Vetiver Newsletter of the Southern Africa Vetiver Network,

No 4 August 1998

Contents page
  • A Note from the Editor
  • Umgeni Water Endorses Vetiver, Eiman Karrar
  • Mpumalanga Provincial Government Endorses Vetiver use, Lynn Hurry
  • The Mpumalanga Vetiver Program, Duncan Hay
  • Vetiver Grass in a Soil and Moisture Conservation Trial – Tanzania, Holger Nehmdahl 
  • Vetiver in Papua New Guinea, Rob Shelton
  • Letter to the Editor, Devon Kaputula
  • End piece, Kurt Vonnegut

A Note from the Editor

Judging from what is coming across my desk, and through my e-mail, telephone and fax system, Vetiver appears to be on a regional roll. There are projects in Tanzania (see the article by Holger Nehmdahl on Page 3), inquiries from Mozambique, funding for David Jobson in Mpumalanga, endorsement from Umgeni Water (see Eiman Karrarn's article on Page 2), articles in Keeping Track and The Natal Witness. It all begins to add up to something quite significant. We have, in Southern Africa at the moment, a bit of a bull market operating. (I wish we could say that our stock market was this buoyant!) Let's keep up this momentum.

The same cannot be said of the mood at Head office. In recent correspondence with our godfather in Washington, Dick Grimshaw, I have detected increasing levels of frustration. Raising funds for and on behalf of an increasing number of regional networks and other projects is not easy, and I understand that this year willing donors have been like hen's teeth - few and far between. Although this is disappointing and threatens those networks in least developed areas, I don't think it is all bad. One thing we should learn from this is that it is not fair and far too much to expect that fundraising responsibility be lumped on the shoulders of one person. That is irrespective of how capable he or she is. It also makes no business sense to vest that role and level of responsibility with a single individual. We in the regions must take increasing responsibility for our own fund-raising and move the burden of responsibility off Dick's shoulders. We must strive towards financial autonomy sooner rather than later. This comes from the pen of someone who has just managed to extract $10 000 from Dick for Mpumalanga. Despite a superb product I suspect that many of the regional networks find themselves in the same predicament as us -- reliant on funding sources external to the network and the region. This must change if we are to survive and prosper.

Umgeni Water Endorses Vetiver

Eiman Karrar (Eiman works in the Water Quality Department of the Scientific Services Division at Umgeni Water in Pietermaritzburg. Ed.)

As part of its Integrated Catchment Management Policy, Umgeni Water recognizes the value of vetiver grass as a measure to control soil erosion in KwaZulu-Natal.

Umgeni Water is promoting the use of vetiver grass for controlling soil erosion throughout its operational area which stretches from the Tugela to the Mzimkulu River basins. As such, Umgeni has formed links with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, the Land Care Initiative of Department of Agriculture and Msinsi Holdings, the resource conservation organisation. The latter organisation hopes to conduct rehabilitation work within its nature reserves and is planning to establish vetiver nurseries at selected dam sites and promote the use of vetiver amongst local communities.

From a water utility's perspective, soil erosion contributes to river pollution by depositing soil which may have pathogens and nutrients adsorbed to them which could result in health and eutrophication hazards. The deposited soil particles are eroded from locations where soil is desperately needed for activities such as subsistence agriculture. Soil erosion may also impact negatively on the quantity of water due to the reduction in the soil depth resulting in less water being stored in the soil profile.

Vetiver grass is invaluable in rehabilitating disturbed land such as construction sites and eroded farming areas. Consequently Umgeni Water has formed a partnership to establish a nursery close to its Midmar water works. It is intended to start operations at the nursery by October of this year.

Sustainable use of land is the only long-term solution to soil erosion. Vetiver grass is seen as only one small part of land care and the long-term prevention of erosion.

Anyone interested in obtaining the grass should contact Eiman Karar ( Tel : 0331 - 3411407) at the Water Quality Department of Umgeni Water for assistance . 



Mpumalanga Provincial Government Endorses Vetiver

Dr Lynn Hurry (Lynn is a Director in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. This article is the contents of a letter directed by Lynn to Dick Grimshaw of TVN. Ed.)


This is to inform you that this Department has an active Permaculture programme with a strong soil conservation component. We therefore have an interest in Vetiver grass and advocate its use in soil conservation applications.

The Department has directorates of both environmental management and environmental education and promotes the use of Vetiver grass in its community soil conservation programmes. We are aware that your network has funded a Vetiver programme with the EcoLink organisation of White River, and we recognise and appreciate the work that has been done by EcoLink in distributing Vetiver grass and educating people in its use.

