Farmers in Voi have endlessly courted the woes of soil erosion with over half of their crops swept by raging waters every season until a unique multi purpose wonder grass was introduced to them which has not only addressed the soil erosion menace but also provided alternative source of revenue to members through sale of grass and now set to open value addition doors.
It all started in 2001 when the group's current deputy chairperson Paul Mwadime was introduced to the grass, known as vetiver grass, by an American who was living in the area. The turn around in containing soil erosion enticed him to increase the area under the grass cultivation. “When I started cultivating Vetiver grass in Voi, none of the local farmers knew about it. I had tried to plant Napier grass but I realized that it could not sufficiently curb soil erosion. The local tree varieties which were recommended took a long time to mature yet the community needed a quick solution to land rehabilitation,” stated Mwadime.
He was to be identified by the American who had started a Vetiver Systems organization as the local contact person who would move from forum to forum to spread the vetivergospel. But the short interaction in the forums with the farmers he felt was not enough. He decided to take the training to another level by starting a larger-scale commercial vetivergrass nursery. The purpose was to provide farmers with more local access to vetiver grass. By 2003, the farm had 900,000 vetiver grass splits. With a group of farmers who had religiously stuck to the project he decided to form the Mseto environmental group in 2005.
“While we at first learnt in my demonstration plot, individual farmers have gone on to plant the grass in their respective farms and are earning through the sale of the grass especially in dry spells,”said Mwadime.
Mwadime has collaborated with various organisations including the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and European Union. “In 2011, I was awarded a certificate of technical excellence by the Vetiver Network International for my efforts in promotingVetiver technology in Kenya. During the Mashujaa day celebrations last year, I was also feted as an environmental hero. Recently, I sold Vetiver to a Non-Governmental Organisation in Kajiado worth Sh150, 000.
The multi purpose aspect of the grass is drawing more farmers to it especially the rising demand by buyers. The grass goes for Sh6 per piece. Its deep root system enables it to tolerate extreme climatic conditions including prolonged droughts,flooding, fires and frost. It can tolerate a wide range of soil acidity levels and plays a vital role in clearing heavy metals from the soil. The grass' lack of long stem and a thick root system enhances its drought-tolerant characteristics.
It has also been known to reverse soil erosion. When planted across the slope, it develops into a narrow barrier of stiff stem grass hedge that reduces soil loss and water runoff. Its strong root systems enables the soil to bind together ensuring that it can withstand the effects of tunneling and cracking. The roots grow downwards and do not compete with crops growing next to the hedge.
The grass has also been known to clean up the soils. In Thailand, Vetiver hedges captured and de-contaminated pesticides such as carbofuran, monocrotophos and anachlor used in cabbage growing thus preventing them from contaminating and accumulating in the soils and crops. On pineapple farms in Australia, it was able to filter river beds.
It has also been known to control controls pests, diseases and weeds. Its roots attract pests like the dreaded stem borer and once they lay eggs on the hairy roots, it prevents the larvae from moving to the leaves.