Three months ago if you were to ask me about vetiver grass I’d have had no idea what you were talking about. Now, however, the gregarious bunch grass is an integral part of my team’s program. We are learning more and more about it every day. Probably the most important thing to know about vetiver grass is that it is a champion for preventing soil erosion. It has a strong and spanning root system that can grow as deep as 4 meters underground.
In Saint Vincent, soil erosion and landslides have always been a problem. In recent years, weather has become more severe. Rainstorms are battering Caribbean nations more ferociously and more often than anyone can recall in the recent past. These unprecedented and unpredictable weather patterns making erosion and landslides an even bigger concern.
We’ve had a lot of heavy and sporadic rain in the last couple of months. There was one storm in late November that was particularly bad. The storm started very early in the morning and didn’t stop until midday. Most of North Leeward lost power (RVA was out of power for several days) and there were landslides all over the island. We had several landslides around the school including one right in our front yard.
It has become painstakingly clear that soil erosion and landslides must be a primary concern when we are considering project implementation. Planting vetiver grass is something that my team has decided to adopt as high priority. We hope to help educate people in North Leeward about the many benefits of vetiver grass. Most importantly, we want to prevent devastating landslides from happening.
Before we could start preaching about the wonders of vetiver grass, however, we needed to practice that which we would preach. We started by dedicating two days of our holiday break to planting vetiver grass here at the school.
After the landslide in the front yard, we were left with a huge pit. This was problematic for two reasons. First, it was dangerous because it was a deep pit which led down to a very steep drop-off. Second, it was unstable and vulnerable to further erosion. A big dump truck came and filled in the giant pit with new soil. This eliminated the first problem but not the second. We needed to make sure that the new soil would stay put. This is where vetiver grass came in.
[caption id="attachment_7436" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Before the planting action on campus
We started by planting the vetiver at the top of the slope and worked our way down. This was a precarious task because the slope leads to a dangerous drop-off. One of our teachers, Johnny, did the planting here. He tied a rope around his body, which was wrapped around a tree and then held by one of the students. This precaution was important because the soil had not yet compacted and could easily have slid down the slope, taking Johnny with it. Fortunately, he was able to plant the grass uneventfully.
We then planted vetiver up and down the embankment to hopefully ensure that no new landslides occur. This involved some of us climbing down the slope with a rope tied around us, just as Johnny had. We now have vetiver grass planted all over that area. We hope that, as long as the grass has ample opportunity to set its roots before any more major storms, it will hold the embankment together.
[caption id="attachment_7435" align="aligncenter" width="400"] The result of planting vetiver grass
Since our planting action we have planted the vetiver grass in a number of other places around the school. This includes along the road that leads up to RVA where pieces of trees and other plants and dirt had slid down into the road. This has been a good experience for us as we have learned how to properly propagate and plant the grass. We have also learned what to expect from the grass immediately after planting and how it develops over time. Next we take the knowledge that we have gained into North Leeward communities where the powers of vetiver grass are even more needed.
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