Nature Based Infrastructure (NBI), the role for Vetiver Grass Technology

A recent report, ”How Can Investment in Nature Close the Infrastructure Gap?”, dated August  2021, from the Nature-Based Infrastructure Global Resource Center made the case for nature based solutions for the development and maintenance of infrastructure. Nature based infrastructure NBI is on average 50% cheaper and 28% better value for money. If used extensively it could save $248 billion out of an annual estimated $4.29 trillion cost annually for infrastructure in addition an estimated $189 billion could come from additional benefits.

Areas of application include water and sanitation coma energy, agriculture, irrigation, and climate resilience. The following table from that report provides more detail.

Vetiver Grass Technology (VGT) through its many Vetiver System applications can be used one way or the other for all the sectors in the table above. Not only do they fit, but over the past 35 years they have a record of proven success and longevity.  Those of us who have been involved with VGT since he 1980s well know the barriers that are erected against the use of NBI.

The report summarizes these barriers: “We found that (i) the literature on the global infrastructure investment need is fragmented, with a variety of estimates that are grouped in different clusters of infrastructure and cannot be easily compared; (ii) the few existing NBI assessments focus on water services, ignoring the wide variety of NBI and the range of services this type of infrastructure can provide; and (iii) there are few studies that consider the cost and performance of NBI against built infrastructure ….”.  There are other barriers that include lack of knowledge and understanding of nature-based solutions, their low costs, and corrupt practices. There are also failures from those who provide nature-based solutions that include lack of clear design and application standards, poor design work, and inadequate screening of the service providers and their capability that results in bad application and poor results.

Highway fill slope stabilization
Highway fill slope in Malaysia stabilized with vetiver grass (P.K.Yoon)

As a nature-based solution VGT is different and unique compared to many other nature based technologies. VGT can be applied across a range of sectors, and when applied in one sector often has additional benefits that effect other sectors; examples of this include planting vetiver grass hedgerows for on farm soil and water conservation with direct benefit to the farmer, but it also Improves adjacent wetlands, reduces downstream flooding and sediment flows, and removes toxic chemicals from the soil.  Likewise if VGT is applied to protect and stabilize highway infrastructure its impact is not only to the benefit of the highway but also do down watershed inhabitants who benefit from that protection by having lower sediment flows in the rivers. Whatever the application may be, VGT is known to sequester significant  levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that through its roots and associated biosphere is stored as soil organic carbon. Field experience shows that by using VGT cost can be reduced from 50 to 90% compared to traditional “hard” methods.

In order to put VGT in an improved position TVNI is currently preparing a guide setting out technical standards based on global experience that should assist both designers, and those who apply the technology, to design and execute better projects.

Dick Grimshaw