Vetiver: How a simple plant can help save a forest

23 July 2013 - 3:46pm Comments Off

The monsoon season in Malaysia is very unforgiving and the tropical rain is relentless. While the Kechara Forest Retreat is under construction, there have been concerns on the erosive impact of the monsoons rain on KFR’s hill slopes. Engineers and soil specialists have provided various solutions, but our own Wan Wai Meng came up with a unique proposal.

Vetiver planted at the base of the Manjushri statue at Manjushri Hill

Wai Meng carrying a bag of vetiver for planting!

Normally seen behind a computer, Wai Meng from Tsem Ladrang’s e-division, suggested planting vetiver on the slopes of Kechara Forest Retreat (KFR) before the monsoon arrives. Vetiver, also known as Chrysopogon zizanioides, is a grass native to India. Unlike most grasses which have root systems which grow horizontally, vetiver’s roots grow 2-4 metres deep. This makes it ideal to stabilise soil and protects it against erosion.

Vetiver sprouting!

The first contact with vetiver in Malaysia was on the slopes of the Karak highway in the 80s; the experiment was a success and it has become a proven method to hold the soil on the slopes and prevent soil erosion. Vetiver is not a difficult grass to plant; it is very hardy and can be submerged in water for up to two months and it is also highly tolerant to drought.

The complexity of establishing this grass is in identifying the actual location of planting the grass on the slopes. Besides having an extensive root system, when vetiver is planted in hedgerows, the multiple hedgerows acts to prevent water from flowing unimpeded down a slope.

The first batch of vetiver was planted on May 18th on the Medicine Buddha Hill (MBH) slopes and it is growing quite well. Soil erosion was not entirely eradicated but it has lessened. We believe soil erosion will continue to lessen with time as currently, less soil deposits are forming at the bottom of the MBH after rain. From a height of 12 inches when we first started, some of the vetiver stems now are at the length of 40 inches.

The first area at the Medicine Buddha Hill planted with Vetiver.

This grass was also planted at the main access road, at the base of Manjushri Statue, the old organic farm and at the slope facing the new gift room. All in all we have planted 8000 vetiver saplings. Initially we had professional planters come in to assist in the planting but as the volunteers learned to do terracing, our need for the professional planters will decrease. This will reduce cost and increase our own skillset!

Many kind volunteers giving their time and energy to KFR.

There have been many kind volunteers who have contributed sponsorship of the plants, as well as participated in the actual planting. We now still need more saplings for some parts of the old organic farm, meditation path and the main access road. Going forward we also need people to help trim the vetiver and apply the fertilizer.

The slopes of KFR at certain areas are in the range of 70 degrees or more so planting up there can be quite challenging. The weather itself also is a challenge – on certain days, we have the sun bearing down on us and at other times the rains hinder the planting process. However, true to KFR’s spirit, these have not curbed the enthusiasm of our volunteers at all!

Hard at work on the slopes!

All volunteers who engage in planting are advised to bring a good pair of shoes and also to bring their own favourite drinks to keep themselves hydrated. In the event any volunteers feel discomfort or pain, they should stop planting immediately and notify the person in charge. Also, as soon as it starts raining, volunteers should stop work and seek shelter.

Vetiver farming at the slopes of the old Organic Farm.

To volunteer or contribute to the planting of vetiver, please contact Wan Wai Meng at wanwaimeng@gmail.com or 012 215 0968. Please join us to help protect and secure the slopes at KFR, as it is an offering to the growth of Dharma in this region.

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