Last year Mpumalanga Vetiver Programme (MVP) assisted this Directorate by running workshops for staff, participating in creating an awareness of the uses of Vetiver and instructing staff in the planting of the grass. There were also occasions in which the MVP worked with our staff in plantings of Vetiver at public sites (for example eroded areas in the Hazyview district).

There is an urgent need for extensive soil management programmes in Mpumalanga and in my opinion Vetiver plantings are integral to all of these. Since we would not like to see the work of the MVP jeopardised by a shortage of funds, we are grateful for your offer of assistance with regard to fundraising, and assure you that we are happy to work together with you in insuring the ongoing success of the MVP programme.

The Mpumalanga Vetiver Programme

Duncan Hay

Just a short note on David Jobson's behalf. Since the last Newsletter both of us had the misfortune of experiencing the more unpleasant realities of life in South Africa. In May I was hi-jacked at gunpoint and my pride-and-joy of six weeks disappeared forever into the informal economy. In July David was mugged while attending the Grahamstown Arts Festival. Whereas I was fortunate to escape unharmed but materially dispossessed, David managed to avoid robbery but at the expense of most of his front teeth. The initial quote for their repair was R 40,000 but was subsequently revised to R 90,000!!! (I kid you not -- I definitely chose the wrong profession.) Common sense has prevailed and he has returned to the UK to have them repaired for the account of the British taxpayer. We wish him a speedy recovery and a safe return.

The Mpumalanga programme ran dangerously short of funds earlier in the year but has been boosted with allocations from The Vetiver Network (thanks Dick) and from the British Council (thanks Tony Blair). This month we will be submitting a proposal to the Anglo American chairman's Fund. let's keep our fingers crossed. David will report in detail on project progress in the next newsletter.



Vetiver Grass in a Soil and Water Conservation Trial - Tanzania

By Holger Nehmdahl (Holger is a Ph.D. candidate at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark. Ed.)



This article contains a presentation of a soil erosion and water management trial site located in the Iringa Region of Tanzania. Special emphasis is given to the performance of Vetiver grass. The aim of the experiments is to evaluate the effectiveness of different low input soil erosion control measures and impact of these measures on the plant nutrient - and water balance. The experiments are fully financed by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and carried out by the Chemistry Department and Department of Agricultural Science at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark. Locally, there is close co-operation between the research project, the HIMA/DANIDA-Iringa project (presented in Vetiver Newsletter No. 16) and the Soil Science Dept. at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

The three soil erosion control measures tested in this study are either recommended by the HIMA-Iringa project and/or practised by some local farmers. Although Vetiver grass in numerous experiments has proven to have almost ideal properties when used to combat water caused soil erosion, no controlled experiments on the effectiveness of Vetiver grass and magnitude of soil erosion in the Iringa Region have been carried out. Data from 3 growing seasons has been collected so far starting with the 1995/96 season. Since this is an ongoing research project and selected data will be published in technical/scientific journals, only few figures are presented here.


The experiments

Location, climate and soil

The trial site is located in Kilolo Division, Iringa District, Iringa Region on a 29% slope with a SSW aspect. The climate is moderately cool tropical and subhumid. The unimodal rainfall pattern is often broken by a short dry spell in January/February. The start of the rain season is marked by thunderstorms yielding high intensity downpours with a high degree of spatial variability. The highest temperatures occur in November/December and the lowest in June/July, when temperatures can drop below 0(C.

Average annual rainfall in the area is 1100 mm and the annual average potential evapotranspiration about 970 mm.

In the area, characterised by steeply dissected convex slopes, maize sometimes intercropped with beans is the dominating crop on well-drained soils.

The nature of soils in the area is determined by the parent material, climate and the extent of weathering. Located in the subhumid and cool tropical climate of the Iringa Highlands and developed on a mosaic of acidic pre-Cambrian metamorphic and plutonic rocks, most soils are deeply weathered and leached. The red and yellow soils are dominated by kaolinitic clay minerals and aluminium - iron-oxyhydroxides.

Another important feature of the soil is a high infiltration capacity approaching values for sandy soils despite its high clay content.

The soil is classified as a Humic Acrisol according to the FAO Soil Classification System.


