The Vetiver System supports Community Resilience at a time of uncertainty – Part I – The Farm

I propose to write about how the Vetiver System can help build up community resilience in these uncertain times when many communities can expect little support from government or others to deal with increasing problems created by climate change, continuing poverty, and very limited financial resources. The review will be carried out over a number of post. Most rural people in the tropics and semi arid areas are poor, and even when out of poverty most are unable to manage the environmental crises that currently, and in the future, will confront them. Most communities worry about being able to make a decent living from their small farms or businesses, they want to educate their children at higher levels, they worry about the quality and availability of their water supply, they worry about potential disasters that may isolate them from neighboring communities and services, and they see continuing and unabated health challenges often caused by environmental mismanagement. These concerns are magnified because most communities lack access to low cost technologies that might help them overcome some of their problems.

The Vetiver System (VS) is one of a number of technologies that can help them. VS is low cost, relatively simple to understand, safe, and has over the past 30 years been well proven. The Vetiver Grass Technology, (VGT) used for decades by farmers in south India as a tool for soil conservation, was reintroduced and “institutionalized” by John Greenfield of New Zealand whilst he was working for the World Bank in India in the 1980s. At that time the objective was to establish VGT as a more appropriate erosion control technology than the traditional engineered contour bunds. Later VGT formed the basis of a number of other applications that collectively are known as the Vetiver System (VS), these will be reviewed in future blogs. The grass when planted as a hedgerow across the slope significantly reduces soil loss and rainfall runoff. As a result soil fertility is enhanced (increased organic matter, reduced nutrient loss, and nutrient enhancement through increased soil micro-organism activity), crop water availability is improved (enhanced permeability and rate of infiltration), ground water is better recharged is less polluted, and; and farmers can use other crop improvement technologies with less fear of “man” induced drought, flood damage, etc. that can lead to economic disaster. Additionally there are many bi-products that further enhance farm income including vetiver grass use as forage, mulch, thatch, fuel, medicine, crop protection (integrated pest management), and material for handicrafts. All these uses are quantified in the many research and “feed back” papers and documents found at the TVNI website –

One of the most successful and widespread on farm application of vetiver has been in the Mettu-Gore region of western Ethiopia, where it was introduced in the 1990’s by the Austrian NGO, Menschen fur Menschen, with some financial support from TVNI. Today tens of thousands of small farmers are using vetiver in that region. Here are some examples from Ethiopia showing how VGT has been successfully used on farms at any scale.

Figure 2: Google Earth image (1/2014) of Hassan Ali’s farm near Gore 
– western Ethiopia. 8°11’11.23″N, 35°21’2.58″E

Hassan Ali and family A small farmer in Gore District, Hassan Ali, started using vetiver about 20 years ago and soil fertility and “rainfall security” he was able year after year to increase his income to enable him to educate his children through university. He also was a key person in the area to teaching other famers about the benefits of VGT that has resulted in the spread of the technology. “Seeing is Believing”- Figure 2 is  a 2014 Google Earth image of his farm with his vetiver hedgerows marked with a “V” in red, and some photos that I took in 2009 to match some of the locations on the GE image – marked as yellow numbers.

Figure 3: Earlier this land had  a crop of maize, upper row of vetiver cut for forage


Figure 4: Well grown vetiver hedgerow.  Although this hedgerow looks wide in
fact when cut as in figure 5 it takes up very little  of the farmers land.
The biomass from a hedge like this is very high (100 tons /ha equivalent)
when properly managed



Figure 5: This hedge has been cut for forage. It should be noted in this image
how the vetiver grows up the terrace riser as sediment is deposited.


Figure 6: Vetiver hedgerows functioning well and no hinderance to plowing.


Figure 7: Even though not a complete hedge, these clumps and their roots hold
the slope in place, and spreads out rainfall runoff

These images 3-8 show vetiver hedgerows in various state of management and uses – vetiver cut for forage, lower row, mature vetiver to be cut for thatch, mulch and other uses mature vetiver – vetiver formed terrace on steepish 15% slope Vetiver hedgerow cut for forage As it should be -well vetiver protected farm land Even with gaps the hedge works – roots hold soil slope together.

