Sundarban, the UNESCO recognised World heritage centre and Biosphere Reserve in West Bengal, has always been prone to coastal floods and cyclone and it has been a challenge to protect the coastal river embankment from these natural disasters. With an aim to offer a sustainable solution to this natural disaster problem and river embankment problem, SEED (Society for Socio Economic and Ecological Development), has first time introduced vetiver grass (locally known as Binna) in Jharkhali Island of Sundarban on 6th April, 2014.
The organisation has been working in field of biodiversity conservation and the rehabilitation of the climate change refugees of Sundarban, since last 4 years. The introduction of vetiver grass in Sundarban has been initiated by Dr. Kalyan Acharya (MBBS, Physician), Professor Jyotiranjan Naskar (Eminent Environmentalist) and Mr. Bhabananda Chatterjee (Coastal Livelihood Specialist) from SEED. They have been devoted to protect the coastal environment of Sundarban and its inhabitats. The first set of vetiver grass was sown in Tridibnagar area of Basanti Block in Jharkhali Island. The Jharkhali GP has recently provided land to build up a resource centre and a Marine biodiversity conservation centre for the vulnerable coastal community in Tridibnagar. The local community has whole heartedly supported this initiative. Initially, this particular region has been chosen to start this embankment protection plan. Later on, the organisation plans to extend it to other parts of the island.
Dr. Kalyan Acharya says, “We have introduced vetiver grass first time in Sundarban Island to offer a cost effective solution to the existing coastal river embankment protection problem. It has been successfully tested and applied in Bangladesh and we hope to make it a success in India too. Apart from this, if vetiver grass is grown at larger scale, it can offer an alternative livelihood solution to the coastal community through its multipurpose use feature. The local people can use vetiver grass for thatching the roofs of their house, can use it as their animal fodder and also use it for preparing various handicraft items as well as for medicinal purpose.”
The vetiver grass can help in stabilising soil and protect it against erosion. It also protects fields against pests and weeds and has favourable qualities for animal feed. It can protect coastal river embankments in Sundarban against high tidal surge. Studies have shown that the shear strength of the rooted soil is 87% and it is 770% higher than the soil without vetiver roots. It is an environment friendly solution for protection of the coastal embankments against cyclonic tidal surge in Sundarban.
Lots of attempts for protecting embankments in the Sundarban Islands have failed during the natural disasters. For example, the use of geobags, geotextile, concrete blocks, plantation and stone or wood revetments are very expensive and in several cases, these have not been effective enough to protect the embankments during their designed lives.
Though the vetiver grass originated in India, more than 100 countries are using the long rooted vegetation for protection of these embankments. These are cost effective and can be naturally grown in the soil of Sundarban islands. It can also easily sustain in such soil conditions. Vetiver grass has been used by some other coastal region of India as well as by the Bangladesh part of Sundarban. But somehow, the Indian Sundarban has remained negligent or say unaware about this valuable grass.
Men have least control over natural disasters but we can atleast try to minimise the loss due to these hazards by cultivating these low cost vetiver grass. It simply creates a vegetative barrier of rigid and deeply rooted bunch of grass. The shoots of the grass grow from the underground crown thus making the plant frost- and fire-resistant. Hence, it can survive heavy grazing pressure. The stems grow very close and help to block the runoff of surface water. It increases the amount of water absorbed by the soil by slowing water’s flow velocity. The vetiver grass also reduces evaporation and increases water infiltration thereby guarding soil moisture in hot as well as dry conditions. The cultivation of vetiver grass will also help in the strengthening and sustainability of the farming system in Jharkhali Island’s rainfed areas.
At this time, when climate change and global warming is hugely affecting the Sundarban islands, the cultvation of vetiver grass can come as a great relief with its multiple environment friendly features.