Report on the Impact of Vetiver Grass Technology
at the Ground and Water Bioengineering Conference,

Manila, Philippines April 1999.

Paul Truong
TVN Far East and Pacific Representative

  1. Conference Background

Through TVN, in 1997 the International Erosion Control Association (EICA) invited me to join the Conference Executive Organising Committee. At the inaugural meeting in Manila in April that year, I was also nominated to be a member of the Technical Review Committee (vegetation), responsible for the selection and reviewing of abstracts and later, papers to be presented at the Conference.

  1. Objectives
  2. "The goal of this Conference is to share knowledge, to discover solutions and explore applications of bioengineering for the purpose of environmental improvement"

    The main aim of EICA is to bring together researchers, engineers, agriculturalists, foresters, and mining industries, erosion control material manufacturers and construction and hydromulching contractors from around the globe, to update their bio- engineering knowledge and to share their experience.

    This type of conference and exhibition has been held regularly in North America and Europe. This conference was the first in the Asia-Pacific region.

  3. Sponsorships

EICA was the main sponsor of the Conference, which also received financial support from:

    • Officine Maccaferri Spa
    • Canadian International Development Agency and
    • Terra-Mulch
    • Scott-Wilson (Hong Kong)

And endorsement and support from:

    • American Society of Civil Engineers
    • Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions
    • Asia Pacific Association of Forest Research Institutes
    • Philippine Bureau of Soils and Water Management
    • Philippine Department of Agriculture
    • Philippine Department of Environment & Natural Resources
    • Philippine Department of Public Works and Highways
    • Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research & Development
    • The Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers
    • The Road Engineering Association of Asia and Australasia
    • The Vetiver Network
    • The World Association of Soil and Water Conservation
    • University of the Philippines (Los Baņos) College of Forestry
    • Vetiver Farms, Inc

In addition to my contribution and participation, TVN and Pacific Rim VN advertised the Conference widely on their Web sites and newsletter.

TVN also partly funded the attendance of Prof. Xu Liyu, Coordinator of China VN. In addition, I was also successful in obtaining sponsorships from EICA and Scott Wilson ( Hong Kong) Ltd, a Consulting Engineering Group, for Diti Hengchaovanich from Thailand, Xu Liyu, Xia Hanping and Zhou Quanqyi from China.

Xu Liyu was also successful in inviting two vetiver supporters from China, Mrs Zhang Jing, Senior Agronomist, Soil and Water Conservation Department, Fuzhou Province, and Mr Fu Hengsheng, Director, Jiangxi Provincial Highway Bureau.

  1. Participation

There were more than 300 delegates at the conference from over 20 countries, including North American, Asia Pacific, European, Oceania, the Indian sub continent and African countries. They represent the public sector such as government departments, universities, international research institutes as well as the private sector such as consultants, mining and civil construction companies, seed companies, geo-textile manufacturers and hydro-mulch companies.

5. Vetiver Presentation

Of the total 63 papers selected for presentation at this conference, 21 papers mentioned vetiver in their texts. More importantly out of the 5 Plenary Session papers, 2 dealt with vetiver and another one also mentioned vetiver. Of these 21 papers, 10 were in the Infrastructure, Mining and Transportation strand and 11 were in the Agriculture, Forestry and Watershed strand.

In addition, poster presentations, a Vetiver Short Course and a vetiver field trip were conducted.

5.1 Plenary Session

    • "Vetiver Grass Technology for Land Stabilisation, Erosion and Sediment Control in the Asia-Pacific Region" by Paul Truong
    • "15 Years of Bioengineering in the Wet Tropics from A (Acacia Auriculiformis) to V (Vetiveria zizanioides)" by Diti Hengchaovanich

 5.2 Infrastructure and Mining Strand

    • "Vetiver Grass Technology for Mine Tailings Rehabilitation" by Paul Truong.
    • "An Overview of the Use of Vegetation in Bioengineering in China" by Xu Liyu and Zhang Jing.
    • "Application of The Vetiver Eco-Engineering for the Prevention of Highway Slippage in South China" by Xia Hanping, Ao Huixiu, Liu Shizhong and He Daoquan.

5.3 Agriculture Strand

    • "Vetiver, the grass for watershed Management" by Prakash Pawar.

5.4 Posters

Posters from Vetiver Network Philippines and Vetiver Farm Inc were displayed in the foyer.

5.5 Vetiver Short Course

"Vetiver Grass Technology for Erosion and Sediment Control, Slope Stabilisation and Environmental Protection".

