Vetiver System Developer Recognized by the highest Soil and Water Conservation Award

Marrakech, Morocco

How does a low-profile, shy person who was the thinker and doer behind one of the most successful and effective soil and water conservation measure during the past 50 years receive an award at a large congress? Easy; he asks a stand-in for him in Marrakech while he remains in his country of New Zealand at the opposite end of the globe.

I was that lucky stand-in, as I participated in the International Soil and Conservation Organization’s (ISCO) 14th conference, held in May 2006 in Marrakech, Morocco. There were over 230 presentations during the five day congress. The theme was ‘water management and soil conservation in semi-arid environments,’ appropriate for the region and the times. The conference offered some very good reports, other less so. Nearly half of the presentations related to quantifying the problems; only one fourth recounted solutions. One excellent report was from the work conducted by WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies), whose upcoming opus magnums “Where the Land is Green” will be available in a few months. It is a compilation of 42 different technologies used and practiced worldwide, and assembled in a standardized format for ease of study and comparison: .

The congress closed its bi-annual gathering of researchers and practitioners with the usual plenary session that wittingly synthesized the presentations and proceedings. This final session was highlighted by the presentation of ISCO member organization the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation’s coveted Norman Hudson award to John C. Greenfield who, as we said, could not be present. The award is given for distinguished service in recognition of international accomplishments in soil and water conservation. Dr Samran Sombatpanit, WOCAT’s long standing President read the nomination and brief description of John Greenfield’s career.  

John worked in the tropical wet and arid zones of developing countries for forty years developing a system of soil and moisture conservation that would be sustainable in extreme climates (the Vetiver System that evolved is one of those technologies included in the up-coming WOCAT book). The last 18 years of his career were with the World Bank as a Senior Agriculturist. During this period he saw the inappropriateness of the accepted systems of engineered conservation measures, and he made it his mission to develop a simple eco-friendly and affordable technology to the poorest subsistence farmers. It was at his insistence when he joined the World Bank’s agricultural team in New Delhi, India in the 1980’s, that the modern day Vetiver Systems initiative was born. Against much opposition he introduced vetiver grass hedgerows for soil and water conservation on many of the watershed development projects in India. The introduction was a success, and today, ever increased usage, and application attests to the System’s appropriateness.

Upon accepting the award in John’s place, I had the honor of presenting to the congress a power point presentation assemble by John and colleagues highlighting his early observations of the soil and water conservation problems and the path he took to develop a dynamic, vegetative system to solve them. John authored the handbook “Vetiver Grass – A Hedge Against Erosion,” which has been published through five editions and in at least 20 different languages. This “green book” has had over 300,000 copies run off and distributed in more than 100 countries worldwide. His most recent book, “Vetiver Grass – An Essential Grass for the Conservation of Planet Earth,” merits recognition for its relevance to helping resolve the persistent problems of global soil and water conservation. It is to vetiver’s credit as well that the prestigious award recognizes the role the plant and the system plays in the pantheon of solutions to our global effort to reduce and reverse soil erosion and improve water quality.

Criss Juliard June 2006