The Vetiver System for Ground Water Recharge – India

During the Cochin Workshop someone (was it DV Sridharan?) told me how vetiver hedgerows were improving ground water to the extent that his farm pond was now being recharged by groundwater aquifer. I would appreciate confirmation of this, together with details. I recall back in the late 1980s of hearing of farmers in Karnataka who after planting vetiver benefited from similar recharge to their ponds. Also I remember in the 90’s after leaving India that a World Bank Public health water mission observed ethemeral streams that were running two or three months longer into the dry season because of vetiver hedgerows. In Gundalpet, Mysore, vetiver using farmers told us that the level of water in their wells was much higher than those of neighboring villages who did not use vetiver. As an aside it was quite extraordinary that farmers from nearby villages who did not use vetiver had no idea why vetiver was being used, although they had walked past vetiver protected fields on many occasions over many year!

It would seem to me that India should look very carefully as to how the vetiver system could be widely used to deal with some really difficult and serious natural resource issues facing the country, particularly agriculture) today. Vetiver gives us an all-in-one solution for (1) soil and moisture conservation – improved crop yields (2) groundwater recharge (3) removal of excess nutrients and pollutants (agricultural chemicals) flowing off farm lands (imagine what it could do in the major cotton growing areas of India (4) treatment of major point source erosion areas that are serious sediment sources that impact on lakes and reservoirs and (5) a number of useful biproducts including forage, mulch and sources for handicrafts

It would be possible for the Panchayati Raj to organize a program that would be operated at the gram panchayat level. State agricultural extension and other services, if concentrating mainly on VS for a few
years, could probably do more to improve agriculture and natural resource protection and regeneration (soil and water) than probably any other intervention. All at a very low cost requiring minimal technical input.

In addition if the Indian research institutions (possibly the aromatic research stations that are already working with vetiver) could country- wide assess the carbon uptake of vetiver under different soil and
climatic conditions (India has them all) it might then be possible to “bundle” gram panchayat vetiver (see MP Singh’s workshop paper – “The importance of methodologies required for evaluating and quantifying
Carbon Sequestering, GHG Emission Reduction, Fossil Fuel Replacement Capacity, Carbon Credits…
programs that would meet the World Bank carbon credit financing.

I remember in 1986 when John Greenfield and I held a press conferencein Delhi on the use of Vetiver Grass, Bim Bissell introduced vetiver as a “new green revolution” for rainfed areas of India. We have been waiting a long time for that revolution, but perhaps the time is now ripe to do something about it.

Dick Grimshaw