Course Coordinator: Paul Truong

Twenty-three delegates paid between US$70-95 each for this one-day course and the topics presented were:

    • Session 1: Introduction to the Vetiver Grass Technology

Presenter: Paul Truong,

    • Session 2 : VGT Applications in the Philippines

Presenter: Edwin Balbarino, Coordinator Philippines Vetiver Network

    • Session 3: Planting Materials Propagation and Supply

Presenter: Ms Noah Manarang, Vetiver Farms Inc., Quezon City.

    • Session 4: Stabilisation, Erosion and Sediment Control of Steep Slopes

Presenter: Ing. Diti Hengchaovanich, APT Consulting Company, Bangkok, Thailand

    • Session 5: Erosion and Sediment Control in Agriculture and Forestry Lands

Presenters: Frank Mason, District Soil Conservationist, Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mackay, Australia and Paul Truong

    • Session 6: VGT for Environmental Protection

Presenter: Paul Truong

People from a wide range of background enrolled for this course but they are mostly engineers from highway and other civil construction companies and mining companies, government officials, agriculturists and foresters from Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa. I was most surprised to have Prof Giuliano Sauli, the president of the Italian and also the European Bioengineering Association to participate in this course.

Although further details of VGT were presented, the course was mainly an open forum for discussion between participants and presenters. A lot of case studies were discussed.

I am particularly pleased with the outcome and a number of delegates told me that they came to the conference to attend this course and it was the best part of it! This type of short course is very popular at all the conferences organised by IECA.

5.6 Vetiver Field Trip

Visiting the Famy – Infanta road where VGT was used in 1997 on the recommendation from the World Bank. This road is now in the process of being fully protected by VGT and Vetiver Farm is the main supplier of planting material to the Department of Highway and Public Works for this project.

5.7 Training Materials

I prepared a CD-ROM "VGT for Infrastructure Protection" for the conference and it was released and on sale at the conference. Thirty sets were sold to a wide range of delegates but the majority was from the Consulting Engineer and the mining companies. As excellent materials became available at this conference I need to update this CD ROM to include the latest information from the Philippines. If you had some good photos please send to me ASAP to be included in this Revised Version.

The Vetiver Farm also released a video on the propagation, preparation of planting materials and application of VGT for the occasion.

I am planning to record all the 21 papers dealing with vetiver on a CD as resources material for TVN web site.

6. The Impact of VGT

After two years of time and effort, I am very glad to report that I have succeeded in putting VGT in the mind of the engineers, miners and environmentalists, not only in Asia, but also in Europe, North America and Africa. Vetiver offers them a sound, effective and low cost alternative to conventional rock and concrete structures.

From the presentations it was clear that in general, the main role of vegetation in bioengineering and slope stabilisation in particular, is the function of the root system. To date only trees and shrubs have been used for these purposes, but the use of trees has been limited by its slow growth rate, its large size roots, large canopy which can be toppled in strong wind and most importantly only a few species have deep tap root such as pine, the majority especially tropical species, have shallow spreading root system. In contrast vetiver has much faster growth, a profuse, fine, deep and penetrating root system and no canopy. In general it would take at least 4 to 5 years for trees to achieve what vetiver can provide in one year. In addition vetiver hedges can be designed to drain off excess water on steep slopes if needed as Diti has proved in Malaysia.

To illustrate the advantage of VGT, we could compare the live pole technique with VGT. The live pole technique is being promoted as the most effective bioengineering method of steep slope stabilisation in the UK and northern Europe. This method is implemented by driving trunks of willow trees 4 to 5 m deep into the ground. The aim is that when buried, willow will develop roots deep in the ground, providing a very deep root system needed for the stabilisation of the unstable slopes. The main advantage of this method is that it provides an instant ground reinforcement when you have enough poles in the ground but the main disadvantage is the cost of installation these poles. Willow is quite suitable for cold climate, although a tropical species has yet to be found, David Barker has initiated a trial in the Seychelles to evaluate its effectiveness in comparison to VGT. It would we most interesting to find out the results especially when the cost factor is taken into account.

In term of plant species suitable for bioengineering applications, in addition to willow tree mentioned above, the only other plant mentioned at the conference was broom millet, which has been used both as a crop and for soil conservation purpose in Bangladesh. There were some debates on the suitability of vetiver, several species were mentioned by various people to have either higher tolerance levels ( eg pH and salt) or could survive harsher conditions, but none could match up to vetiver’s combined range tolerances and its adaptability to extreme conditions.

