An oasis in the desert: Ode to Vetiver

 An oasis in the desert: Ode to Vetiver

A miraculous plant on the outskirts of Lima “Lima is the second largest city in the world built on the desert, after Cairo.”

By Silvia Debiasi, Milena Rettondini, Alice Tomaselli e Serena Boccardo


The visit to Desert Fiorito, a project developed on the arid hills of Lima, starts with this strong statement of Gianni Vaccaro. Through this initiative, undertaken few years ago with the support of the association of Trento APIBiMI and the Autonomous Province of Trento, volunteers and students of the Peruvian capital planted hundreds of Vetiver, an herb which comes from Asia.

The site chosen for this initiative is Villa Maria, a village located in the south of Lima, about an hour from the city center and with more than 400 thousand inhabitants. The area has many problems, most notably a widespread malnutrition. There are also difficulties in waste water treatment, because, once used, water has not a sewage system to convoy it and treat it before returning it into the environment.

Moreover the area, as all Peru, is strongly seismic and people are afraid of landslides from the stony hills surrounding the area during a strong earthquake. Finally, the population has been asking interventions on the environment for years, given the characteristic of aridity of the area. These problems can be largely solved by the simple use of a plant: vetiver.

This type of grass has a number of positive features, which almost miraculous, given that so far does not appear to have been found contraindications.

Vetiver has roots that go down in vertical depth, up to 3 meters, thus creating a natural wall and consolidating the ground. The plant survives even in the presence of untreated waste water: dirty water and detergent can indeed be thrown on a field with this plant without damaging it and making sure the waste water treatment. The roots hold water even to the surface, thus favoring the settling of other species.

But vetiver also purifies the air: it absorbs six kilograms of carbon dioxide per year and moreover it can live both indry and in wet environment. Besides these features already sufficient to elect it as plant of the year, there are also several other uses: the roots can be used for teas and essential oils, fresh leaves can feed the animals, dry ones become straw to use for both roofs and for baskets and other handcrafts things.

Vetiver is currently planted in a field belonging to the school of Villa Maria, originally sandy. Other types of plant had been planted in an attempt to grow some form of life, but they were all unsuccessful. Engineer Alois Kennerknecht with his revolutionary idea of using vetiver has therefore given a twist to this initiative. It is a pilot project, but the excellent results already allow to think the developments that soon the experts hope to develop.

Now is certain that once provided an adequate amount of water for the first month, the plants also withstand drought of some months. The program now is to plant it along the streets and outside the houses, getting a first result of beautifying the city and treating waste water, thanks to people who throw bowls of dirty water on the plants.

And most important: you can obtain the food to breed guinea pigs, which meat is very nutritious and widely consumed in Peru. And if there is enough space, it will also be possible to grow more easily a small vegetable garden, from which it is possible to obtain an additional source of food.

The possibility of the success of this project becomes even from the fact that the association is well known and liked in the area, thanks to a constant comparison with the needs of the population, which has already led to the creation of a laboratory for sewing for women, the realization of a school, and much more.
The activity then continues, in the hope that in the future Lima is no longer a city built in an inhospitable place, but an oasis in the desert.

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