Jeremy Berkoff is a development economist with more than forty years experience in consultancy, government and international agencies. His specialities are water resources and agriculture. For eighteen years he worked for the World Bank. Since 1994, he has been an independent consultant, working widely in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Until recently, he was chairman of the International Consulting Economists’ Association (ICEA), London, and has been a research associate with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University. With François Molle he co-edited a book entitled Irrigation Water Pricing: The Gap Between Theory and Practice, recently published by CAB International.
Jeremy Berkoff is the lead author of this paper: VETIVER GRASS: A ‘CLIMATE SMART’ VERSATILE, AND LOW-COST TECHNOLOGY TO HELP ADDRESS GLOBAL SOIL AND WATER ISSUES. The following press release is associated with the paper. For those involved with developing and executing programs that address soil and water aspects of climate change in the tropics and sub- tropics this paper could be useful material for making your case with policy makers and funding agencies for the use and inclusion of the Vetiver System applications.
“A type of grass little known in the Western World has been playing an increasingly important role in mitigating soil and water problems in tropical, sub-tropical and arid countries worldwide.
Vetiver grass, as it is known, is versatile, simple to grow and maintain, and inexpensive. It can be grown under a wide range of ecological conditions. This makes it highly attractive to farmers and local communities which have been the driving force in its adoption supported by extensive basic and applied research.
Vetiver grass, Chrysopogon zizanioides, a plant related to maize and sugarcane, is a long-living clump grass. It has a unique combination of characteristics, forming a dense, ground-level, permanent hedge normally about 1-2 meters high that – when planted along the contour – is an effective filter for reducing the speed of rainfall runoff, trapping soil, and enhancing soil moisture, with the capability of self-terracing and changing land slope. Its deeply penetrating, fast-growing, vertical roots (3m or more) have high tensile strength and a biomass with potential for sequestrating large amounts of carbon. Moreover, importantly, it is non-invasive, and resistant to fire, droughts, and floods, while absorbing toxic chemicals and metalloids.
No other conservation plant is known to share its range of attributes, or to have Vetiver’s hardiness and versatility as a conservation plant. In association with other technologies, it has proven effective in erosion control; in water conservation and groundwater recharge; in managing pests; in reducing flood damage; in ameliorating pollution; in stabilising and rehabilitating contaminated land; for income generation by raising crop yields and in handicrafts; and in carbon sequestration.
Known for centuries as a source of essential oil, its first recorded use in erosion control occurred early in the 20th Century in Fiji, the Caribbean, India, Japan and elsewhere. Systematic promotion began in 1986-88 when it was incorporated in World Bank agricultural projects in India and China. From its revival for soil conservation, further applications have been developed in more than 120 countries, inter alia ranging from NGO-supported agricultural applications in Ethiopia; to slope stabilisation in support of public infrastructure – roads, riverbanks, canals – in Vietnam; to the remediation of polluted wastewater and contaminated land in Australia; to commercial uses supporting infrastructure, sewage treatment, and handicrafts in China.
With some thirty years’ experience, and scientific studies issued mainly through the Vetiver network (www.vetiver.org), it is being viewed for a wider rollout. Empowerment of communities remains critical but a step change in Vetiver use will require broader initiatives. Grasses can be formidable carbon producers, and incentives will be needed if vetiver is to contribute to addressing the climate emergency. Regulations, standards, and procurement procedures may be needed to promote infrastructural and other purposes; and governance measures to counter rent-seeking by officials and businessmen in costly alternatives.
World Bank projects were a crucial vehicle for promoting vetiver technologies, and similar opportunities will emerge in future, not only for external lenders but also for NGOs and foreign investors, while the international research (CGIAR) institutions could provide an important research focus for promoting Vetiver and associated technologies. By taking Vetiver seriously, they could help ensure that this climate-smart plant fulfils its potential for mitigating the frightening land, water, and climate problems facing the planet.”