The Vetiver Network International


The author of this post, Tho Ngo, works with an expanding group of Vietnamese farmers, who over the past few years have created much interest, both in Vietnam and globally, with regard to embedding the Vetiver System into Vietnamese farms, and in doing so have opened up opportunities for new ways of using this unique plant to help farmers adapt to climate change. (This post was translated by Google Translate with some additional editing – Vietnamese original )

Introduction:  Vietnam, it is one of the five countries most affected by climate change.  According to a World Resources Institute analysis, Vietnam ranked 4th out of 164 countries surveyed in terms of the serious harm from existing and future flooding on the economy, resulting in a loss of 2.3% of Vietnam’s GDP every year. The Mekong and Red River Deltas’ coastal cities and industrial zones are affected by sea level rise and saltwater intrusion. More than 80% of Vietnam’s terrain is sloping, so that changing rain patterns and increasing storms due to climate change will make flash floods, landslides, and inundation unpredictable. Additionally abnormal weather will occur more often, including more hot periods and prolonged droughts. Impacts of climate change on Vietnamese farmers will be significant, with expected increased crop losses; livestock production will be negatively impacted; and overall life will be difficult due to landslides, flash floods, and other disasters.

Photo 1. Drought in Central Vietnam in 2017

Changing rainfall patterns are forcing Vietnamese farmers to adapt to climate change and they are choosing vetiver grass. Farmers choose the vetiver solution as a means to change the farming method from over use of chemical fertilizers  and frequent  land cultivation to covercrop farming and organic farming — a more  environmentally friendly approach using insitu on-farm biomass of vetiver grass. Farmers are choosing symbiosis between crop plants and vetiver to help plants grow faster resulting from the deeper vetiver roots. vetiver grass is planted in hilly areas, prone to landslides to stabilize living places. The model is replicated so that farmers in many parts of the country can access vetiver grass and information about the technology. We are doing this through the current 6,500 members of Vietnam Vetiver Farmers Community on Facebook (really worth visiting this group – lots to see and learn — Ed).

We would like to thank TVNI and its members for providing many valuable materials and experiences. In particular, we thank Facebook for having a great social networking platform that helps us connect with each other, share and act together.

Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture and Vietnamese Farmers.  In recent years, climate change has caused many extreme weather phenomena in Vietnam such as prolonged drought, hail, frost, unusually heavy and prolonged rain  — causing salinity intrusion, floods, landslides, damage to crops, reduced yields, and crop failure all resulting in heavy losses to farmers.

Statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in recent years show that:

  • In the dry season of 2015, 10/13 provinces and cities in the Mekong Delta had to declare natural disasters caused by drought and saltwater intrusion. Total damage amounted to 7,900 billion VND (350 million USD).
  • In 2016, drought and saltwater intrusion in the Central region – Central Highlands and Mekong River Delta were assessed as the most severe and unprecedented in history, causing damage of about 15,183 billion VND (more than 700 million VND). USD).
  • In 2017, storms, floods, landslides resulted in 386 deaths and missing (mainly in the northern and central mountainous areas), 654 people were injured; more than 8,000 houses collapsed or collapsed due to landslides; with economic losses of about 60,000 billion VND (nearly 3 billion USD).
  • In 2018, natural disasters occurred continuously in all regions of the country with 13 storms and tropical depressions, 212 thunderstorms and lightning storms; 14 flash floods and landslides made 218 people dead and missing, and damage was estimated at 20,000 billion VND (nearly 1 billion USD).
  • In 2020, there were 120 flash floods and landslides, killing 357 people and missing, total damage is over 39,962 billion VND (1.9 billion USD).

Continuously prolonged heat and droughts occurring in all regions of the country in recent years show the increasing extent of climate change. Drought reduces crop yield by 20-30%, reduces food production, seriously affects livestock and farmers’ lives, not only that, water sources are also seriously threatened. especially for indigenous communities who are dependent on a nature based living. Climate change induced drought has resulted in the loss of relatively large forest areas due to fires and pests.

Sustainable development is threatened by prolonged drought that leads to the risk of desertification in some regions, especially in the South Central region, coastal sandy areas and sloping lands associated with hilly and mountainous areas. Reducing agricultural land area and decreasing crop productivity will pose challenges and will threaten the livelihoods of farmers, rice exports and national food security for a country where agriculture plays a vital and important role in an economy (agriculture accounts for 52.6% of the labor force and 20% of the country’s GDP).

