Vermi-compost – A Perfect Replacement for Chemical Fertilizers
After retiring as head master of a primary school in Patel Nagar, Dharam Singh moved to Goela. He planned to start farming his eight acres of land, which he leased out previously. Masterjee, as he is known in the village, is a 62-year old farmer who is an optimistic and ambitious learner. Though he has been successful in growing vegetables and wheat with the help of his family members and some laborers, he wanted to enhance the produce.
The Sehgal Foundation offered training programs for farmers on ‘best agricultural practices’ in Goela. Masterjee actively participated in all of the trainings. He learned about various seeds and their quality, raised bed cultivation, intercropping and vermi-compost to replace chemical fertilizers. “My experience with vermi-composting has been exceptional; its use has enriched the crop significantly, which has resulted in earning more profits,” says Masterjee. He further added, “I have learned how to make vermi-compost effortlessly at home, using cattle manure. It is reducing my input costs of purchasing fertilizer in the market.”
Vermi-composting significantly enhances the nutrient profile of animal manure through use of a particular earthworm species, and adds value to traditional fertilizers. Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has contributed to soil degradation in many rural areas. Good quality vermi-compost can be prepared easily at home and with very little input cost. Under normal weather conditions, the compost is usually ready within 45-50 days. It has a higher content of nitrogen phosphorus and micronutrients than in traditional compost. The earthworm species, Asoenia foetida, feed on organic matter and produce high quality manure.
Initially, Masterjee made one unit of a vermi-composting bed with the help of the Sehgal Foundation’s team and used the compost on one acre of ‘French beans.’ He observed variation in the quality of crop as compared to the other three acres, in which he used the traditional fertilizers. With the use of vermi-compost, the produce was far better in terms of quality and quantity, which helped increase his income by 20% to 25%.
Soon after witnessing the benefits, Masterjee set up 12 such units to use the compost on a large scale. The recommended quantity of compost is 250 kg per acre, which could be mixed with 20% diamoniam phosphate (DAP), a chemical fertilizer commonly used in the area. But, Masterjee is optimistic; he wants to use triple the recommended quantity and completely stop the use of chemical fertilizers. His input costs are lower as he can use manure from the cattle he owns. When asked about any plans of selling compost to other farmers, Masterjee is a little amused. “The manure, which was carelessly thrown out, has become very precious for us; I cannot think of selling the compost to other farmers at the moment as my own fields need it in large quantities,” he confessed.
In the course of making his land fertile, Masterjee calculated the number of units required to completely shift from chemical fertilizers to organic compost. He is on his way to starting 30 more beds of vermi-compost. This reflects well on his confidence and ambition to learn and execute.
Following the success of farmers like Masterjee, the use of vermi-compost is starting to catch on with other farmers. There seems to be a gradual reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers in the villages of Goela, Ghaghas, Agon, Rangala Rajpur, and their cluster villages where the Sehgal Foundation is implementing its Integrated, Sustainable Village Development programs.
Farmers in this region used to delay sowing when there was a shortage of DAP as they believed that there was no alternate fertilizer. This trend is now changing as farmers have witnessed the benefits of using vermi-compost. Though setting up vermi-composting beds is a relatively simple process, it does require proper care. Vermi-composting beds should be set up in a shaded area. It is crucial to keep the compost moist and to check it at regular intervals.
The Sehgal Foundation started promoting vermi-compost as an enterprise to the women Self-Help-Groups (SHG) members. Women from different villages were taken to places where other SHG groups were actively involved in producing the vermi-compost. After training them, the Foundation offered to help in setting up one unit for each interested member. It is heartening to know that many women from those villages are now involved in producing compost either for use in their fields or to sell it to other farmers. Some women using it in their kitchen gardens gain pleasure from eating healthy and tasty vegetables.
Phajri is a 33-year old widow with two young children from Goela. She owns three acres of land, but since there is no male support, she leases the land at a marginal cost. Phajri works as a laborer and earns Rs 60 to 80 per day and manages her household expenses. As an SHG member, Phajri participated in the vermi-compost training and set up one unit in March 2003. She used the initial production in her kitchen garden and was amazed to see that Palak leaves (Spinach) grew as big as the size of her palm, whereas the previous growth was at least three times smaller.
She spends a few minutes sprinkling water on the bed, mixes it, and ensures that it is covered properly everyday. She is now selling compost at Rs 2.50 per kg and making extra income. She is also on her way to making a second bed. When asked about the benefits of vermi-compost, she says, “This compost has a lot of benefits. We are eating healthy vegetables, and it is another source of income for me. Farmers who used the compost in vegetable cultivation are now branching out and using it for commercial crops as well.”
Taking a lead from these enterprising and enthusiastic villagers, the urban populace can begin procuring vermi-compost from the villages to use it on their lawns and kitchen gardens or to grow other plants. This will not only enhance yield but will also generate income in the surrounding rural areas.
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