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Vetiver in Haïti

7 cooperatives
created and supported

More than 600 families impacted

Georeferenced surface:
322 ha

Anti-erosion plots developed:
9 ha (NRSC)/ 7 ha (UNEP)

Cooperative social projects:
Drinking water systems, community stores, microcredit

EXOTIC, WOODY, AND USEFUL

Vetiver refers to certain plants of the grass family but, more specifically – especially in the perfumery industry –, the species Chrysopogon zizanioides. The plant thrives in the tropics and is easily recognized by its large, green tufts. Underground, however, is where vetiver is at its most surprising. Its root, which can sometimes descend nearly three meters deep, is a material coveted by perfume industry professionals. Through distillation, this root provides a very thick essential oil with a delicate, complex aroma that is particularly well-suited to making men’s fragrances: woody, aromatic, green, and sometimes slightly smoky.
Three vetiver varieties are used in perfumery: Bourbon, Java vetiver, and Haitian vetiver. Vetiver, however, has another important function in the environment: These same roots make it very effective in preventing soil erosion. Vetiver hedgerows also allow the soil to retain moisture and stabilize dikes.

VETIVER, ESSENTIAL TO HAITIANS

In Haiti, vetiver is one of the main economic resources, especially in the Les Cayes region (responsible for 90% of the country’s vetiver production). Estimates indicate that more than 20,000 Haitian farmers live exclusively on the income earned from harvesting vetiver root. In 2011, during an assessment of the supply chain, only about fifteen distilleries, most being dilapidated, were available to process the roots into essential oil. The raw material’s price is volatile, due in part to the unstable local climate, price increases for fuel oil and diesel, and droughts.

ENTENABLE CIRCUMSTANCES

This difficult context causes an entrenchment of the lack of security experienced by all vetiver farmers and producers. What’s more, certain production techniques are ill-suited to proper processing, making it impossible to guarantee ideal essential-oil quality. These practices also have a strong negative impact on the local environment by accelerating soil erosion.

THE NRSC’S WORK WITH PRODUCERS

In light of these challenges, a pilot project was implemented from 2012 through 2017 to create and support agricultural cooperatives, fostering development of a more structured and sustainable vetiver supply chain. This program, established in collaboration with Ayitika (a local consultancy firm) and the French association Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, has made it possible to train farmers in technical and administrative areas, share and co-build better agricultural and management practices, prevent soil erosion, and ensure better living conditions for local producers.

SERVING LOCAL COMMUNITIES

These cooperatives were encouraged to reinvest some of their earnings in social projects within their own communities. Most have been investing in improving their infrastructures and water supplies. Others have chosen to invest in small food stores or materials.

This program, a landmark pilot project for the NRSC, reaffirmed how germane and applicable the Circle’s founding objectives truly are. The established model led to significant technical and economic results. It has provided practical, real-life education and experience for all those along the value chain, and those involved have committed to maintaining shared best practices. Nevertheless, there remains room for improvement, especially in the professionalism and resilience of the cooperatives.
This successful experiment has led to the French Development Agency’s taking over supporting the cooperatives and intensifying the fight against soil erosion.