Geography and Terrain

Trinidad and TobagoTrinidad & Tobago are the southern-most islands in the Caribbean, located next to Venezuela. The landscape of Trinidad is varied and begins in the north with a large mountain range, which is an extension of the same geological formation seen immediately to the east on the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela, where Trinidad, in fact, represents the very end of the Andes Mountain Range above sea level. The Trinidad northern range comprises very steep hills and mountains and deep valleys, and for the most part, a reddish brown residual soil layer underlain by layered shale rock. The soil types across Trinidad are extremely varied as can be observed on its very diverse and colorful soil map, and in the central and southern parts of Trinidad another very notable soil formation is present in the lower lying areas known as the ‘sapote’ or ‘heaving clays’. The low lying and gently grading nature of the terrains in these areas is a direct tell-tale to the inherent instability of these soils since over millennia it has found equilibrium in a position which is very near to flat.

Tobago is hilly and mountainous in some areas and dominated by the Main Ridge whose formation runs most of the island’s length from southwest to northeast. There are deep, fertile valleys running north and south of the Main Ridge, and the southwestern tip of the island comprises of an undulating plain and a coral platform. The island is volcanic in origin although there are no active volcanoes – but this has lent to the fertility of the soils and contributed to the general soil’s makeup – which is a combination of residual (degraded from parent rock) and alluvial soils. The mountain’s conditions in the northern part of the island have resulted in most notable cases of erosion and land slippage being concentrated there, although greater development in the south has also contributed to these effects there.

From the challenging soils of the central and south Trinidad to the steep hills in the north and various parts of Tobago, the development and construction of civil works and buildings has seen various challenges, which has required a wide range of engineering solutions and has seen an evolution in approaches, expertise and innovation. Agriculture in the diverse range of terrains has also seen farmers developing their expertise and understanding, and specializing in land management practices to best suit their local conditions.

Vetiver Grass in T&T

Based on anecdotal evidence it appears that vetiver grass has been present in T&T for more than 50 years, though how much longer is unclear. Though in small amounts, existing plantings installed decades ago can be found in various towns of northern Tobago on steep roadside slopes, and one such installation was found in Paramin on a driveway embankment before the original Vetiver Education & Empowerment Project (VEEP) was conceptualized and implemented there, in 2016. The owners of this property indicated it has been there since the time of previous owners, at least 40-50 years ago. In addition older members of the community shared memories of a time when vetiver was quite prevalent and well known for slope stabilization in Paramin; where however that knowledge was lost as younger generations grew up, and most cases of vetiver were eliminated using strong herbicides due to lack of value for its bioengineering functions. There are also multiple long-existing cases of vetiver plantings on the Uriah Butler north-south highway in Trinidad for the stabilization of roadside embankments in the sapote clays – where it is understood these were installed during the period of construction in the 1950’s. Even while being burned by annual bush-fires these plantings continue to serve their purpose today.

One point to note however is that implementation of vetiver grass in hedgerow formation to prevent erosion and for soil and water conservation has not been observed, where plants installed in earlier times have been generally done so haphazardly or ‘diamond’ formations. While some benefit is still provided by these plants, other benefits are lost and erosion in between plants is great in some cases, allowing gullying and sedimentation downstream. Since strong reintroduction and educational efforts began during the last 5-10 years, by local advocates such as Vetiver TT Ecological Engineering Solutions Ltd, Wa Samaki Ecosystems, and others, there has been a growing appreciation and interest for vetiver grass capabilities to tackle land and water related challenges. Government bodies such as the Ministry of Works and Transport have also recognized the value of correct implementation of the Vetiver System (VS) in hedgerow formation, and have in some cases begun including instructions to support this in their design specifications for infrastructure projects. IAMovement and Vetiver TT EES Ltd are currently spearheading various projects for ongoing awareness raising and knowledge transfer of vetiver grass uses and capabilities, such as via VEEP model scaling to other communities and areas, including Quarry Rehabilitation, and a new technical assistance project just beginning with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) called ‘Building on Vetiver!’.

