Humanitarian Vetiver Project, East Sumba, Indonesia

Lined up for free treatment

I am a young Christian missionary doctor on the Island of Sumba in Eastern Indonesia. My work entails providing health and welfare to the indigenous village people who live in remote areas of East Sumba. Most are either Christian or Marupa; they are extremely poor and many have no support income, yet they do have arable land and land similar to the rolling hills of the prairies. Roads are treacherous because of steep embankments. This is the driest part of Indonesia where savanna grasslands predominate. Sumba has many horses and goats, some cattle but little else other than fruit. The stock need better nutrition — like the Sumbanese people they are very thin and suffer malnutrition.

There are many who take on the mantle of serving nature where neglect is undermined by our daily pursuit of serving ourselves at the expense of all things around us. There is an urgent call to grow vetiver for the sake of the poor and isolated village people who rely on nothing other than seasonal changes and the help from people they can trust.

May I relate the story of a doctor working among the poor and underprivileged on the Island of Sumba, Indonesia? Her story is symbolic of the inadequacies of the Indonesian health system and she works under great pressure to improve the lot of the poor and disadvantaged. She is a diminutive Christian missionary doctor, only thirty four years of age, running the major hospital RSK Lindimara (it recently celebrated a century of operation) in Waingapu, in East Sumba.

Dr Rani holding a clinic under a tree

Set up during colonial times by the Dutch, present day Sumba sees a Christian majority of 60%; most of whom are Protestant. With a medical staff ratio of 1:2 to 125 or so patients, RSK Lindimara is not a government hospital and gets limited support from the Christian community. Many of the staff are engaged in domestic duties and catering for hungry appetites of patients and undernourished children who come often to see a parent on whom they are dependent.

Dr Rani — her real name and title is Dr Alhairani Manu Mesa — is well known among her people because she detaches herself from race and religion whilst performing her duties. Rani works tirelessly for the sick and handicapped. Besides this she does community counseling over the local radio station. People needing aid come to her because they know she cares. Village children need educational books so she has started a small library to assist their education, but she needs assistance to extend her program through other villages. They are crying out for education. She will be the first to dig into her purse if there is a book that a child needs.

Through Facebook, she and a friend from Canada combined efforts and resources to support an orphanage of disabled children near Waingapu. Some are in need of surgery for facial impairment and others with deformities. They feed and clothe over 30 children, many of whom require plastic surgery. In recent times she took two to Bali for assessment and correction, mostly at her own expense. Doctors in remote areas, such as the outlying provinces earn as little as US$200/month — even less than most policemen. On the graph of importance they are on a lesser scale of priority and importance to the community. But one expects this in Indonesia where corruption is rife with local government officials and politicians.Rani graduated from Udayana University in Bali and is fully qualified.

On weekends, Rani, with volunteer staff from her hospital, ventures out and treats village people; most of whom seldom see or get a visit from a doctor. Setting off at 4am she will drive three or four hours over treacherous terrain, where you and I would close our eyes and shudder, crossing ravines and trekking up hills where vehicles cannot go to check the health of the village people, all for free, medications included. Some days she will see 500-600 people, prescribe their medications and then drive (late at night) back home to rest. Rest may amount to one or two hours before she goes to the hospital.

When she is away from the hospital for the day, important matters are put on hold and she may have to go to the hospital before going home. Her days are occupied with administration and doing the rounds of the wards, seeing patients and caring for their needs, as best she can. She has one other rostered doctor. Her role includes that of an anesthetist; coroner on government cases and other duties. On Tuesday evenings she does a clinic for poor people as a free service. This goes on virtually for seven days a week.

Rani is born into a Christian family; her father is a semi-retired pastor, still outreaching to others in the town of Lewa, halfway to Waikabubak in West Sumba. Her mother is a Dayak from Kalimantan. With her husband they raised a son and daughter. Rani is married to the grandson of Marie Antoinette de Beer from South Africa. Her husband migrated to Australia with his mother Magdalena (known as Madge Gracie) and now lives in retirement on an old-aged pension in Indonesia; supportive of his wife’s cause among her people.

Two hectares of land which Dr Rani would like to start a vetiver project on

Rani has leased two hectares of land, for 40 years at Tarimbang on the south coast where she hopes to build a clinic as tuberculosis and malaria still threaten the lives of village people. This leads us to the reason Rani is looking to a sponsor (or sponsors) with expertise in growing vetiver on a large scale. On this land she wishes to build a nursery and start a vetiver program for East Sumba. She offers a sponsor the right to live on-site for the period of the lease. Tarimbang is very beautiful and offers a holiday in paradise. To the south lies the Java trench, along which whales and game-fish such as marlin and tuna travel. Sumba is on Australia’s doorstep and shares characteristics in common with Northern Australia; unlike the rest of tropical Indonesia.

