After farming sheep and cattle in New Zealand, John Greenfield worked in the tropical wet and arid zones of developing countries for forty years developing a system of soil and moisture conservation that would be sustainable in extreme climates. The last 18 years of his career were with the World Bank as a senior agriculturist. During this period he saw the inappropriateness of the accepted systems of engineered conservation measures, and he made it his mission to develop a simple eco-friendly and affordable technology to the poorest subsistence farmers.
John Greenfield association with erosion control began as a research officer for the government of New South Wales, Australia, followed in the mid 1950s as a conservation and research officer for the Sugar Corporation of Fiji. It was here that he investigated the use of vetiver grass hedgerows for soil erosion control in the steep areas of the Islands allocated for sugar cane. Vetiver's introduction was a success and 50 years later evidence of that introduction remains.
In the 1980s he joined the World Bank's agricultural team in New Delhi, India. It was here, and at his insistence, that the modern day Vetiver Systems initiative was born. Against much opposition he introduced vetiver grass hedgerows for soil and water conservation on many of the watershed development projects in India. Where properly introduced the technology was a success. It was during this time that he authored the handbook "Vetiver Grass - A Hedge Against Erosion".
John Greenfield recognizes that much of the subsequent work on the Vetiver System has been done by others. However, if it had not been for his technical skills, keen powers of observation, tenacious and practical attitude to his work and life, and to his vision none of what has been achieved by tens of thousands of vetiver users and researchers would have happened.