Choosing to plant vetiver grass is the solution. Reversing rising temperatures in the short term is impossible. Therefore, helping farmers adapt to climate change is extremely important. So I focused on the solution to help farmers adapt to differing and extreme rainfall patterns.  The strategy will be to ramp up the use of plant residues (mulching) to cover and protect the soil. A strategy based on the principles of primary forests, that conserves soil and water water through an organic buffer layer to help the soil absorb rainwater more slowly and in greater quantities. Mulch gradually changes the structure of the soil by adding large amounts of organic matter, protects and nourishes soil microorganisms, blocks solar radiation and emissions at night, and most importantly, it prevents up to 80% of the water from evaporating.  In Vietnam, 100% of native grass species are seasonal grasses, they cannot survive the dry season. Some grass species were introduced for livestock, but in the dry/winter season, they still need to be watered and cared for, and even then they grow slowly.

   —————————  I looked to vetiver for the solution.

 Help farmers adapt to climate change.

Vetiver grass has the following characteristics:

  • The roots are deep and strong, and can reduce the risk of landslides. Landslides affecting small scale gardens, hills, and fields have left serious consequences, causing loss of life and property.
  • The roots are deep, and have the ability to act as “oil lamp wicks” to bring water back from the depths to the surface, this is the phenomenon of “hydraulic redistribution” occurs in plants. Vetiver roots are a biological pump helping plants fight drought.
  • The deep roots can withstand drought and maintain biomass during the dry season, the leaves provide forage. for livestock, and can provide mulch as a complete soil coverage
  • Deep grass roots will help the soil to be friable and enhances soil aeration. When planted near fruit trees, it has the effect of helping the soil absorb more rainwater and store potential groundwater for irrigation without the evaporation losses associated with storage ponds.
  • Vetiver grows in clumps, the latter will close to form a hedge barrier. The plant grows roots and leaves at the node, and as a hedge can trap sediment and prevent erosion, eventually forming natural terraces, and reducing the slope of the land between terraces.
  • The biomass of vetiver leaves can be very large, from 80-130 tons DM/ha (there are many studies and documents to support this). When  maintained all year round, despite drought, it is a great source of biomass for mulching, soil organic matter enhancing soil structure, increase the carbon content in the soil, and reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Vetiver grass adapts to many different climates and soils, pH from 2.5-12, temperature from 5  ℃ -40℃, critical salinity up to 18/1000, mixed sandy soil, clay soil, polluted soil. In fact in Vietnam it can be grown virtually everywhere.
  • Vetiver is a plant capable of handling environmental pollution, making biological barriers, trapping insects, and protecting young plants.

For these reasons I have applied vetiver in agriculture to help farmers conserve soil, change soil structure, diversify crops, raise more livestock and increase income.

The process of popularizing vetiver among Vietnamese farmers.

Before 2017, Vietnamese farmers knew almost nothing about vetiver, though a few knew about its use for erosion control (involvement in CIAT vetiver and cassava trials — 1990s)).

Vetiver in Vietnam can be divided into 3 stages of development:

  •  From 1999 – 2007: Focus on research mainly. In terms of application implementation, there are a number of key projects mainly relating to slope stabilization of infrastructure, such as the Ho Chi Minh Highway project, the Bac Me hydroelectric dam, the wastewater treatment works, a number of dike systems in the Mekong Delta and others.
  • From 2008-2017: The period of recession. Because Vietnam has not developed a set of standards and the technical supporting data for biological works, the applicability of vetiver for anti-erosion works was in doubt. In agriculture, the model for sloping land cultivation using vetiver grass had been implemented in Kontum but has not been replicated.
  •  From 2017 to present: Spectacular comeback.

The introduction of vetiver into agriculture has brought very positive results. Key to this is the formation of a “vetiver grass market” in each small area. Since 2017-2018 vetiver farmers have built a model in that they gradually become the nucleus (hub) in each region and provide grass planting “slips” to the surrounding community.