Rani needs to find sponsors to start a vetiver project and to build a medical centre. She is more than willing to let a sponsor manage the project and be accountable to their own shareholders as she would prefer direct involvement in preference to government involvement.

Vetiver offers wonderful possibilities to restructure the lives of the village people, especially for: prevention of soil erosion on embankments and wash-aways, thatching for traditional houses and feed for grazing stock. It offers someone the opportunity to distill vetiver oil for the trade. Calculation for a preliminary budget will be less than $450,000 or part thereof to build a nursery plus sponsor’s rondavel residence and clinic. A figure of $80,000 would be adequate for a nursery plus horticultural tractor. There are rice ‘paddies’ that may benefit from borders of vetiver. The villagers need to be taught the use of vetiver in handcrafts.

Rondavel — cost about $50,000

Waingapu is just one hour’s flying time from Bali. Lion Air has a sophisticated service flying regularly from Bali to Waingapu, thence 2.5 hours by car travelling thru’ savanna country with many undulating hills to Tarimbang on the Indian Ocean. There are many kilometers along the way that would benefit from vetiver hedges to prevent embankment erosion.

Rolling hills with most vegetation in the valley

If you would like to find out more, with a view to supporting this project, please contact:

Dr Rani M. Mesa
Lindimara Hospital

Email: alhairani (at)

Over the horizon is northwest Australia



21 thoughts on “Humanitarian Vetiver Project, East Sumba, Indonesia

  1. I agree Kirsten. Nicolas and Rani are not permaculturists yet. They were reading about vetiver on this site, and made contact with me. They’ve said to me that they don’t know much about the practicalities, but it’s clear they have the best of intentions, and are grappling with hard realities on the ground. I asked them to send me info I could post, in the hope that it will attract interest and support from experienced permaculture people eager, able and competent to help in such a situation. They are really looking for someone with good ideas who can manage the project – and I’m sure they’re open to learn from such a project manager.

  2. As a footnote to the above comment: vetiver is used for erosion control, but conversely, great erosion problems can occur when the plants are harvested for oil, as the roots are very deep and strong. Perhaps careful planning can avoid this problem, but it should be condered very carefully before embarking upon vetiver oil production.

  3. We are always open to words of wisdom and advice; whatever is done is done in educating the Sumbanese village people of a better way to live.There are many opportunities and we welcome participation. Very interesting comment by Pat Scott As erosion is foremost in our concerns for the environment. We are very ‘green-minded’. Thank and may God bless you abundantly.

  4. Hi there,

    I can put you in touch with ppl that have vetiver supplies, but it is coming from Aceh, where they have been doing a lot of rehab. I will copy you in to this post.

    The East Bali Poverty Project do work with Vetiver; they may have other links for supplies (

    IDEP in Bali may also have good links for vetiver and other permaculture related projects: They have many development related projects in Indonesia and may be able to get some PC teachers sent out to run some training. Perhaps you could fund-raise for such training through this site?

    It is also possible to use vetiver for alcohol production, and cheap alcohol stoves are used around in Indonesia (very popular in Madura). They are safer than gas, cleaner than gas, cheaper than gas, need less infrastructure than gas, smoke free, don’t require tree cutting and and can create a small number of jobs. Alcohol can be produced locally with a small distillery costing around $2000.

    Best, Alexis

  5. Your challenges seem so much similar to those in E. Bali! I think it’s worthwhile if you could visit the East-Bali Poverty reduction Project (EBPP), Alexis already mentioned it. See this page/website:
    Their project started off with nearly only Vetiver as solution to many things, fixing roadsides, creating vegetable gardens, rehab of water sources, protecting slopes that risk landslide, etc.

    Wish you good luck.
    Elise Pinners

    1. Thank you Elise. We have been to see EBPP and agree that the program goes beyond just vetiver. Bamboo is of considerable interest and we are planning an expansive program for all the villages in East Sumba. Vetiver and bamboo is the focal point for us to build our program around. Brett Collingwood is due here shortly and we welcome his initiative in planning our program. God bless

  6. Nicholas

    An excellent article thank you. Your work has highlighted the significant matters facing Sumbanese life and some of the wonderful people dedicated to bringing solutions. Rani and her support teams are an inspiration.

    Can you please get a message to Dr Alhairani.


