Food Security and the Vetiver System

Lester Brown’s January 14th 2011 update of the Earth Policy Institute’s Plan B titled “The Great Food Crisis of 2011” cites a doubling of annual growth in demand for grain to 41 million tons per year.  Food prices are at an all time high. To quote Lester Brown:

But whereas in years past, it’s been weather that has caused a spike in commodities prices, now it’s trends on both sides of the food supply/demand equation that are driving up prices. On the demand side, the culprits are population growth, rising affluence, and the use of grain to fuel cars. On the supply side: soil erosion, aquifer depletion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, the plateauing of crop yields in agriculturally advanced countries, and—due to climate change —crop-withering heat waves and melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets. These climate-related trends seem destined to take a far greater toll in the future.”

The current surge in world grain and soybean prices, and in food prices more broadly, is not a temporary phenomenon. We can no longer expect that things will soon return to normal, because in a world with a rapidly changing climate system there is no norm to return to.

The unrest of these past few weeks is just the beginning. It is no longer conflict between heavily armed superpowers, but rather spreading food shortages and rising food prices—and the political turmoil this would lead to—that threatens our global future. Unless governments quickly redefine security and shift expenditures from military uses to investing in climate change mitigation, water efficiencysoil conservation, and population stabilization, the world will in all likelihood be facing a future with both more climate instability and food price volatility. If business as usual continues, food prices will only trend upward.”

Major initiatives have to be taken in the near future if catastrophe is to be averted.  I have been involved with agricultural development in the tropics and semi tropics for nearly 50 years and I know how change can be dreadfully slow.  There are many impediments – political, social, economic and technical.  However if the pace of change is not accelerated then the world and our global civilization will be in very serious trouble.

Two areas of great concern to Lester Brown are soil conservation and water efficiency. The Vetiver Network can help to address these concerns through accelerating the use of the Vetiver System particularly where applied to rainfed farming.

There are a number of technologies for soil conservation that include minimum tillage, mulching, appropriate crop management techniques that can be applied.  The Vetiver System’s contour hedgerows are proven to be one of the most effective and least cost solutions that result in 90% reduction in soil loss and the fertility that goes with that loss of soil.  These hedgerows not only conserves soil but provide added protection against extreme weather conditions associated with climate change in that they protect land and slow down flood runoff.

Vetiver hedgerows improve soil moisture and help protect the crop against drought, and because rainfall runoff is considerably reduced (see my recent blog on Ethiopia) and groundwater is recharged – resulting in more water for lift irrigation and improvement of wetlands.

The Vetiver System when correctly applied on farm land has clearly shown to increase productivity by as much as 30 – 50%.

In Ethiopia (Africa’s most successful Vetiver hedgerow conservation application initiative) it has taken 20 years to get to a stage where the technology has gone beyond just demonstration and where serious efforts are now being made to upscale.  This type of initiative needs to be introduced to many other countries, and it needs to be done now on large scale, before it is too late.

Dick Grimshaw