Vetiver Grass Thoughout Zimbabwe

Thanks to more than four years of Erosion Control work by the District Development Fund, Vetiver Grass is now available throughout the whole country. Currently it is used to treat erosion damages along the Rural Roads network, while in the near future it is anticipated that Vetiver Grass will combat Erosion in other areas as well.


Desertification and drought are some of the main reasons for erosion problems. These problems are of global dimension, and it must be the obligation of both, the affected and the developed countries to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of the drought. This is why the "International Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/ or Desertification, Particularly in Africa", calls for effective joint action at all levels. These efforts shall include action programmes, scientific and technical co-operation and supporting measures. The Government of Germany, through the Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau (KfW), supports Zimbabwe in its efforts to combat the effects of the erosion by financing the Erosion Control for Rural Roads Programme (ECRR- Programme).

Zimbabwe is one of the countries which have experienced severe droughts during the past years. As a result of these droughts and the population increase, the vegetation cover, especially in the rural areas, has decreased substantially. Heavy rains following the extended droughts have caused substantial soil erosion problems, which also threaten and damage the roads constructed under the Rural Road Programme.

Currently, the District Development Fund is finalising the establishment of a maintenance system to look after some 21,500 km of primary roads. The successful establishment of the maintenance is threatened by these erosion damages, which require major repair work and financial inputs.

In order to reduce the effects of the erosion on the roads, the Erosion Control for Rural Roads Programme was launched in January 1997.

It is based upon the experience from a Pilot Study carried out in Manicaland province during 1995/ 1996 with the objective to identify appropriate Erosion Control methods and create a general needs assessment. It continued with the implementation of Erosion Control methods countrywide, in all 8 provinces.

Since a fully operational set-up for maintenance and construction of rural roads exists within the local District Development Fund, the implementation of the programme is through this established infrastructure. It is intended to form Erosion Control units all over the country (7 have already been created during the Pilot Study). Sufficient Vetiver Grass nurseries shall satisfy the demand in planting material. The Erosion Control units fall under the responsibility of the Road Engineering Division.

Currently, some 20 Million plants of Vetiver Grass are available in 79 especially established nurseries and 431 Vetiver fields at Maintenance Camps of the Road Engineering Division countrywide. It is our target to have the number of Vetiver plants doubled by the year 2000.

Besides the actual control of erosion problems, a major part of the programme is the Awareness Building among the local population with regard to the importance of Erosion Control and the work done by the DDF. The erosion often emanates from land usage problems and requires the combined action of all institutions in sensitising the local community about erosion problems. Close co-operation with local authorities (District Councils, Ministry of Agriculture) and schools forms part of the programme.

Erosion Control Activities in Manicaland Province

Since 1995, when the pilot study was initiated, Erosion Control units have been established and Erosion Control activities carried out in each district of the province. In addition, nurseries have been built in all districts to provide Vetiver Grass for the Erosion Control work. Maintenance Camps have also been expanded to produce Vetiver Grass.

The work in Manicaland continues with three main activities:

The Operation of Vetiver Grass Nurseries, i.e. producing Vetiver Grass for the implementation of the Erosion Control measures.

The Erosion Control activities, i.e. the actual implementation of various Erosion Control measures along the roads covered by the Rural Roads Programme (RRP).

The Expansion of Vetiver Grass Supply Areas i.e. establishment of Vetiver Grass fields at Maintenance Camps


On places with minor Erosion damages it is often sufficient to plant Vetiver Grass hedges. On major damages, i.e. gullies, the Erosion Control units build a system of gabion structures and Vetiver Grass hedges.

The workprogramme for the Erosion Control units is based on Erosion surveys which are carried out by the senior staff of the Road Engineering Division after every rainy season.


The construction of gabion structures is mainly done during the dry season from May to November every year, while the planting of Vetiver takes place during the wet season (November to May). The maintenance of Vetiver Grass as well as any necessary repair work on gabion structures is done throughout the year.

Implementation of Erosion Control Countrywide

Since January 1997 the German Goverment - through the Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau has financed the implementation of the Erosion Control programme countrywide.

The Figure below shows the "Three Phases" of the programme and the overall targets.

Erosion Control work Phases for the Programme


Phase I took place during 1997, and is now effectivelly completed.

Phase II started in early 1998 with the procurement of the unit equipment, followed by the sourcing and training of the units’ staff, distribution of equipment etc. The setting up of additional 50 Erosion Control units across the country is a major task.

