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Farmers from Coull’s Hill, Troumaca, Rose Bank, Belmont and Petit Bordel as well as inmates at Belle Isle Correctional Facility have received advanced training in Vetiver Systems Technology (VST).

The training, through three five-day workshops from June to August, enables participants  to use vetiver grass for erosion control, land conservation and soil regeneration.

The VST training is one of five components of a project designed and managed by local NGO Hand2Earth and funded by a St. Vincent and the Grenadines Conservation Fund (SVGCF) Project.

Vetiver grass (locally known as razor grass, cuss-cuss, lavender grass or hurricane grass) once grew the entire length and breadth of St Vincent and was planted along the roadside to prevent erosion due to its roots that penetrate the earth down to 15 feet.

Graduates from Second Workshop Training
Graduates from the second workshop training.

However, over the past 50 years, it has gradually been dug out or burned by people who are unaware of its immense value in erosion control and sustainable farming.

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Vetiver grass is also known for its use in basket and mat construction.

The training encompassed all aspects of vetiver grass planting, land contouring, harvesting and plant preparation, as well as soil microbiology focusing on the processes that take place beneath the soil to generate all the nutrients for healthy plants.

Vetiver grass aids in these complex processes and is capable of improving soil quality in adverse conditions, making it ideal for use in areas affected by volcanic ash fall.

Vonnie Roudette, Hand2Earth’s project manager and VST consultant/trainer, said that the North Leeward area was targeted for the SVGCF project as it is the site of an extensive soil conservation initiative that took place during the 1920-30s when hundreds of vetiver hedgerows were planted on cultivated slopes to prevent erosion.

Although much of the original vetiver grass has been removed, some farmers continue to farm between the old hedgerows that have formed deep terraces or “strips” 8 to 15 feet high.

Prisoners with trainer V. Roudette practicing land contouring
Prisoners with trainer Vonnie Roudette practicing land contouring.

Her training introduces the farmers to the importance of protecting and restoring these vetiver hedgerows for soil quality improvement to improve their crop yields.

The project began in May with the identification of a potential VST demonstration site at Wharf Road, which was cleared and restored through replacing vetiver plantings where the old ones have disappeared.

Landowner David Felix, whose grandfather cultivated between the vetiver rows in the 1960s, said the project has been “an eye-opener for those who may not have known the benefits of the grass.

“It’s also a learning process for the community, a documentation of their heritage and a way of moving forward through minimising the rapid erosion that’s taken place in the area.”

In addition to the training, three vetiver nurseries were installed in separate locations.

The project now continues with vetiver systems installations in 20 farms in four areas. Participant farmers will be given technical assistance, tools, assistance with labour and will take part in community engagement activities where their knowledge will be used to protect the original vetiver hedgerows and to replant vetiver to boost the productivity of their farms.

“It is our aim to restore this valuable resource in farmland areas to regenerate our agri-heritage in a way that is crucial to present and future food security,” Roudette said.

She remarked that since the project began, the extent of the original plantings has become apparent, and the community members estimate more than 50% has disappeared in the past 40 years.

The majority of hedgerows have been dug out, and excessive tillage (digging) on slopes has contributed to significant topsoil loss.

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The graduate farmers are ready to reverse that trend on the slopes that were preserved by the old hedgerows to prevent further deterioration where it’s been removed.

“As the project progresses, we are learning more and more about why this area, in particular, was targeted for a vetiver soil conservation project almost a century ago that appears to be more extensive than any other in the Caribbean region.”

Project Coordinator Jemmot Anthony said he is delighted with the community spirit that the project has generated, noting that participants readily volunteer to assist in the maintenance of new plantings on the demonstration site and land owners are all fully supportive of the activities.

“We look forward to the farmers taking what they have learned forward into their daily farming practice”,” Anthony said.

SVGCF’s Project Officer, Alanda Moses attended the  graduation ceremonies and  encouraged the graduates to apply their practical training.

She spoke of the importance of the project to SVGCF’s mandate, particularly as vetiver grass fosters bio-diversity by stabilising the soil, which is one of the most important natural resources.

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Moses also said that the SVGCF is pleased that the follow-up component of the project is there to support this application of acquired knowledge and skills.

At the graduation ceremony at Belle Isle Correctional Facility, Assistant Superintendent of Prisons Julian Clarke encouraged prisoner graduates to use their skills wisely as they build a foundation for their reintegration into society.

Further support is being provided by prison authorities through an ongoing vetiver farm systems and land stabilisation project to apply what the trainees have learned and to pass on skills to other prisoners.

2 replies on “Farmers, prisoners trained in vetiver systems for soil conservation ”

  1. This appears to be something that will be of benefit to farmers. it is a wonder that this knowledge was all but lost, and now we have to reeducate our people about the benefits of it. I’m always thinking that, with the amount of fruit available on the island, we could be exporting many different kinds of fruit-based products. It is a shame that we don’t take advantage of this.

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