Figure 8:  An excellent example of a cross section of one
of Hassan Ali’s hedgerows.  Note the difference
in height between the two boys caused by terrace build up
as a result of the hedgerow

The second example: The Tulube Man (note prepared by Debela Dinka of SLUF). Mr. Gezahegn Gudeta Shana, a 42 years old farmer in Tulube Village of Mettu District, Oromia Regional State. He is married has 5 sons. Gezahegn used to help his father, Gudeta, with the farm when he was young and up to completing his 9th grade education. He began full time farming in 1985 right after his father’s death. According to Gezahegn he was first trained in the use of Vetiver Grass for soil and water conservation (SWC) in 2005 by Mr. Tilahun Semu, field Project Coordinator of Ethio-Wetlands Society. Right after his exposure to the vetiver system, and with the help of Development Agents assigned to his village, he prepared 3,570 meters of Fanya juu conservation terraces on his farmland and planted two pickups truck loads of vetiver tillers. Later he realized that Fanya juu terraces were unnecessary and he planted 800 meters of vetiver tillers on his farmland without making the earth terraces, thus saving labor and time. Upper: Vetiver hedgerow and maize; lower: Well managed farm land (10% slope) protected by vetiver hedgerows Gezahegn observed that as a result of VGT that moisture and soil was well conserved and he got more than 50% yield increment of maize.

Figure 9:  “The Tulube Man” – a farmer who benefits from the Vetiver System


Figure 10: Mr. Gezahegn’s farm and hedgerows

Coupled with good cultural practices such as row planting and weeding and proper application of fertilizers (DAP; UREA) Gezahegn maize yields increased to 8.7 to 10 tons/ha of maize which is 4.5 times above average of 2 tons/ha in Mettu District. Apart from SWC he uses vetiver leaves for forage, thatching of cattle sheds and grain stores, and as ornamentals. Gezahegn also started generating income from sales of vetiver clumps for planting material. In the first year He earned Birr 5,000 (USD 400) by splitting 2,500 meters of vetiver hedgerows into 5,000 clumps. He was confident that he had more than enough vetiver planting materials to sell and generate more income in the years to come. Due to the improvements to his farm that he attributed to vetiver hedgerows he is multiplying improved composite maize variety on 3.5 ha of his farm on contract bases for Illuababor Agriculture and Rural Development Office (ARDO). Farmer Gezahegn Gudeta has played a role model in scaling out the practice of using vetiver grass in his village in particular and Mettu District and other parts of Ethiopia in general through training other farmers and sharing his experiences. Gezahegn is currently serving his community in the capacity of Tulube Watershed Management Committee member and Chairperson of Tulube Farmers Cooperative, and Sor-Gaba Farmers Cooperative Union. The union is the apex of 56 cooperatives in 12 Districts of Illuababor Administrative Zone. Nearby farm protected by vetiver, wetland visible upper right The Ethio-Wetland Society took an interest in promoting vetiver because they had observed that farms protected by VGT for SWC purposes had a direct influence, through increased groundwater, of improving and regenerating adjacent wetlands resulting that in turn created the conditions for returning wildlife and better grazing for local cattle owners.

Figure 10:  Typical farm in the Mettu area adjacent to wetlands that have been
restored because of vetiver’s groundwater recharge capacity

Figure 10 shows a typical of farms in the Tulube Village area. The improved wetland is just visible at the middle right. You can view this location on Google Earth at: 8°19’27.04″N, 35°32’2.80″E Scroll around in this area and you will see a lot of vetiver hedgerows and not much erosion!

The third example is located 150 miles to the east of Mettu district adjoining the town of Anno (location Google Earth: 9° 6’0.60″N, 36°57’53.62″E). Google Earth image of part of Anno farms. Some of the 250 km of Vetiver hedgerows can be clearly seen.

Figure 11: Anno farms showing vetiver hedgerows and area that hold springs
that now flow annually because of vetiver related groundwater recharge

Anno farms cover 500 ha, part of which is protected by vetiver – some 270 km of hedgerows. This farm used to be a state farm and was completely run down at the time of privatization. It was deforested, badly eroded and infertile. As a result of applying vetiver grass hedgerows, fertility and crop yields improved significantly, and ground water recharge improved to the extent that the local spring became perennial rather than seasonal. Some more on this can be found at: 

Figure 12: Anno farms after harvest 0- vetiver hedgerow protection


Figure 13: Perennial flowing spring water

Image on above shows some of the vetiver hedgerows on this farm. slopes vary from 1- 10%. Since planting very good crops of maize have been grown even during relatively dry years. This image above shows one of the springs that now flow perennially. Farm staff attributed the better flow to the trees that have been planted around the spring heads. However it was quite clear that the large area of crop land – Figure 12 (above and adjacent to the forest area) that had been protected by vetiver had been the main cause of better spring flow. (Figure 13)n Most of the trees immediately above the springs were old indigenous trees that existed even when the spring provided a seasonal flow only – the situation when the farm was released by the state. Farm staff had not made the connection of vetiver hedgerows to ground water recharge. In 2008 a national Vetiver workshop was held in Addis Ababa, the proceedings are at: 

and should be of interest to those of you who see the need to introduce Vetiver Grass Technology more widely, particularly in Africa for on farm purposes.

This paper from China includes some interesting results on the impact of vetiver on various aspects of soil fertility. Worth reading:

These videos related to the above may also be of interest: