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Based on many years of experience in the field, the Golondrinas Foundation is promoting a well defined strategy to counter erosion and further devastation of the land in the Mira-Valley, focusing on establishing hedges in contour lines on the slope. These barriers will gradually evolve into terraces and halt the run-off of the fertile topsoil by the rain. The backbone of the strategy is the planting of a grass that is originally from India and promoted by the World bank: vetiver (Vetiver zizanioides).

Picture  One of the first consequences of tropical deforestation - especially on the steep sloped mountains - the typical habitat of cloudforests - is soil erosion and land degradation. Another is climatic disturbances. Regular precipitation patterns have degenerated into months of extreme drought followed by heavy downpours which wash away the fertile topsoil downhill. The consequences of the latter are strikingly apparent in Guallupe and the Mira valley.

PictureThese areas have been totally stripped of vegetation during the last 30 years. The resulting falls in yields have been confirmed by interviews with older farmers carried out by the foundation. The only way to counter this loss of land is by reintroducing vegetation, such as trees, shrubs, grasses, bamboo's, in the form   of "green contour-lines" against erosion. This ancient agricultural practice,  together with a form of terracing, was utilized by indigenous groups in the area, yet has been lost since the Spanish conquest.

Induced terracing at workIn response to this situation, Fundación Golondrinas established the Production and Education Agroforestry Center (Centro Productivo y Educativo Agroforestal or CPEA) in 1993 with an adjoining tree nursery. Currently, the foundation manages 2 nurseries in Guallupe, and Santa Rosa. More tree nurseries are planned for the villages around the Golondrinas reserve.

An agroforestry demonstration site - where the system of induced terracing is applied -  was set up in 1993 and trees from the same tree nursery were planted in contour lines. At that time Vetiver played an insignificant role in the agroforestry model.

However, now Vetiver is a very important element of a viable and sustainable alternative to the damaging agriculture techniques currently in practice. Vetiver responded very well to planting in all type of soils. After analysing and comparing the results of different hedges, i.e. Cajanus cajan, Gliricidia sepium and Leucaena leucacephala, F.G. concluded that Vetiver performs best and should be the base of its agroforestry programme.   It is now experimenting with Vetiver as a support plant to rows of pineapple that were planted on the contour lines. Local  farmers grow pineapples in descending rows for various reasons, i.e.: it is easier to clear the weeds between the lines and the pineapples don't fall over because  they are supported by the plant below. This method greatly increases the rate of erosion.

 

 

The foundation has planted literally thousands of pineapples, supported by parallel rows of Vetiver on the contour lines and it should be possible to measure the success of this approach once the pineapples are harvested. Since 1995 the foundation has systematically used Vetiver grass in all contour planting, in stabilizing waterworks and stabilizing previously eroded land at the edge of the field. Vegetative material (vetiver root divisions or slips) and documentation about the use of vetiver in Soil Conservation and Erosion Control are available on request or look under http://www.vetiver.org


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