    I believe we have found a private sponsor who will find resources and funding for your projects. Please contact me on Michael.harte (at)

    Best wishes to you both


  7. We are very grateful that there are caring people in the community who put others before themselves for personal gain. Tarimbang offers wonderful challenges both for permiculture and out-reaching to the sick and poor. Rani is dedicated to her profession but is a willing listener to the knowledge of expert opinion on permiculture and willingly will let them go ahead with what is right for the indigenous people.She will support them every inch of the way.

  8. The ball is rolling. Built a shade house and taken delivery of 500 vetiver slips which are now under watchful eyes; hopefully we can plant them out soon. The second batch of 500 slips will be ordered soon to complete our first phase. Mangoes are coming into season and we have put out an order to our local community to save pips which we will buy at rp1000 each for their effort. It is an exciting challenge to lift the ‘spirits’ of the indigenous people and to enthuse them about permaculture. We will tag along and join them in their efforts..

  9. Could anyone give me advice on olive trees. First I will relate that I am in East Sumba, the driest part of Indonesia. Our dry season (about 9 months/year) is similar to a hot summer on the west coast of Australia.There are many hills here that were once covered in forest; today it is grassland as man has taken toll of its sandalwood forests. The soil varies but in general it is alkaline. Rain disperses into the valleys because the terrain is extremely undulating. Your views would be appreciated.

  10. We are waiting for the ‘gamal’ fence to be finished this week as we have a time schedule to plant the vetiver slips (1000) before Christmas. The vetiver slips came from David Booth’s East Bali Poverty Project; we planted them,initially to get them going, in small black poly bags and have watched in amazement how quickly they have taken. It is possible that we will get help from the towns prison to dig narrow trenches in the coming week. This site will be developed as a role model Permaculture site with the help of Brett Collingwood; we are very grateful to him for offering his services. God bless you abundantly.

  11. We are happy to report that the vetiver slips have been planted in 4 long rows. The gamal fence has taken remarkably well, with shoots everywhere. All told a healthy sight and we now wait for Brett Collingwood to take over with his permaculture model, We are ever so grateful for the posting of Dr Rani’s story on this site, Thank you indeed.

  12. Sorry, I forgot to add that after consultation in Bali we have been encouraged to implement Bamboo in our program of taking Brett’s model to the Sumbanese people. We need samples of several varieties that will adapt to conditions here so welcome words of wisdom from people with experience. Bamboo is a necessity for housing construction in the remote areas that cannot be accessed with trucks.Chopping down coconut and other trees has to stop.

    1. Nicholas, I believe that I can help with dr Rani’s plan for a clinic in East Sumba. Do you have any email contact details for her or can I communicate with you?

      1. Yes Michael, we would be very grateful to the support of others in our program. I am the other half of the lady in question. Rani has a great deal on her plate running the hospital; at present it is full with a shortage of beds and equipment.I am running with the permaculture program which is in its infancy but I see enormous benefits to the village people of East Sumba, who need to be enthused with the practical views of this science. We have to do things in a small way, by trial and error and I like to learn from others experiences. Rani and I went to Bali to see David Booths program and came back with the view this is the way we have to go. We need sponsors to support our program which comes under a student of Geoff Lawton’s, Brett Collingwood. Brett has a program to design a site were we have access to a farming community in Tarimbang. The soil is similar to the black clays of Kununurra so we know it can be irrigate. There is also a river cutting though the area with flats I believe to be suitable for aquaculture. Macrobractium Rosenbergii and Ikan Patin I believe can be bred here as I am familiar with parts of Kalimantan where they are being cultured and found in the wild.Your input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you kindly.

  13. The email address for Dr Rani doesn’t seem to exist now. Does anyone have any other contact details for her?

    1. Thank you; we have been in contact with Mr Grimshaw as we see vetiver as a backbone to the problems of many of East Sumba’s problems. We are also trialling cultures from Bambu Nusa Verdefrom Yogyakarta. They have been very helpful with suitable species and we recently tool a delivery overland by road which are under tender loving care in our small overcrowded shade house. Where there is a will there is a way and I believe we are on that road, thankfully

    2. This may be of interest to those in Indonesia who have encountered problems with air freight. We had a continuous delay trying to freight our bamboo plantlets out of Yogyakarta. In desperation Marc Peeters of Bambu Nusa Verde said “we will freight by road and sea and cover any damages but it will prove whether our stock will survive the arduous journey using road transport.”. After 6 days we opened a carton weighing 26 kg’s and planted them straight into 1kg polybags. Today 2 weeks later I am pleased to say Marc’s experiment worked wonderously well and I would recommend others to consider road transport if they don’t want to be put in the same position as we were. Bouquets to Marc and his team for a job that was well done.

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