In 2018, TT recorded one of the worst instances of flooding in recent history. Entire communities were submerged and countless families displaced.
Since then, TT officials, from local government to ministries, have been brainstorming short- and long-term solutions to the problem. While the floods of 2018 were unprecedented, they were not an isolated incident. Flooding continues to be a problem for many residents, more often those who live in hillside and riverside communities.
The IAMovement, a non-profit organisation founded in 2014, has developed an eco-friendly solution that it believes, if implemented across the country, can significantly reduce the impact of flooding in these communities.
Under the Me-We-Green programme, the IAMovement has developed the Vetiver Education and Empowerment Project (VEEP) model, which it is bringing to communities across TT to educate people on how to use the vetiver system as a low-cost green infrastructure tool. It believes the system can be the solution to a range of water-related challenges.
The Me-We-Green programme is also supported by the Green Fund, the national environmental fund. The Green Fund is a grant facility available to organisations engaged in environmental projects related to key areas including reforestation, conservation, and environmental education and public awareness of environmental issues.
The VEEP model was developed in Paramin, known for its hillside gardens, and the team has now extended the project to eight other hillside communities.
On August 27, members of the organisation hosted a site visit to Lopinot village to determine what areas would be best to plant and to meet with residents whose properties could benefit from the programme. They were accompanied by president of the Lopinot Tourism Association Donna Mora and chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco corporation Kwasi Robinson.
“The roots of the vetiver grass run ten-15 feet deep after two years,” said project co-ordinator Nikolai Emmanuel. “However, within the first year you could get between five to six feet of growth.”
He said when planted in ideal conditions, there is effective soil retention, as the roots of the grass are sturdy and capable of holding back a steady flow of water.
The grass, he said, is planted in contours and series along the hillside.
“The nutrients coming down the hills (are) lost in the river…and excess sedimentation increases the width of the river.
“The contours allow (the water) to spread over the hillside so, even in the dry season, you can get a more even flow.”
He said spreading the knowledge of the plant to residents of flood-prone areas empowers them to use the plant as a green infrastructure tool.
“We want everybody to understand what is the meaning of green infrastructure…Because it is a (certified) non-invasive plant, you really need to know how to propagate it and make more.”
He said ideally, before covid19, the team would go into communities and hold workshops and engage participants on how the plant works over several days.
“Usually, we would have the community here with 20-30 people. However, because of covid19 we have decided to pivot.”
Now the team works in much smaller groups in keeping with covid19 protocols, but that has not stopped the demand for the programme.
He said the organisers are still holding some hands-on installation demonstrations, and teaching residents how to properly prepare the grass as well as how to build a nursery.
“We realise it is still a pressing issue to try to deal with land slippage and erosion, especially as we are in the rainy season.”
He also said because the rainy season is the ideal time to plant vetiver, the team does not want to pause its operations.
“For a lot of people, this is an emergency intervention.
“What we are going to do is identify the sites and work on a more personal level with individuals and have a workshop session to explain, with a wider population, on what is going on. We don’t want to stop. We want to get these interventions done.”
Robinson, who was there to help the team identify residents of Lopinot who would best benefit from the programme, said it will be beneficial for them.
“We are in a situation where this is critical for me,” said Robinson, “if we could get this going and try to save some money for the state (as) a solution that is green, where we don’t have to find $100,000 for a (retention) wall.”
Robinson said many areas in his constituency have had to deal with numerous landslips for the rainy season so far. He said the latest downpours caused 14 landslips in the Brasso Seco village alone for the month.
He also expressed interest in having a team of up to 24 people learn the system and develop a nursery to plant the grass in even more areas throughout the Tunapuna/Piarco district.
“I am looking to have my internal staff have the knowledge and have a nursery so that we will, over time, assist with projects and save some money for the state...There is no other solution than this in the short run.“At a senior level, I would want this to form part of our approval process on some of our hillside developments, so we’ll give approvals if you plant vetiver on the site.”
Kevan Maharaj, head of communication for the Me We Green Programme, said about 8,000 plants will be catered for each of the eight communities identified. The targeted communities for 2021 are Lopinot, Cedros/Icacos, Moruga and environs and East Port of Spain. In 2022, the team will move to Paramin/Cameron, Diego Martin, Brasso Seco and environs and Forres Park and environs.
“We want to take this nationwide,” he said. “We want vetiver grass to be known throughout TT for its many uses.”
The group has also been teaching residents how to use the grass for craft.
“We are waiting for restrictions to be lifted to continue our workshops (but) there is definitely an interest in the classes.
One of the residents of Lopinot, Yvette Garcia, whom the team visited on Friday, also expressed her interest in learning how to use the grass in craft, and also the process of extracting the essential oils from it.The essential oil from vetiver grass is one of the most expensive because of how hard it is to extract. It is used in 80 per cent of perfumes in the world.
The grass leaves can be used to make baskets, mats, upcycled chairs, soaps, and fragrant root bundles.