Sanskriti University, School of Agriculture, Mathura, UP, India
Vermicompost technology is a biotechnological process of converting organic waste into compost using specialized earthworms. Earthworms in recent times have become very beneficial following several types of research concerning their ability to efficiently convert organic waste into nutrient-rich compost known as vermicast. The vermicast is proven to increase crop growth and yield substantially compared to conventional compost and chemical fertilizers. Little has been said about the impact of this simple eco-technology on the environment and living standard. This paper, therefore, seeks to discuss the enormous potential of vermicompost technology on 1. Environment sustainability 2. Poverty reduction.
Schematic description of vermitech impact
The power of earthworms
Earthworms were discovered by scientists as efficient decomposers of complex organic constituents including garden waste, municipal solid waste (MSW), animal waste(poultry, cattle, etc), domestic waste(food, paper, fiber), etc. According to scientists, earthworms possess special cellulose-degrading bacteria in their guts that enable rapid decomposition of organic residue. Upon feeding on their substrates the earthworm assimilates about 5-10% of the substrate and the rest pass through the alimentary canal and excreted as cast.  The earthworm cast also known as the new ‘black gold’ is known to be rich in nutrients compared to conventional composts and chemical fertilizers. Scientists have reported a significant increase in plant growth and crop yield in paddy, wheat, soybean, and vegetables  compared to conventional composts and chemical fertilizers. Aside from producing earthworm cast, vermiwash; a liquid substance collected during the composting process is produced. Vermiwash is known for its soil conditioning properties; rich in microbes that increase microbial activity in the soil. The liquid extract is also known for prophylactic properties hence used in a foliar spray as bio-pesticide.
Interestingly, earthworms require no soil medium to produce earthworm cast. The principal medium is their substrate coupled with already existing soil microbes in the soil. During vermicomposting, earthworms carry out a non-thermophilic transformation of organic residue with accelerated microbial decomposition and humification.
Among many worm species, only a few possess the characteristic features to efficiently decompose organic waste rapidly. The common among them includes the red wriggler worm (Eisenia fetida), the African nightcrawler (Eudrilus eigeniae), and the red earthworm (Lumbricus rubellus). In employing highly efficient worms for the hard work, the goal is to have a system that mimics the worm’s natural environment. An ideal system must be self-contained, self-sustaining, odorless, high yielding, low maintenance, and easy to operate.
The red wriggler worm is mostly used because of the following;
- It is litter dweller
- A voracious feeder
- A prolific breeder
- Has a longer lifespan
- Tolerates human handling in a wide range of pH and temperature.
The work of earthworms in converting organic residues into renewable energy sources places vermicomposting technology in a very crucial position in waste management and recycling. The technology has gained more popularity in the scientific research circles also because of the use of natural resources for efficient ecological conservation. Vermicompost technology promises a future possible efficient organic waste management system using cheap and sustainable technology.
The vermicompost technique of waste recycling has a greater potential to drastically mitigate organic waste generation.
The effort to make the earth a healthier and pollution-free environment calls for a holistic approach that will reduce environmental pollution to the barest minimum, yet, conserving natural resources. It is almost impossible to have a world without waste generated either by households, industries, or agricultural fields.
Reports have shown that an average of about 0.45% of waste is generated daily per person per day. According to the world bank, 2.01 billion municipal waste is generated annually worldwide out of which 33 percent are extremely conservatively not managed in an environmentally safe manner. Moreover, most waste management techniques require a more complex infrastructural apparatus, making the process of labor-intensive and expensive. Concerns have been raised concerning the effectiveness of recycling plants since they eventually contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, such complex systems demand intensive structural system maintenance to ensure smooth running.
Considering the demerits, a more robust eco-technological approach designed to be ecologically sound, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective is crucial if the world is serious about achieving sustainable development.
1.0 Effective waste management
Vermicompost technology has over the years proven to provide a cleaner alternative to recycling organic waste in an ecologically sound manner. Thankfully, nature has an already inbuilt recycling system powered by soil biota that science and research have tapped to solve human waste problems.