The Site

Three soil erosion control measures are tested in 12 classic runoff plots separated into 3 blocks. Each plot with dimensions of 4 times 20 m is fenced on 3 sides by metal plates buried to a depth of 0,5 m. At the downslope end of each plot a collection gutter guides water/soil lost due to surface runoff into a system of 2 concrete tanks. One fourth of an eventual overflow from the first tank is collected in the second tank. The total tank capacity is close to 3000 l. The volume of water and soil lost from the runoff plots is recorded after each single runoff event. Samples are taken for laboratory analyses.

At the site rainfall is recorded by means of an automatic rain gauge monitoring amount and intensity of the incoming rain. The other climatic data is supplied by a nearby meteorological station. Soil water content at different soil depths is monitored the Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) - method. Soil water samples are collected from 1 m depth in all plots and analysed.


Soil conservation measures applied

In each of the 3 blocks 3 soil conservation measures are tested against a control plot. The 3 measures are:

- Vetiver grass lines on the contour

- Calliandra hedgerows on the contour

- Tied contour ridges

The vegetative control measures used are Vetiveria zizanioides and Calliandra calothyrsus provided by the HIMA-Iringa project. Grass lines and hedgerows are repeated for every 2 m of vertical interval. Vetiver grass was planted with a spacing of 10 cm between slips, Calliandra with 20 cm between seedlings. Both Vetiver and Calliandra was planted in 1992 and fully effective with regard to soil erosion control in the first trial season 1995/96.

Tied ridges have a spacing of 80 cm.

The control treatment is flat cultivation as practised by nearly all farmers in the area.

In all plots (including the control plots) maize intercropped with beans was used as test crop for all 3 seasons.

All plots received N - and P - fertiliser and pesticides were used when needed.


Rainfall and runoff statistics

The first 2 seasons were characterised by a late start of the rain season, rainfall below average, prolonged dry spells and few high intensity rain events. Widely blamed on the El Nino phenomenon, rainfall above average with often destructive downpours were recorded in the third season.

In each of the first 2 seasons only one major runoff event was recorded. In total 14 runoff events were recorded in the 1995/96 and 1996/97 seasons and 22 events in the 1997/98 season.

Only 1 - 2% of the incoming rain was lost as surface runoff from control plots in the first 2 season but about 10 % was lost in the last. In single events up to 20 % of incoming rain was lost by surface runoff from control plots during the first 2 seasons and up to 70 % during the last season.

The highest recorded rain intensity was 192 mm/h (5-min. max.) i.e. receiving 16 mm within a period of 5 minutes. No rain storm with an intensity lower than 24 mm/h (5-min. max.) triggered losses of measurable amounts of soil/water. During the first 2 seasons 5-min.-max. intensities had to exceed 40-60 mm/h to cause any runoff since the top soil usually dried up between major rain storms and regained Its porosity. As the top soil largely was saturated throughout the first months of the last growing season, large amounts of soil and water was lost in rain storms at much lower intensities.


Surface loss of soil and water

All applied soil erosion control measures greatly reduced soil and water loss by surface runoff. Vetiver grass lines virtually stopped the loss of soil and reduced the amount of water lost by surface runoff by 85% on average. In total - 110 tons soil/ha was lost on average from control plots during 3 growing seasons compared to less than 2 tons/ha from Vetiver plots (preliminary data).

Within the 3-year trial period a 50 cm terrace developed along Vetiver grass lines. This is partly due to sediment trapped behind the lines but also due to a downslope cultivation of the plots. The contribution of the latter to a terrace build-up becomes obvious in the Calliandra plots. Here terraces reached almost the same height although the amount of soil trapped behind the hedges during runoff events is much less.

The efficient filtering effect by Vetiver grass lines is easily observed when comparing soil/water loss in plots with Vetiver lines and Calliandra hedges. Whereas the decreased slope angle/length between the Calliandra hedges sharply reduced surface runoff in the first 2 seasons, an additional filtering effect was needed in the extreme 1997/98 season. During this season average soil loss from Calliandra plots was above 20 tons/ha.

Soil loss from plots with tied ridges was less than 10 tons/ha during 3 growing seasons. When evaluating the effectiveness of tied ridging it has to be mentioned, that ridges were re-established in connection with major agronomic activities in the plots (weeding).

On this soil even a moderate loss of plant nutrients will exceed quantities provided by continuing weathering. Obviously, losses of topsoil from the control treatment, i.e. the commonly practised cultivation of farmland in the area, and its constituents do reach unacceptable values. Although not readily available for plant growth both total N and total P lost from these plots equals the amounts of N and P removed by 6 - 7 tons of harvested maize grain i.e. about 2 years produce for this site (tons/ha) and the applied fertiliser/pesticide strategy.