Grassroots4LaVie – Tobago

This is a short community video which captures some the experience and thoughts of team and community members in Tobago, under IAMovement’s first activities taking the Vetiver Education & Empowerment Programme (VEEP) to T&T’s second island of Tobago, through a project supported by the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund, working alongside the Inter-American Institute for Corporation on Agriculture (IICA).

VETIVER STORIES | These Vetiver Stories depict country snapshots as of May 2023, presenting perspectives from both the IICA-CBF EbA Project communities and also the supporting local IICA Offices on their experiences through the project, its impact, as well as plans for continuation as the IICA-CBF EbA Project approaches its official close in August 2023.

The IICA CBF EbA Project ‘Grassroots4LaVie’ was implemented by IICA working alongside key technical implementing partners; IAMovement who served as lead designer and specialist for implementation of the Vetiver Education & Empowerment Project (VEEP) and the Vetiver System (VS) training and installation activities, and the University of Florida who served as lead for Monitoring & Evaluation and drone lidar interventions and trainings.

Note: direct quotations are written in Creole English, preserving the language in which they were spoken

Charlottesville is a small and secluded fishing village located in northeast Tobago which was chosen as the primary location and community for implementation of the Grassroots4LaVie project


Approaching the official end of the IICA-CBF EbA Project, green business entrepreneurs  Ms. Giselle Carrington (“Pinky”) from Charlotteville, Tobago, and Mr. Verne Ranger (“Ranger”) from Parlatuvier, Tobago, visited their sister isle for a three-day workshop, which was facilitated by Project Partners IAMovement and the IICA Delegation in Trinidad and Tobago. Along with the core green business team from Saint Lucia, the Tobagonian duo visited green infrastructure sites implemented by IAMovement for various uses, including coastal protection and quarry rehabilitation. They observed plant preparation, and participated in in-depth discussions on vetiver green business, with VetiverTT and House of Vetiver as case studies, and even got a taste of homemade vetiver wine!

Left to right: Mr. Verne Ranger (Tobago), Mr. Elijah Charlemagne (Saint Lucia), EbA Project Technical Officer, Ms. Jaime Romany, Mr. Kenroy Charles (Saint Lucia), and Ms. Giselle Carrington (Tobago) in Trinidad in April 2023 during green business training

At the end of an exciting day of site visits, Pinky and Ranger sat down to share their experiences through the project. Mr. Nikolai Emmanuel of IAMovement, who worked as lead Technical Coordinator alongside Mr. Jonathan Barcant, later shared his observations of the project’s implementation in Tobago. Following the disengagement of the Tobago-based CBO, Mr. Emmanuel became responsible for regular check-ins with the Tobago participants, and managed both the crews on the ground, as well as identified the participants who would continue as the green business candidates.

“Jonathan find you. Nikolai find me,” shared Pinky, “Hats off to him (Mr. Nikolai Emmanuel) because he who give me inspiration, the motivation to be here now, today. Yeah. (He) Keep on pushing me, ‘You could do it, you could do it!’” As of May 2023, Pinky said that she had been involved in the EbA Project for about a year, starting off as a participant in the vetiver handicraft training, becoming a vetiver craft trainer for the project upon completion of her training, and eventually also getting involved with Vetiver System (VS) installations. While her business focus is primarily on handicraft, with a secondary focus on installations, Ranger’s is the reverse – primarily installations, and secondarily handicraft, as he is also a craftsperson who also grows food, an “all-rounder”, as he describes. “Here people call me the Vetiver King,” proclaimed Ranger, “I do a lot of jobs on my island. I’m interested in carrying it further in Tobago. I intend to better it through this trip I make here (to Trinidad). They’re trying to push me further with it.” Ranger shared that he’s been involved in vetiver installation work for over six years along with one of his sons, having been first introduced to VS by Mr. Jonathan Barcant.

