Spirit in Action partner Samuel Teimuge has been conducting some fascinating research on how Vetiver grass can help reduce soil erosion along the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Steep walls and unstable soil in the Kerio Valley mean there is a high risk of landslides. Deforestation has made the problem even worse. I asked Samuel for an update on what he is learning:
Vetiver grass originates from India. It has been in Kenya for over 50 years and I learnt about this grass six years ago. I (Samuel) brought it to the Ukweli Training Center [in sustainable agriculture] and then I invited people I knew would be interested. I and 30 farmers of the grass have formed a Community-Based Organization (CBO) called Konyasoy Vetiver Network. Konyasoy means ‘the healer of soil erosion.’
Vetiver terraced along a roadside cliff.
Non-Invasive Erosion Control
We did a test and found that Vetiver is indeed very effective at controlling erosion. We filled wire cages soil and planted Vetiver on top. The passage of soil and debris built up a soil terrace of two feet. Some of the Vetiver has grown to the height of 6ft. We have seen that it forms narrow dense hedges when planted along the contours of sloping land. This helps the water soak into the soil rather than washing off the slope.
Vetiver grass is naturally sterile and it is propagated by planting slips (shoots), rather than sending seeds. So there is no danger of the grass spreading from where it is planted. It is non-invasive, does not appear to have any significant pests or diseases.
Harvesting the grasses
The many uses of Vetiver
There are different ways to weave the Vetiver fiber. It can be used to make fans, dolls, napkin holders, baskets, and hats. This can be a huge source of income from those who can weave and also the farmers who can sell the fiber.
Vetiver leaves are very good for thatching shelter and so farmers would benefit when vetiver matures. It takes only about 18-24 months to mature. This can also be good income earner.
When the grass is less than three months it is a good fodder for animals. This is what I (Samuel Teimuge) use to feed my cow. I am still finding out how I can make pellets for animals.
This grass controls pests when other crops are planted in between the rows. It worked very well when I planted green grams (mung beans) in between the vetiver rows. The birds didn’t notice the beans until we harvested!
It is my dream for the poor people of Kerio Valley to stop their soil erosion and earn income from this great Vetiver grass. It is my desire also to do more research to prove that this grass is of great value. I hope to have up to three staff for three years to multiply this grass.