Plant nutrients lost in this way from Vetiver plots is negligible.

Assuming that most of the water retained in Vetiver plots during runoff events compared to control plots will have to be added to water leaching through the system (rooting zone), then this Surplus percolation in Vetiver plots will remove more plant nutrients like Ca, Mg, K than are lost by surface erosion. This assumption is based on analyses of soil water samples collected at the bottom of the rooting zone.


Possible implications on water balance

As mentioned above the soil water content at different depth in the rooting zone (0-100 cm) is monitored by means of the TDR-technique. Analyses of 3 years of data is still incomplete but with regard to the Vetiver treatment observations do indicate:

a lower soil water content in all layers of the rooting zone inside and close to the Vetiver lines at the end of the dry season as compared to measurements made between the lines and inside the control plots. This may be due to continuously transporting Vetiver grass throughout the dry season.

a higher soil water content along the Vetiver lines in the upper soil layer in very wet periods of the rainy season (e.g. in Figure 1) as compared to measurements in the control plots. The higher water content may be due to increased infiltration around Vetiver lines during runoff events. A comparable higher water content in the upper horizon is also observed in periods without any surface runoff. This could be explained by a higher water retention capacity of soil accumulated here.

Accumulated within a certain period an increase in soil water content along Vetiver grass lines often exceeds the amount of rain received. This can be due to subsurface flow accumulating at a hydraulic barrier. As seen from Figure 1, this excess water is rapidly lost to drainage/ evapotranspiration in dry spells during the rain season ( day 85 - 105).

a lower soil water content in deeper parts of the rooting zone between Vetiver grass lines i.e. inside the maize/bean crop. A possible explanation to this finding could be a diversion of lateral soil water movement into deeper soil layers along Vetiver grass lines.


Crop yield

Amounts of harvested maize and beans are recorded for each plot. A direct comparison between treatments proved to be difficult since crop yield is affected by changing soil physical/chemical properties within the experimental site. Data on crop yield will have to be collected for some more years before significant differences in crop performance due to soil conservation measures should be considered.


Other findings with focus on Vetiver grass lines

Cultivation at a 29 % slope will leave areas close to the downslope side of Vetiver grass line stripped for humus rich top soil. Crop performance of the first line of maize below Vetiver grass lines therefore was very poor. Along with the area occupied by Vetiver grass this fact was often pointed out by visiting farmers. For farmers with access to farmyard manure and/or compost this problem could be addressed by localized application of these inputs. On the other hand this drastic removal of topsoil accompanied with a poor crop performance can be seen at as a forecast on crop production in unprotected fields.

Rats and mice do find shelter and hiding places in Vetiver grass lines. Although no immediate problems arose from this, a large percentage of maize seed close to the lines was eaten and re-planting had to be don

Vetiver in Papua New Guinea

Rob Shelton - CARE Australia


This article was originally a letter from Rob to Dick Grimshaw. Although it describes experiences which are very different from our own I thought readers might find it interesting. It certainly shows to what extent vetiver is Taking off elsewhere.

I doubt that there are many other places in the world where farmers are producing food, in the long term, on slopes that are usually over 40 degrees and often up to 60 degrees.

At the beginning of 1997 we started introducing vetiver grass to farmers in the Gembogl District in Simbu Province following up our previous work over 3 years in three of the other districts in the Province. This area has the highest mountain in PNG, at 4059m, and is very precipitous, but has a high population density. Farmers quickly realised the potential of the VGS and saw it would complement the traditional methods they use for erosion control. In the nearly 18 months since we started, over 2,000 farmers obtained planting material and have either vetiver grass hedges in their gardens or nurseries so they can make future plantings. All this activity occurred in spite of the worst drought in living memory, which prevented any grass being planted in the last six months of 1997. Grass that had had enough time to establish a reasonable root system (2 months from planting) before the drought hit generally survived the dry with no difficulty. In some gardens I saw, vetiver was the only plant that was still green or alive during the height of the drought.

We have had good rains since the end of 1997 and the grass has come into its own. We have been inundated with requests for planting material and instruction in its establishment and management. We supply limited amounts of grass for free and find that farmers really use what they get. Farmers are beginning to recognise the importance of planting the hedges on the contour, rather than in the traditional straight lines. Some have mastered the use of the A Frame to mark out the contour lines.

