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Making farmers do wonders with this grass

Vetiver, ‘the wonder grass’ of Tamil Nadu, which has a wide range of applications in the pharma and cosmetic industries, besides anti-soil erosion properties, is spreading roots in the State.

The grass, which grows up to five feet and whose fragrant root reaches up to 10 feet, has huge global demand in the aromatic industry. The grass is popular for its quality to combat soil erosion and absorb carbon dioxide, thus erasing carbon footprints. In the last few years, niche products have been created with vetiver by value addition.

Vetiver is ideal for the long coastline, as it is suited for sandy soil, says C.K. Ashok Kumar of the India Vetiver Network, which is involved in popularising cultivation in association with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

“It is easy to harvest this crop, which fetches very high returns. The vast coastline can be utilised to raise vetiver in a big way,” says Mr. Ashok, who has been encouraging youngsters, especially those in fishing hamlets, to turn agripreneurs. The grass can be used to purify polluted water bodies, especially temple tanks, and to arrest soil erosion in ghat sections, especially in Kerala and Kodaikanal. The grass is now a favourite among inland farmers as well. The yield is low, compared to coastal areas, but the quality of grass is high, says C. Pandian, who grows vetiver on a 10-acre farm in Kuruvadipatti village of Sivaganga district. Against a yield of two to 2.5 tonnes per acre in coastal areas, inland farmers get 1.5 lakh tonnes. Essential oil recovery is 0.8% in coastal grass and 1.49% in inland grass. One kg of essential oil fetches between ₹30,000 and ₹58,000.

One kg of vetiver yields 300 grams of oil and it is possible to realise over ₹1.5 lakh per acre, excluding all expenses, over a period of 10 months, says Mr. Pandian.

Its moisture retention property makes vetiver a natural choice for soil conservation and replenishment of ground water. It is ideal for dry land cultivation using organic farming practices, says Mr. Pandian. It is also used in ethanol extraction, as cattle feed and for making handicrafts. Another quality of vetiver is that it is an anti-depressant.

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