On its application, there was a very strong interest in VGT for highway construction and maintenance in the Philippines (Helsema Highway) and Hong Kong and the mining industry in the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei.

Two interesting issues emerged after my presentation:

    • The use of vetiver tops to produce erosion control mat. A manufacturer of jute matting from Sri Lanka, one of the exhibitors at the conference, was interested in incorporating vetiver tops into the jute matting. He has used rice straw but found that the straw decomposed very quickly, he will try vetiver as he wants to encourage more vetiver planting for soil conservation by providing a market for the tops and also it is cheaper than rice straw.
    • The use of vetiver to support rock and concrete structures. Dr Francesco Faraiolo, Technical Director of Officine Maccaferi of Italy, (the world biggest supplier of gabions and rock baskets) is very interested in conducting a joint project with me here in Queensland and in South Africa with SAVN- to investigate the incorporation of vetiver grass into rock baskets, in order to extend their application to the highly erodible zone at the end of the baskets.

Most interestingly, Professor Guiliauo Sauli from Trieste University, who is the current President of the Italian and European Bioengineering Association, one of the few invited speakers, took a special interest in VGT. He devoted two full post conference days on VGT, one to attend the vetiver short course as mentioned above and the other on the vetiver field trip.

7. Vetiver Network Philippines

It was great to catch up with Edwin Balbarino after two years. Through his relentless efforts, Edwin has certainly succeeded in spreading VGT across numerous islands and communities in the Philippines. His latest publication "VGT in the Philippines", with beautiful coloured photos, covers a wide range of applications, extension and training activities in the Philippines. Edwin is also an accomplished artist, Dick Grimshaw looks very distinguished under Chairman Mao’s cap in the foreword section of the above book. If you want a copy of Chairman Dick you should contact Edwin, ASAP!

8. Vetiver Farm Inc

My most pleasant surprise during the course of this conference was in the discovery of the activities of Vetiver Farm Inc., which was set up entirely on a commercial basis to supply planting materials and promote VGT in Manila and other islands. Vetiver Farm Inc. is probably the equivalent of NOBS in Central America, is run by a group of very bright and energetic young ladies under the leadership of Noah Manarang (who resigned from her job with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and borrowed money from her mother to set up the business). With the knowledge gained from a training scholarship in Thailand a few years ago, Noah and her group have succeeded in establishing a completely private thriving enterprise, supplying planting materials (from both splits and tissue culture) to the Department of Public Works and Highways and other contractors for road batter and land stabilisation. But most remarkably she has succeeded in "breaking into" the land development (housing estate) and golf courses, not only in supplying planting materials, but also in advising them on various VGT applications on their sites. In Noah’s words, "They wanted to control erosion but could not afford the expensive rock and concrete structures, so they agreed to try VGT. To their great surprise, it works and looks beautiful too " so the business is booming!!

The other unexpected issue was the socio-economic aspect of VGT. Noah said that due to the drought, caused by El Nino in the Philippines in the last few years, there was no work for rural farming communities. Vetiver Farm was able to provide employment for these people in propagating and planting vetiver near their villages. So Vetiver Farm was able to provide jobs for the local people, helping them to stay in the villages instead of drifting to the big cities looking for works.

Their effort is most admirable, and deserves to be considered as a model for other regions/countries. With the great impact of VGT in the Philippines construction and mining sectors as a result of this conference, we expect a great demand for Vetiver Farm’s products and services. Diti Hengchaovanich and myself have promised to give the company any technical expertise it needs, as it greatly deserves our assistance.

  1. Conclusion

In summary, I think the following three events would indicate the impact of VGT at this conference.

    • A delegate from Santa Cruz, California, USA, said that he has been a follower of TVN activities on the web site for a while and he is now convinced and will go back to set up a vetiver nursery in Puerto Rico where he has some land.
    • The President of a seed company in Oregon, USA, told me " Please let me know ASAP when you have developed a seeded vetiver".
    • Representatives of the Philippines Chapter of the Road Engineering Association of Asia and Australasia mentioned to Diti Hengchaovanich and Noah Manarang that they hope to organise a follow up seminar on VGT in the Philippines in the near future.

10. Acknowledgments

I wish to thank Ben Northcutt, Executive Director of EICA and Harold Insley, Associate of Scott Wilson (Hong Kong) for their supports.