Ms. Giselle Carrington (“Pinky”) displays some of her handicraft work

Background and previous knowledge 

According to Mr. Emmanuel, the IAMovement team were engaged in several VS projects on the island of Trinidad, but hadn’t targeted anywhere in Tobago before with success. He says they chose to include Tobago in the EbA Project on realizing the benefits that could be provided for some communities there. “Tobago, their primary means of income is tourism, fishing. And the vetiver system could work really, really well on the north east side in terms of providing that ridge to reef protection,” reflected Mr. Emmanuel. In his observation, the communities in Tobago were not previously using ridge to reef protection.

In terms of the nature-based solution, he notes,

“Tobago had knowledge of vetiver in the past. So when you’re driving around, you do see vetiver across the island you see vetiver, older vetiver installations, but the knowledge is definitely lost.” He described interacting with Tobagonian locals who had little knowledge of the vetiver growing in their own yards. Pinky affirms, “I know about it (vetiver) before then, but the real use of it, I get all that information from them (the EbA Project).”

Vetiver System (VS) installations taking place by project participants from Parliatuvier and Charlottesville on hillside site of landslip at Delaford R.C. Primary School in Delaford, Tobago

Responses to vetiver

When asked what keeps him going when it comes to vetiver, Ranger responds:
“The love for it. Now I’s “Verne”, and that’s “Vetiver”. So we rhyme, V-V, you know. And I have a love for plants. I definitely have a love of plants, from as a child growing up, mummy always have me in the flowers garden and things like that. And if you were to pass through Parlatuvier, it have some flowers I plant all by the roadside, you mightn’t believe it.”

“So many things that could do with that grass that we just watching cutting down, paying no attention, no knowledge much about it. And so many things you can do from that grass,” reflected Pinky. She and Ranger shared their experience earlier that day, where they sampled vetiver wine. “When they bring that thing, we was like, ‘Wow!’ Yeah. And all them thing (vetiver) we throwing away, and it have its use,” says Pinky. She begins to recall her conversation with the wine-maker:
“I say, ‘Shurland, how you make this?’ So I start to (guess), I say, ‘Water.’

She say, ‘Water, the root.’

I say, ‘Yeast.’
– ‘Yes.’
I say, ‘You have to put raisin in it.’

She say, ‘Yes. And you set your wine with the sugar.’”

“A lot of people make wine, but this is very unusual. It is very, very uncommon,” Ranger remarked. He’s even purchased a bottle to share at home in Tobago, which he cracks open and offers a sample. The distinctive aroma of vetiver and the sweet, fruity notes are a delight to the senses.

“It’s a very good plant right. And everything in it is good, the root, the grass, everything is perfect. It is perfect!” Verne (Ranger) overflows with enthusiasm for vetiver:
“When I first met this grass, I start to plant it in some areas all home by me, I was going crazy, believe me, taking out the roots from the ground, making likkle bundles. Because I know it before Jonathan met me, but I didn’t know it was so important. We had it on we property right and I understand the long time people used to put it in the cupboards, to keep away the cockroach, and the clothes with smell you know, nice. Now he bring the knowledge to me all these years and in benefit me a lot. Yeah, I benefit a lot from it.”

“In growing up I know the grass, but then, the amount of things that we could do from the grass. Look for instance you see the wine. I couldn’t believe that the roots could have make wine… Seeing that something could come out of it,” Pinky shares as her reason for continuing to pursue vetiver, “And the motivation. Nickolai always say, ‘Keep going.’ And as I tell you already, that have me here, ‘Keep going.’”

