Vetiver activities in the Pacific Basin

Ken Kramer, Soil Conservationist, Saipan Field Office


My purpose in writing to you is to inform you of the activities in which vetiver grass is being used, and to describe the progress that has been made to disseminate the vetiver technology in the Pacific Basin. Until fairly recently, I was unaware that the Vetiver Network existed; nevertheless, I have been promoting the use of vetiver throughout the Mariana Islands from the United States Territory of Guam to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). A variety of vetiver called, Louisiana Sunshine, was extensively tested by Robert Joy, NRCS Plant Materials Specialist, at the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Molokai, Hawaii; and then, it was released to the Plant Materials Site on Guam, where it was further tested for many years. All this testing was designed to select for a strain that can only be propagated by the direct intervention of humans; signifying that the seeds are not viable, and it can only be propagated by digging it up, pulling it apart, and planting the slips. The first, major use of vetiver on Guam was in the Ugum Watershed Project, where I assisted Robin DeMeo and Colleen Simpson (both from NRCS, Guam), in planning and planting vetiver in the badlands of southern Guam.

On both Rota and Saipan in the CNMI, I have established Plant Materials Sites to propagate and maintain a place for useful erosion controlling grasses (vetiver); propagate and maintain several species of pasture grasses; and to use the site as an information/educational tool to teach farmers and ranchers what plants are available to assist them. In 1994, I introduced Louisiana Sunshine vetiver to Rota, where it was planted at the Rota Plant Materials Site and in the badlands on Rota. Plantings of vetiver were conducted in the Talakhaya Watershed in experimental trials to determine which kinds of vegetation were best adapted to growing in the nutrient poor, acidic, low organic matter, Akina Badlands Complex soils.

In 1996, vetiver was brought to Saipan, from both Rota and Guam, and established at the Plant Materials Site located in Kagman at the Department of Lands and Natural Resources’ Division of Plant Industry. From this source of vetiver, several farmers have experimented with it, including Clifford Sakamoto, who used it for gully erosion; and Jesus Sablan for sheet and rill erosion. In addition, it is used in the Lau Lau Watershed Best Management Practices (BMP) Demonstration Project.

To date, the Lau Lau Watershed BMP Demonstration Project remains the best demonstration of vetiver technology in action in the CNMI; it is sponsored by the CNMI Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and funded through an EPA 319 grant for non-point source pollution. Susan burr, a Marine Biologist at DEQ, and I have worked on this project from its conception; moreover, the project has been a model of cooperation between the CNMI government and the USDA/NRCS. The vetiver is planted at the top and bottom of a 2 acre site donated for use by Donald Flores, a member of the local Saipan & Northern Islands, Soil and Water Conservation District (S&NISWCD). The project location is characterized by steep (24%) slopes, volcanic, acidic, poor soil, consisting mostly of saprolite parent soil material, in an area in the Lau Lau Watershed, above Lau Lau Bay, which is a popular tourist attraction for scuba divers. In August of 1997, Robert Wescom, NRCS Forester, Guam, and I conducted a resource assessment of the Lau Lau Watershed with the purpose of documenting the existing conditions, identifying sources of non-point source pollutants that are adversely affecting the surface and marine water quality, and to implement a small demonstration of the conservation practices required to control, reduce, or prevent non-point sources of pollution. Vetiver vegetative row barriers are an integral component of this revegetation effort. Other BMPs include the use of mulch from the Lau Lau Golf Course; a ground cover of the nitrogen fixing legume, siratro, Macroptilium atropurpureum; tree planting with Acacia auriculiformis; and wattling, or the installation of live fascines, with Gliricidia sepium, otherwise known as the madre de cacao.

The last of the vetiver for this project (150 ft. of vetiver on the contour) was planted on September 12, 1998, at the top of the slope with the assistance of: Susan Burr, Jack Olesch, Kimiko Link, and Brian Bearden from DEQ; and Tom Pritchard, an Agriculture Teacher at the Marianas High School, and his agriculture students. These students and their teacher are Earth Team Volunteers with NRCS, and as such, they have helped us implement this project. Without the help of these 23 Earth Team Volunteers, the Project would not have succeeded as it did; and by assisting us, they learned about their island environment and the ways to preserve and protect it for future generations. This was an educational aspect of the project that has engendered a deeper respect for the environment for all those concerned with it.

The latest news concerning the use of vetiver, comes from Brian Bearden, DEQ Engineer, who is considering the possibility of to incorporating vetiver into the earth moving, permitting process. Finally, a major project is under consideration to encircle the Puerto Rico Dump on Saipan with vetiver grass to filter out the sediment, and, perhaps, absorb some of the nutrients.