Grass That Can Fight All Odds

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Manoj Kumar Sarcar & Aruna Basu Sarcar

It has been estimated that soil loss in India due to erosion is about 12,000 million tonnes per anum. The loss of NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) is more than the country’s fertilizer output.

To prevent soil erosion and in carrying out soil and moisture conservation works at low cost, vetriver grass could be used as an ideal plant in dryland farming. Commonly called as Khas-Khas, it grows naturally in plains, lower hills, river banks and in marshy areas of Hariyana, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and also in southern states.

Botanicaly named as Vetiveria zizanloides, it is a densely tufted, perennial grass but sterile outside its natural habitat It has no rhizomes or stolons. it is propagated by root divisions or slips.

Vetriver’s spongy root system binds the soil to a depth of upto 3 metres. By forming a dense underground curtain along the contour of the land, the roots prevent riffling, gulling, and tunneling.
A vetriver hedge is key to the in-situ moisture conservation in rain-fed farming system. It serves as a guideline for ploughing and planting on the contour and, intimes of heavy rain and storms, prevents large scale erosion.

Vetriver grows in all types of soil and in a wide range of climatic conditions. Its propagation is easy. The superior cultivar should be collected to raise nursery.

In Karnataka, six cultivars have been identified. One cultivar exhibits superior characteristics for hedge formation, fodder, and insect-disease and drought-resistance.

The best nursery site can be selected in loamy sands where drainage is good. Then slips are planted in a double or triple line to form parallel hedges in a nursery bed. The hedge rows should be 30-40 cm apart. Application of fertilizer to the slips with diammonium phosphate (DAP, @ 150 kg/ha of Nitrogen) and irrigation once in a fortnight encourages fest tillering. Dibbling of DAP into the planting furrow before planting the slips will be enough.

To collect planting material, spade or fork is used to extract a vetiver clump. Then, a handful of grass, roots is torn out from the clump to form the slip which are planted in the field.

The planting of slips are done at the beginning of the wet season. Holes are made 10 to 15 cm apart in the furrow that was ploughed to make the contour. The slips are then pushed into each hole by taking care that the roots are not bent upwards. The slips are firmed by tightening the soil. The gaps formed by casualities should be filled by planting new slips. The plant must form a hedge.

To encourage tillering and hedge thickening, the grass should be cut back to 30-50 cm after first year. White ant- infestation can be controlled by applying 1 kg of BHC powder for every too m of hedge line. Established hedges are trimmed to a height of 30-50 cm annually. Vetriver hedges take about three years to be fully effective.

The initial cost of hedge establishment is estimated at Ps. 288 per l00m of hedge. The cost to produce new hedges is relatively low, about Ps. 72 per 100m, if planting material is raised in nursery.

Hence, the economic returns are more than 100 percent. For each hectare 250 metres of hedge is required.

The combined effect of contour cultivation and vetriver hedge formation do wonders even in slopy land by arresting almost total soil erosion and allowing water infiltration into sub-soil and thereby raising the ground water table in the watershed area- Some early results in alfisols and vertisols indicate that rainfall run-off was reduced from 40 per cent to 15 per cent (compared with the control) and silt loss was reduced from 25 tonnes per hectare to six tonnes per hectare (all for two-year-old hedges on 2 per cent slopes). Apart from preventing soil erosion, oil extracted from vetiver’s roots is very valuable and an important raw material for the perfume industry. The roots are used for making screens (Khas Chiks) mats, handfans, baskets, etc. In dry, degraded and exposed hilly terrain, the spongy golden root systems act as a boon to the farmers, horticulturists, foresters in in-situ soil and moisture conservation at low cost and also In getting an additional annual income.

(The author are IFS officers District Forest Office Bungalow, High Ground Road, Palayamkottai, Tiruneveli – 2

Courtesy: The New Indian Express, NATURE, Tuesday, July13, 1999

How to Cite

Manoj Kumar Sarcar & Aruna Basu Sarcar. Grass That Can Fight All Odds. The New Indian Express, NATURE, Tuesday, July13, 1999. Via:


Khas Khas, Vetiveria zizanloides, Grass

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