Roots of sustainability in a tropical climate
A twin island country situated off the northern edge of the South American mainland, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has long thrived on fossil fuels, leading it to embrace large-scale construction and commercial activities whilst discouraging the development of a sustainable economy. Despite having ideal conditions for year-round farming, for example, Trinidad and Tobago imports more than 90% of its food. It is also the world’s highest per capita producer of waste volume capita and second-highest per capita producer of greenhouse gases.
With oil prices down, Trinidad and Tobago is being forced to diversify, and its citizens are waking up to the environmental fallout of industrial development and consumerism. There are still pristine places in the country, but environmental catastrophes such as decimated hillsides and landfills, which leak leachate into water supplies and waste into rivers and seas, serve as stark reminders of the work that remains to be done.
The for-profit company Vetiver TT has developed a “soft engineering” technique which uses vetiver grass to address diverse environmental challenges in tropical climates. Its Vetiver System (VS) slows down runoff and captures and recharges groundwater, thereby stabilising slopes, protecting against erosion, conserving soil and water and cleaning contaminated land and water. Vetiver TT serves clients ranging from homeowners facing soil issues through commercial construction companies to public infrastructure projects.
Vetiver grass, the key component of VS, offers a way to rehabilitate the degraded hillsides of Trinidad and Tobago’s Northern Range, where forest fires rage every two to three years in the dry season and subsequent rains wash away topsoil and often cause flooding downstream. Because it is certified sterile and non-invasive by the USDA, the grass poses no risk when introduced to new areas, yet costs as little as 15% to 20% of “hard engineering” alternatives.
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
Since the VS approach can seem too good to be true, a key goal of the project is to gain the trust of private and public entities. Vetiver TT is committed to growing local experience and its projects portfolio, a process that will take time because VS is not a piece of hardware that can simply be installed but rather a solution that depends on plant growth.
Trinidad and Tobago is viewed as a model by countries throughout the Caribbean Community. Success in this project promises to rekindle public hope throughout the region by proving that green solutions can be sustainable, profitable and successful.