VEEP/VS Training week begins in Charlottesville, Tobago led by Mr Jonathan Barcant and Mr Nikolai Emmanuel of IAMovement in July 2021

The adjoining road access to Pirate’s Bay was identified as a site in need for slope stabilization support and where Vetiver System (VS) installations were carried out under the project in Tobago

Green business outcomes 

Ranger, when asked about the impact the project has had on him, he remarks, “(A) Big impact, because, it become a part of me you know…It will further me once I keep studying it.” Mr. Emmanuel shares a vision for continuation after the project ends:

“We hope we have empowered these two people and inspired them enough. You know, giving them enough confidence about their businesses that they have and the skills that they have, that they could now go forward in their community, which is part of the skill set that we showed them, to be able to get clients. So to be able to talk to persons in the community, to be able to talk to different stakeholders in our government level, so at THA, some of the NGOs kind of thing, to really let them know what service they provide and how they could continue over there. IAMovement as an NGO, we always interested in continuing to engage.”

Both Pinky and Ranger have become the resident vetiver experts in their area. Pinky shares:

“And now, I’m the only person in Charlotteville, if they have a job to do or anything to do, they will call me. And as I say, based on the size of the project then I would call out people, but basically anything, they would call me.”

She and her partner  are in the process of registering their vetiver green business. They work together with a few others from the community who also participated in the VS training, sharing the work of preparing the land and planting. As it’s the dry season, Pinky says that things are slow, and they are engaged mostly in maintenance. She is also working on an order of 150 baskets for June 1st, along with a team of three other vetiver crafters who she trained through the EbA Project.

Over the years he’s been working with vetiver, Ranger has established his own nursery field.

He is more seasoned in the business of vetiver and works regularly with his last son, as well as two other men from the community. “Jonathan called me on a lot of projects you know. He in Trinidad and he send me to people in Tobago. XY plants and I put them down, and they maintain their plants,” Ranger shared, “…mightn’t be steady every month I have jobs, but it’s a main part of me, I don’t know how to explain it.”

Mr. Emmanuel provides additional context to the duo’s green business development:

“So the final step that we do remain to do with them is the final registration of their businesses. And that final support in terms of actually refining what they want their business to be and what they want their business to look like…

We would like to support them with our materials. So for example, Verne is going to engage primarily in the landscaping and landscape design and all of that, planting the vetiver system. So we would like to get all the tools and equipment Verne would need to be able to properly prepare his plants, store his plants and propagate his plants for sale…

And for Pinky, we would like her to be able to receive things like labels, a sign. We really want to talk to her more where we could understand what kind of crafts it is she’s going to be using. Make sure she has all the needles, everything that she needs beforehand to be able to market herself and to be able to produce the goods that she would like to sell.”

Pinky has expressed interest in supplying craft products to the tourism sector, for example to cruise ships, as well as providing vetiver plants which would be installed by her partner, according to Mr. Emmanuel.

Both Pinky and Ranger speak of work that is to come with the rainy season. “I have my own nurseries. And when the rain come down, a lot people will be calling for it,” said Ranger, “People all in Trinidad calling me about this grass, in Maraval and other places. Wish I could come and do it for them. They are interested.” Pinky shares her version of this story:

“Well, right now I waiting on the rain to do a project, it’s a big project… I explained it to him. I say now it’s dry season, it would be difficult to get water to wet them, and it’s better we plant in the rainy season, so it would be more… And he willing to wait. So we just waited until the rain come now, to go and prepare to land and do the stuff, but it’s a large project.”

A community vetiver nursery being installed in Charlottesville in July 2021

A vetiver soap making training underway for project participants in Charlottesville led by IICA Project Technical Officer Ms Jaime Romany, while being captured on film by the project lead videographer Mr Lawrence Dupuis


“A lot of people interested and they look at it, ‘Grass?’ You know, ‘Me aint paying for grass.’ You know, I get that experience with some people,” reflected Ranger. Pinky agrees that there is a need for continued education on vetiver and its uses:
            “I think that we should do more, reach out to people more and let them know, ‘Instead of you trying to put up a wall, it costs …, you have this grass could do the same work and even better than the wall would do… The more we reach out to the communities and let them know the purpose and the benefits, the help. It will be much better that people get a wider knowledge. As I say, I was just watching it simple. But now that I get involved in it, I know the do’s and don’ts.”