Phase III which will be carried out in 1999 and 2000, will see the implementation of the Erosion Control countrywide. Activities in Manicaland, where 7 Erosion Control Units are already operating, are a trial phase for this Phase III. At present various trials are carried out with these units, both in the Erosion Control methodologies, as well as in the organisation and operation of the units. This will provide the necessary experience for the implementation of the phase in 1999.

The implementation of the Erosion Control programme requires a reliable and abundant supply of VG in every district. It has been estimated that some 40 million Vetiver Grass Plants must be available to ensure the sustainability of supply. This figure has been targeted for the year 2000.

Effectively, the vetiver grass needs to be available all over the country in a large number of nurseries or supply areas. The main reasons for the necessity of a widespread network of Vetiver Grass supply within the districts are:


Keeping supply distances for Vetiver Grass from source to planting site to a minimum so as to reduce the transportation needs,

Reducing the number of staging areas where the VG has to be stored prior to planting

Shorter transport distance means quicker movement from source to planting site, which enables Vetiver Grass slips to be used rather than plants in sleeves.


The Vetiver Grass nurseries (one or two in each district) are the main supplier of grass. Their main function is to provide Vetiver Grass both, as slips and as potted plants for maintenance camps, schools and other conservation establishments as well as for the various Erosion Control activities. The nurseries have a set fenced area and a permanent and reliable water source. 79 nurseries have been established so far.

Unlike the Vetiver Grass nurseries which are built up to uniform standards, the Vetiver Grass Supply Areas at Maintenance Camps vary according to local conditions (water source, layout of camp, land availability etc.). Currently there are 431 fields in existance.

In January 1998, the formation of the Erosion Control units started. This involves

Procurement of equipment and tools for 50 units (preparation of specifications, preparation, letting and evaluation of tenders, organisation of payment and delivery)

Distribution of equipment and tools to the 50 units spread over the country

Selection of staff for 50 Erosion Control units

Training of staff, including RED staff and Erosion Control unit staff in organisation, administration and implementation of Erosion Control

Survey of Erosion Control requirements for all roads

Preparation of Erosion Control plans and programmes for each district

The following staff have been sourced or recruited to man the Erosion Control units. They now have to be trained in technical and administrative aspects of the Erosion Control:

50 Erosion Control unit Supervisors

50 ECU Tractor Drivers

500 Casual Labourers

Training is a major part of the project and is necessary to ensure that the Erosion Control is properly established and sustainable. The training will need to cover:

Operation of the Erosion Control unit, including its set-up, job descriptions of the unit's staff and the administration of the unit

Erosion Control activities, preparation and carrying out of activities

Reporting and monitoring of Erosion Control activities

Gabion Construction:

Gabions are structures, and as such have to be designed and constructed to set standards. The gabion construction is strictly controlled by the province. Training covers classroom training for standards and specifications and practical on-the-job training.

The collection of rocks is included in the gabion construction. This is done by contracting local residents to stockpile agreed amounts of selected stones. Personnel is also trained in preparing and implementing these contracts.

Vetiver Grass Planting:

In order to ensure maximum survival and the quickest establishment of vetiver grass, certain procedures and techniques need to be observed in regard to how, when and where the Vetiver Grass is planted, and most important the maintenance after planting .


Awareness Building

The objective of the Awareness Building is to sensitise the local population and relevant authorities to the importance of Erosion Control and the work been done by the District Development Fund.

The Awareness campaign takes place in form of meetings and seminars where information material is discussed and distributed.

As Erosion often starts from land usage problems, it is essential to gain the cooperation and understanding of the people who can influence and correct these problems. The Awareness campaign is mainly aimed at Local Authorities (District Councils, Agritex) and Schools.

District Councils as part of the Local Government have a key responsibility in supporting Erosion Control measures and disseminating information to the local populace.

Agritex (Ministry of Agriculture) is responsible for monitoring and advising on the agricultural land usage in rural areas. Agritex has direct responsibility for drainage control (contouring) of crop lands. Therefore, it is important to coordinate with them efforts regarding control of water flows.

For any long term Erosion Awareness it is essential to involve as many people as possible. Hence, this type of operation is ideally suited to school children.

The Awareness targets Headmasters by providing information about Erosion Control and also assisting in practical projects through supply of Vetiver Grass to the schools. The Vetiver Grass could be used for school gardens, agricultural projects etc.. This grass, once established, can be propagated and then taken home by the students and used on their own farms.

This Article displays various photographs and an administrative map of Zimbabwe,.