Recently, we set up a demonstration block for the Department of Works so they can see how vetiver grass could be used to help them stabilise roadside cut-and-fill areas. Given our mountainous terrain, there are many road verges that could benefit from its use. So that hedge establishment will be quick in these vulnerable areas we have been growing the grass in meter long strips in the nursery so that the root system is well established by the time we plant it out. In an attempt to reduce the cost of nurserying the strips we have tried large diameter lengths of bamboo, split lengthwise into halves and filled with soil, rather than using sheets of plastic to form folds to hold the soil for rooting. Results to date are encouraging.

The booklet in Melanesian Pidgin that we have produced has created a lot of interest in the VGS among people we would not ordinarily have been able to contact. Each of the over 100 Community Schools in the Province have been given sets of the booklets for use as class readers. This gets across the VGS message as well as providing the schools with enough books for each student in the class during reading lessons. Many schools did not previously have enough books for a whole class.


Letter to the Editor: Experiences in Zambia

Devon Kaputula

I would like to thank you and all those who thought of introducing 'The Southern Africa Vetiver News Letter'. I am a Technical Officer in the Department of Field Services formally the Department of Agriculture, dealing with all land husbandry and irrigation activities. Of all the activities, erosion control is one of them.

I felt very happy when I came across a newsletter on Vetiver (August 1997, No. 2) in one of the offices outside my district of operation. I was impressed with the articles that came from Zimbabwe on how Vetiver is reducing erosion and conserving water and soil that when not checked leads to fertility losses. Now my problem at present is that, in August 1996, the department headquarters brought some Vetiver to be distributed to some areas that had been affected with erosion. Unfortunately, the grass was not enough to cover a good number of farms. I decided to establish a nursery so as to multiply it. Even when I was trying to do this, I had no adequate knowledge on the growing habits of this Vetiver grass. I was then assisted by a friend who had a small booklet about the same grass. However, the nursery picked up after struggling, though some of it never picked up. This grass is still in the nursery up to date (November 1997). While my aim is to assist my farmers on this dangerous occasion or in the affected areas, I have no adequate knowledge concerning this grass and I cannot risk because if it fails I will loose dignity among the farmers. I have to have some brighter knowledge about it before putting myself in a fix. With this problem at hand, I had tried to seek assistance to visit some places where the grass has proved good results or introduced, but all has been in vain for me and my farmers.

Simply because I have or had failed to raise funds to enable me to take such tours. The Department has also failed to organise such tours for me on the same.

My heart is really pumping hard on this problem and I don't know exactly what I can do to have this knowledge for the betterment of my beloved farmers.

I was happy to learn from the same newsletter of August 1997 that there is a Mr. Reynolds K. Shula who is National Coordinator, Vetiver Promotion within the Ministry. This puts me in a better position in that my request towards acquiring better knowledge about Vetiver will be met.

While appreciating this identification of the National Promoter through the newsletter, I would also like to seek assistance from all over the continent especially those that are promoting this important grass to provide me with adequate literature and site visits on the vetiver grass.


Last but not least, I would like to thank the promoters of this newsletter for the efforts they are making towards the promotion of Vetiver and I also feel that they should forever continue. While at the same time I would like to thank those that are sending articles on the same and wishing them also to continue so that other nations will be aware of what Vetiver can do towards soil and water conservation. My request to the Editor therefore is that may you kindly be sending me some of these newsletters. Maybe I will increase my knowledge on the performance of this grass. I will start sending in articles upon acquiring adequate knowledge about the famous Vetiver grass.


Devon F. Kaputula
Department of Agriculture
Irrigation and Land Husbandry Sub-Programme
P.O. Box 150004
N.W. Province

End Piece:


Kurt Vonnegut's Commencement Address at MIT in 1997

This article has absolutely nothing to do with Vetiver but I could not resist placing it in the newsletter. It appeared as a reprint in our university magazine, NU info. Kurt Vonnegut is a famous American writer. The address was aimed at an American undergraduate audience. However, much of it contents is universal in appeal.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ΤΥ97. Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists. whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years time you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now, how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagined.

don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed you worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


don't be reckless with other people's hearts. don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, its only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this tell me how.

Keep you old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know, at 22, what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. you'll miss them when they are gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. don't be afraid of it or what other people think of it. its the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it except in your living room.

Read the directions even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. they're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise, politicians will philander, you, too, will get old. And when you do, you will fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it is worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen!


Duncan Hay
Institute of Natural Resources
University of Natal
Private Bag X01,
Scottsville, 3209
South Africa
Tel: 0331- 460796
Fax: 0331- 460895
E-Mail:[email protected]
























































































































































































































































return to news archive




























return to archives