“One of the challenges we had with the overall project was, you know, having to re-do the installation, reinstall. So you had broken confidence and you had to try to rebuild that,” shared Mr. Emmanuel. However, he notes that through persistence, the community was able to see the benefits of vetiver. He recounts:

“So for whatever reason it didn’t work. Let’s try again. And the piece is working so well that the farmer actually asked for it, ‘Ey, could we do more? Could we increase the installation?’ So his confidence, although it was shaken in the vetiver system, having been there and gone, and replaced, we were able to actually you know, for, pun intended or not, we were able to regrow some confidence by actually replanting the vetiver grass in a better manner, or a more robust manner.”

Mr. Emmanuel also attributes the project’s success following the disengagement of the CBO to Pinky’s stepping in as the community liaison, commending her coordination with the community and assistance with disseminating information:
            “Before we had a dedicated point contact, it was more difficult to be able to contact everybody and ensure work was being done. But having experienced how Pinky worked and engaged with everyone, it was much easier putting, you know, some trust in Pinky and asking her to act as that intermediary who would disseminate information, hand out stipends, do record keeping, send the updated pictures, because obviously you can’t do that from, you know, from a whole other island. So having somebody on top of that over there, that was very helpful.”

A residential site in Charlottesville is assessed by technical leads at IAMovement and project participants for Vetiver System (VS) installation


“I want to say it gave them a sense of empowerment,” shared Mr. Emmanuel, “and I will use Pirates Bay as an example. So as you may or may not know, a portion of the roadway to Pirates Bay collapsed and it prevented vehicular access. Now, through the addition of the vetiver grass, that was the only reason the landslide stopped where it did and didn’t progress any further. So within the project timeframe, we had some kind of tangible results. The vetiver that remained as well, it also allowed less and less area to be diminished for them to be able to repair and now they were able to come in with tractors and widen the roadway. So it provided a sense of safety.”

Mr. Emmanuel believes that further engagement with the government would be important to the continued success of the project. He identified the need for communication with the local government on the work that’s been done, noting an instance where vetiver installations were removed in the process of restoration work, without being replaced. On a more hopeful note, Mr. Emmanuel also recounts with optimism, a recent moment where IAMovement was invited by Adopt a River to share more about their experiences with vetiver installations, including the Tobago engagements through the EbA Project. He also shares that some of the schools engaged through the EbA Project expressed gratitude for the vetiver that was installed on their premises, and that IAMovement was also invited back to give an educational climate talk.

“So I do think there is opportunity, good, good opportunity for them having acquired the skills now to be able to go and market this really well in Tobago, there’s definitely a need for it,” Mr. Emmanuel reflected. Speaking further to Pinky and Ranger’s potential business prospects, he noted, “Their strength would come in terms of being able to market it as a natural, beautiful tool for that restoration. So I, personally, I believe it has good opportunity for them. They just have to put in a bit of the work in terms of going and do some of that marketing and try to get clients.”

Ranger touts the importance of vetiver, as well as his own expertise in VS installation:
“It could save a lot of erosion before the erosion take place. Before it take place, you must see it going to take place and put that (vetiver) in. That’s what a lot of people not going to see just so. Before the erosion to take place. I is a guy who see it going to take place and try and get that there before. That is very important.”

Mr. Emmanuel is hopeful that the remote sensing study done by Project Partner University of Florida will be able to provide useful data moving forward that would help to inform local government bodies, for example in Tobago as it relates to land stabilization and reef protection. “That is what I would be really hopeful to see something come of it rather than just a paper being written. You know, I would like to see these suggestions given there taken a bit seriously,” reflected Mr. Emmanuel.

Several project participants and members of the project installation team stand with Mr Haynes of Environment Tobago, during the VEEP/VS field training and implementation week led by IAMovement in July 2021

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