Vetiver System Progress in Kenya

In March 2009 we held a one day Vetiver workshop in Kenya, followed by another in Ethiopia.  What we learned in Ethiopia inspired us to try and get a serious Vetiver program going in Kenya. Fortunately one of TVNI’s most dynamic Directors, Elise Pinners, an agricultural engineer from The Netherlands with wide tropical experience, lived in Kenya and proceeded, with a little funding help from TVNI, to initiate a Vetiver movement.  At least there was a source of quality Chrysopogon zizanioides in Kenya, because Paul Kombo and his friends at Voi (adjacent to the world famous Tsavo National Park) had started using and propagating vetiver.  It was clear that vetiver had potential for many applications in Kenya – road cut and fill stabilization, on farm soil and water conservation, pollution control, and more.  At that time there were immediate problems that needed fixing including erosion control and the replacement of the much farmer disliked “Funya Ju” terracing system (we found that Ethiopian farmers disliked the technology too), problems with sewage treatment plants, the pollution of Lake Naivasha from sediment flows and surplus nutrients from intensive horticultural operations, road side slope stabilization and maintenance, and some misunderstanding about the nature of vetiver by scientists and officials.  Quite a list to tackle.

Elise is using two approaches get into these important areas. First she set up Green Cycle Consulting ( to provide support to commercial interest in Vetiver and as a vehicle for the provision of technical support for contracted services to government and other agencies. Secondly she, together with Kenyans John Njoroge, Jane Wegesa, Esther Mugure, Caleb Omolo, and Patrick Mukoro, established the Platform for Land Use Sustainability (PLUS-Kenya) with the primary objective of providing a knowledge base on sustainable land use to Kenya farmers.  PLUS-Kenya is modelled partly after the successful Ethiopian Sustainable Land Use Forum (SLUF) that supports active in country NGOs with appropriate key technologies for sustainable development.  Vetiver System is an important technology for both organisations.

PLUS-Kenya is working with communities, church groups, farmers, and government agencies who insert vetiver into their programs.  A start was made in the Lake Victoria region of western Kenya, today demand for vetiver planting material is higher than supply, providing an incentive for more private nurseries where farmers are charing 8-10 Kenya shillings (US cents 10) per slip – not a bad price! Most of these slips go to on farm soil conservation.  Currently PLUS is spending a lot of time working with Enlightening Lives International (ELI) in the Kerio Valley (western Kenya).  This valley of 800 sq Km is located in the Great Rift Valley.  In the last few years the Valley and its growing population has been subjected to serious life and property destroying landslides. PLUS will be providing support for stabilizing some of the smaller slips, as well as developing better conservation technology using VS.  There is a real and genuine interest by farmers and communities to tackle the problems and VS provides a technology that they can understand, feel, and use with success.  Recently Samuel Teimuge wrote a report of the progress of Vetiver introduction to the Valley. See:  The locals are calling the technology “Farming God’s Way”.  Remember how some Venezuelan’s call vetiver “Holy Grass”.  Must be a connect somewhere!!  The bottom line is that people are being empowered to solve their own problems, and they are doing it wit VS.

PLUS-Kenya is also working with Kenya roads to stabilize cut and fill and reduce maintenance costs.  It has also working with roads agencies in Uganda.  Another initiative is working with the private sector to reduce sediment flows and pollution flows into the beautiful Rift Valley Lake Naivasha.

It all takes time, and we know you need time to persuade officials, engineers, and others to discard what doesn’t work well and replace it with something that does.  There is a vetiver ground swell in parts of Kenya, and I am sure that we will see change and success.  Thanks to Elise and her many associates in PLUS and all the users and organizations who have got involved with this remarkable plant.

The SLUF/PLUS model of a knowledge based organization that supports and reinforces community efforts (NGOs or otherwise) appear to be an interesting and technically successful way to approach change, and should be considered in other countries with similar needs. It’s quite a low cost approach and can cross sectoral boundaries. The approach is significantly different to most government agency strategies where for example soil conservation technology remains primarily in the hands of a specific government department that has little or no interest in the activities of other sector focused departments and consequently does not promote technology outside of its own sphere of operations. Dick Grimshaw