Earthworms are voracious feeders. The average adult worm weighs 0.5 – 0.6g, eats waste equivalent to its body weight, and excretes about 50 percent of the waste it consumes per day. About 1000 adult worms can successfully convert 5kg of waste into compost in a day. The red wriggler worm can efficiently convert one tonne of garbage in nutrient-rich compost in a year. This a massive game-changer burgeoning sustainable waste management especially for smallholder farmers, agricultural industries, municipal solid waste urban households.
Restaurants, hotels, market places, and households can conveniently micro-manage their waste using vermicomposting technology.
1.1 Agro-ecological safety
Integrating vermicomposting into soil fertility management systems has proven to be more beneficial to the health and safety of the agro-ecosystem. The earthworm cast is known to be super rich in organic matter, Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Calcium, etc. Also, vermiwash and vermicast are both to contain vitamins, minerals, hormones, and antibodies. Compared to conventional compost and inorganic fertilizer, the earthworm cast is proven to increase crop growth of paddy, wheat, soybean, etc., consequently increasing crop yield . The technology has been most preferred over chemical fertilizers by farmers due to the following reasons;
- Restores the dignity of the soil ecosystem by enhancing soil microbial activities
- Contains nitrogen-fixing properties
- Improves the water holding capacity of soil
- Nutrients composition of earthworm cast is made readily available to the plant upon application for uptake.
- Increases crop growth and development thereby increasing crop yield.
- Reduces pest and disease infestation on field crops
- Provides an efficient alternative to managing farm waste
- Provides Are higher nutrient content than conventional compost and inorganic fertilizer
The judicious use of vermicompost will largely compensate for the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers on crop fields. The deleterious effects of excessive use of chemical fertilizers cannot be overemphasized. The effects of excessive use of chemical fertilizers in the agro-ecological system include;
- Effects on the atmosphere by the emission of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere
- Effects on the water by polluting of water bodies and groundwater
- Effects on the soil by increasing salinity in soils
- Effects on food quality by leaving chemical residue in crop produce
- Meanwhile, vermicompost technology has the potential to reclaim and restore degraded and depleted soils by conditioning topsoils with vermicompost.
1.2 Food security
Formidable food systems that can curtail hunger and poverty especially among the rural poor will require sustainable inclusion in crop production. Agro-ecosystems should be conditioned to support continued food production to feed the ever-increasing human population.
Vermicompost technology used in urban centers is providing a better alternative soil medium for convenient and cost-effective vegetable crop production. The fight against the effects of climate change and efforts to cut down greenhouse gas emissions in urban centers will demand a ‘one household one backyard garden’, where vermitech is utilized. By this, households can provide enough to feed themselves and make extra income on the side.
2.0 Poverty reduction
Aside from the numerous benefits discussed, vermitech has the potential to support microeconomic boosts in the national economy. A viable business can be developed from the vermitech system that can generate substantial profit for the owner, raise their standard of living which in turn will reflect in the national economy.
Sales of vermiwash and vermicompost: there is a huge market for the sales of vermicompost and vermiwash especially among vegetable farmers. Vermicopost is applied as a bio-fertilizer whilst vermiwash is applied by foliar as liquid fertilizer and as an insect repellent.
Worm farming: worm farming is the process of rearing suitable worm species purposely for vermicomposting. The demand for the supply of suitable worms in urban centers is an opportunity to build a profitable supply chain.
Waste management services: recycling waste generated by corporate bodies and households through vermitech is another opportunity to tap into. Municipal, hotels, restaurants, canteens, farm, and individual household wastes can be recycled by a third party for a fee.
Moreover, the smallholder farmer can make extra income through vermitech by recycling their waste and making use of the compost to increase crop yield. Crop production can be cost-effective by integrating vermitech into the farming system. Increased crop yield will consequently increase farmer-income thereby reducing poverty.
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