Tales from Madagascar

It is always good to start the new year with some good news about vetiver. We know it is difficult to get things done in Africa, but Criss Juliard’s account from the field in Madagascar gives hope that when a useful “seed” is planted it bares fruit and multiplies. Sounds to me that is what is happening in Madagascar. The same can happen in other countries if governments aid agencies, NGOs and the private sector could focus on this great low cost and very workable solution and really give it some support.

Dick Grimshaw

As told by Criss Juliard

As you know I have been in Madagascar for several months doing work for the Ministry of Agriculture which has me traveling to regions of Madagascar, some I have not been to before. Invariably the discussions with people I meet (I work on a mixed training and consultancy program that has nothing to do with vetiver) gravitates towards vetiver, and on occasions I have had pleasant experiences.

One was when during a coffee break in a Central West town I had never been to. I pulled out my computer and started showing some power points of vetiver. One older person, said ”I know that, there was man who was here years ago by the name of Grim something who showed slides of vetiver.” I asked how he knew Mr. Grimshaw; he replied; “I met him in Mahajanga way back, and he had sent me some documents. Another guy in the group chimed in: “I was at the same conference.” Here we are in the middle of nowhere, and your name comes up. As it turned out, these two, now older and wiser, had been reassigned from Mahajanga to Morondava, where we where, and both had been involved with a vetiver anti-erosion and irrigation ditch protection project in this new region. One took me to the Min Ag station where he proudly showed me plants that were descendents of the vetiver from Mahajanga. They claimed people in the region knew about vetiver.

A few days earlier, I had gone jogging and saw a large old house that had some vetiver clumps badly planted in the shade delimiting the property. I inquired and found the house was the office of an NGO that had a nursery, and soon found that their vetiver nursery was several miles down the road, near where they had on their own planted vetiver hedges (badly, I later witnessed) along a stretch of road and highway. The head of the NGO, a retired Ag research guy heard about Vetiver through our CAP project and thought there was an opportunity to sell the plants to construction firms. He did not sell much so decided to plant rows upon rows on his own.

I came across another nursery where some Europeans were buying what looked like very fine, home made compost. I asked them what is was. They explained that they were testing it for trees they were planting in a nearby EU funded hillside reforestation project. I suggested they should just plant vetiver. The guy took a double take and said: “funny you should say that; we were discussing this morning that what we needed were vetiver plants, but we don’t know where to get them.” I am not making this up. They added: “We read about this guy name Juliard in Senegal who used it for reforestation, and we all agreed that the conditions here are the same.” I pulled out my business card, and we three stared at each other in disbelief. The coincidence is insidious.

Last one: a few days ago, at another one of these training sessions, I sat at a table of hard core aggies, all Malagasy. With the mention of vetiver, this grey haired guy next to me said: “why, you want some plants; I’ll give you some.” We started to talk. He had worked with Bredero in the Lac Aloatra region where you and I had gone to search the abandoned vetiver nursery and where there were huge Lavakes. The guy, Ignatius, was now retired from MinAg and had co-founded an NGO who, as it turned out was one of our largest vetiver supplier for CAP’s road and railroad rehabilitation project. Better yet, he has been heavily involved doing extension work introducing VS with farmers in the region. He said VS is wide spread, about 60% of farmers use it for erosion control, delimiting their plots and for handicraft. I gave him literature and suggested he expand vetiver application to other uses. It was the second person I have met who worked with Tom.

In short, vetiver has made quite an inroad in Madagascar since Bredero. What is still missing is a lead organization that keeps Good Vetiver Application Practice at the top of the screen. A long-time USAID environment employee (17 years at the helm) told me today she wished her projects to reduce cutting down forests was as successful and widespread as vetiver use and application.

I met with three people in Madagascar who will become the base of the revised Madagascar Vetiver Network. One of them just completed supplying Rolfe with over a million Vetiver plants for the MMQ mines in the South (Ft Dauphin).

January 2008