The establishment of a vetiver/nursery market in my opinion is very important for development, because farmers realize that in addition to using vetiver for the above purposes, they can also earn money from selling vetiver plant material. Along with that, thanks to the development of social networks, communities of organic farmers, ecological farmers, and farm-stay  the  Vietnamese public is gradually learning more about vetiver. The Vietnam Vetiver Farmers Community group has been especially instrumental in ensuring  that the models, applications and sources of vetiver are widely known.

In the future, it is the agricultural farms applying vetiver in each small locality that will provide vetiver plant material for the local community to deploy community-scale vetiver. It is estimated that currently Vietnam has about 100 vetiver nurseries in all regions, (compared to only 3 in 2017 in Da Nang, Quang Nam and An Giang) and the total amount of vetiver supplied to the market in 2021 is estimated at 10-12 million “slips” of grass.

Some typical results of application of vetiver grass adapting to climate change

Experiments have shown that the water-holding capacity of soil increases after planting vetiver grass. In Cao Phong, Hoa Binh, orange trees with no vetiver could only absorb  26 liters while those planted with 8-10 vetiver plants (15 months) absorbed up to 62 liters of water! Similarly, in Binh Thuan, the model of symbiotic vetiver (planted directly next to the trunk) and planted around mango trees, was able to absorb 60-150% more irrigation water.

Photo 2. Using vetiver grass planted around the base of the tree and mulching helps dragon fruit farmers in Long An avoid saltwater intrusion.

In Tam Vu, Long An, farmers growing vetiver grass in combination with dragon fruit, were able to overcome saltwater intrusion using vetiver. With vetiver the soil becomes more moist, the ability to absorb irrigation water is better, the time between two irrigations is longer, so during high tides and saline intrusion, farmers can avoid having to pump saline water.

Photo 3. Planting symbiotically with watermelon, grapes, and vetiver grass and mulching grass leaves to prevent heat and keep soil moist in Ninh Thuan.

Another aspect that I am also very interested in, is the temperature of the soil when applying vetiver Vetiver mulching is an extremely effective solution to help farmers protect water sources in the soil, nourish microbiome, and change the soil structure for the better. The model is in Ninh Thuan, which has the hottest and driest climate in Vietnam. This is one of the key localities to change farming methods thanks to vetiver, because native grass species cannot survive in the long dry season. In Ninh Thuan the weather is hot and sunny all year round. Vetiver has shown the ability to grow throughout the dry season. At a depth of 5cm of soil ,when covered with 2cm thick vetiver leaves, the soil temperature at 11am was 33, while the control results without mulching was 46.3℃. The temperature of soil (depth 0-20cm) is very important for the growth, yield and health of plants and for new plant roots to grow and develop, and for soil microorganisms to reproduce. If the soil becomes cooler, production costs will be lower, intercropping more crops, farmers will be guaranteed income. In addition, raising goats and sheep to increase the economy is also has very good potential.

Photo 4. In the Central Highlands, vetiver grass planted around avocado, coffee and other fruit trees has helped farmers have a large amount of biomass to use for mulching the soil, raising livestock, and no longer having to worry about garden fires in the dry season.

In the Central Highlands provinces, the intercropping of vetiver grass into coffee, pepper, and fruit trees has been implemented. The first step shows the efficiency of water storage, groundwater recovery, moisture retention by mulching, and maintenance of fresh grass for cattle in the dry season. Vetiver grass planted around avocado, coffee and other fruit trees has helped farmers have a large amount of biomass to use for mulching the soil and raising cattle

For afforestation. In Vietnam, there are a number of organizations that raise funds from the community to buy trees for ethnic minorities in the highlands, and to replant and manage barren and destroyed forests. Vetiver planted in symbiosis with the main crop has shown faster growth, very low tree mortality.  Symbiotic vetiver is a good solution for afforestation in dry areas.

The above reflects only a very small part of what Vietnamese farmers are doing with vetiver to cope with drought, saltwater intrusion or long-term floods.

Depending on the characteristics of each type of crop, soil, climate and farmers’ habits, each location has to be approached differently with different vetiver design needs. In order to spread vetiver to more farmers, we really want to form a specialized organization to propagate and change the perception of farmers, especially students, young people and women in rural and mountainous areas.

We look forward to receiving support from TVNI.

Tho Ngo ….. Hanoi, July, 2022

Vietnam Vetiver Farmers Group

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