participation) but feels it has fallen short of a more active role in promotion of the technology. The latter is generally taken up by individual members or NGOs, which have been involved in outreach and education to convince others of its benefits. With limited resources (both human and financial) we have found that the LAVN has the greatest impact via information dissemination instead of technology promotion particularly when covering such a large region. Further promotion of Vetiver Grass Technology (VGT) needs to be done on a smaller scale, no larger than country-level, but better yet on an organizational level such as through NGOs. The paper reviews the experience and lessons learned by the LAVN in its attempts to meet its objectives of disseminating information to Spanish speakers on VGT and to assist with the information exchange between network members. The paper subsequently draws some general conclusions on the role, instruments, and approaches, which may contribute, to achieving greater success and impacts of promoting and disseminating VGT.

Background

The Latin American Vetiver Network (LAVN) was started in October 1995 to serve the Spanish speaking countries in order to expand the dissemination of Vetiver Grass Technology (VGT). Previously the only document available in Spanish about VGT was the green book (Vetiver, The Hedge Against Erosion).

The LAVN has no institutional or organizational affiliation. There are a coordinator and a director who work on a volunteer basis out of a home office. The director, Jim Smyle, seconded from The World Bank to The Regional Unit for Technical Assistance (RUTA) has been able to devote some of his professional time to the LAVN within the realm of his job identifying and preparing natural resources projects for funding by the World Bank. Most funding has come directly from The Vetiver Network (TVN) which covers costs for office supplies, copying, mailing of correspondence, information packages and newsletters, and printing of newsletters and other materials.

To kick off the LAVN, the first newsletter in Spanish, Boletín Vetiver, was published in May 1996 and sent out to all members of TVN in Latin America. This first mailing reached approximately 400 members in 20 countries of North, Central and South America (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico). The most recent Boletín Vetiver (#7 - September 1999) was distributed to approximately 723 members. The majority of our members are affiliated with NGOs and the second largest group is formed from university researchers and students and individuals who are interested in VGT. The smallest group of network members are private companies and government and research organization.

Goals of the LAVN

The stated objective of the LAVN is dissemination of information in Spanish about VGT, its applications and potential uses. The aim is to provide members access to the existing knowledge about VGT for soil and water conservation, bioengineering and bio-remediation, its application, potential uses and assist in the exchange of information. The Boletín Vetiver permits users and researchers to share their knowledge and experiences with not only Latin America, but also the world through our link with The Vetiver Network. Additionally we have worked to increase network membership. The Vetiver Homepage and word of mouth have been the most effective means of increasing membership.

Activities to date have included the following:

Financial Support of Network

Effectiveness of the LAVN

Promotion of VGT

Also as a result of the workshop we have seen increased correspondence between many of the workshop participants and the LAVN. A follow-up assessment of workshop participants' vetiver-related activities and promotion is planned for May - one year after the event.

We have seen success in the promotion of VGT in the region through a number of dedicated individuals and groups. Included here were the three projects that received grants from TVN Support to NGOs Program. These projects were PCERS (Oaxaca, Mexico), Fundación Golondrinas (Ecuador) and Sociedad Conservación Aragua (Venezuela). Promotional activities in these projects included workshops, technical demonstrations, and nursery establishment, etc.

Aside from the effectiveness of their promotional activities another benefit which came out of these projects was that we were able to confidently refer other interested vetiver grass users to these groups for technical advice and potentially as a source of planting material. And even more importantly to us now, is that these groups will likely be tapped to officially take over networking responsibilities for either their region or country.

Decentralization of the LAVN

Because of our departure from Costa Rica scheduled for July 2000 we intend not only to transfer the LAVN to another coordinator, but also request the participation of individuals in other countries to act as local coordinators to disseminate technical information, improve promotional activities and further gather information on the use of vetiver in their regions/countries.

Ideally the LAVN will be transferred to an organization or individual which has both the interest in running the network and, equally as important, an association with an organization which would support their activities both on the time required and some of the basic overhead costs. Such an organization might include a university, technical school, NGO, or a private company. Responsibilities would include at least maintaining a database of members and user profiles, publication of LAVN newsletter, and directing inquiries to the appropriate regional coordinators.

Smaller regional coordinators would be identified based on their participation, interest, motivation and desire to carry out the responsibilities of the coordination for their region. Optimally there would be coordinators for each of the 20 countries in the region. If a country at that time doesn't have the in-country expertise or interest then a coordinator from an adjacent country could take on the responsibilities. The responsibilities foreseen for these local coordinators would include dissemination of vetiver information packages (newsletters, green book, etc.), maintaining and expanding a database of vetiver users, nurseries and other sources for planting material, providing country/regional updates and articles to the LAVN for inclusion in the Boletín Vetiver, etc.

Actual promotional activities would be determined by the individual regional coordinators based on their abilities (i.e. financial and personnel) and commitment to carry this out. This would include organization and participation in workshops and demonstrations when possible. Many of individuals being considered for coordination positions already are promoting VGT within their own organizations, regions and projects. There is great need in all countries for the participation of knowledgeable and experienced vetiver users for giving presentations and demonstrations of VGT. It is hoped that these more local coordinators will be able to help fill this need and also help train others to do the same.

What Have We Learned ?

The LAVN uses a single office to network, gather and disseminate information to its members in the Latin American Region. The years of experience have revealed the following:

Conclusions

The role of the LAVN is simply stated as the gathering of information for further dissemination. This is currently accomplished through a single LAVN office which carries out correspondence with a growing membership, provides contacts and technical information when requested, and publishes of a newsletter. As the LAVN is transferred to another office and coordinator, it is anticipated that the role of the LAVN might be expanded to increase effectiveness and influence of networking in the region through further promotion and increased participation. This can hopefully be accomplished though the expansion of the LAVN through the development of locally situated network respresentatives and offices. Such a change will likely require additional financing through fund-raising activities, project support, corporate/industrial sponsorship or the selling of technical assistance services. This is a challenge that we hope to overcome as we transfer the network in the year 2000.


Footnotes

[1] The phytosanitary regulations in Chile are so strict that it has been suggested that it would be impossible to successfully bring in material and there is a general opinion that vetiver, being an imported plant will bring them nothing but trouble