They call it ‘vermi composting’, which in layman’s language means earthworm cultivation. Many farmers and others in Nepal have started rearing earthworms for commercial purpose, attracted by the fact that earthworms enrich soil quality.
These days, many people in Katmandu and outside breed earthworms. They do it
both for their own use and for commercial purposes, using the compost manure
produced by earthworms on their own farms and also making money by selling
‘The compost manure produced by earthworms is better than any other organic manure for agriculture’, says Mrs Hari Devi Ranjitkar, a botanist by profession and an agro-environmentalist by action.
Mrs Ranjitkar is the pioneer of earthworm cultivation in Nepal. She learnt about the subject when she attended a conference on environment friendly farming systems in New Delhi, India, in 1995. ‘This made me further inquisitive about it, so I went to Bangalore, where some Indian agriculture experts were still experimenting with the
use of earthworms and their commercial cultivation’.
She brought 200 earthworms back to Katmandu from Bangalore and started rearing them in her own backyard in Kritipur. In three months, her 200 earthworms produced more than 1,000 new ones. Ranjitkar went on to expand the cultivation, using the compost manure produced by the earthworms in her own kitchen garden and adjoining farms. Results were soon visible as crops were better and soil quality enriched. Then the demand from farmers for the earthworm compost manure increased.
Early in the morning, Ranjitkar would go to neighbors’ houses and collect all organic waste to feed her worms back home. Her neighbors ridiculed her at first, describing the job she was doing as mean and dirty.
‘I was confident that I was doing a good job for society and people and I was never discouraged by the negative attitude towards me’, she recalls.
She then formed a group called ‘Friends of Farmers’ with like-minded people who were environmentally conscious. The group started training farmers about organic farming and the creation of organic manure.
Thanks to the work of people like ‘Friends of Farmers’, public awareness for the environment and biodiversity conservation in Nepal has increased, and efforts have been made from grassroots level to conserve and maintain the country’s rich biodiversity.
Not that it wasn’t a hard job to change the spoilt ways of Nepalese farmers, already accustomed to the easy chemical fertilizer/pesticide approach that is anathema for organic farming.
The fact is that, although organic farming has been revived in Nepal and is rapidly growing, finding substitutes for chemical fertilizers is still difficult. Earthworm cultivation has now emerged as the best way to produce sufficient compost manure.
‘Friends of Farmers’ provide free training and lectures by farmers and other interested people in different places and at different forums about the cultivation of earthworms and its importance. This is how earthworm cultivation has been popularized in Nepal.
‘It has twin benefits. First of all, organic waste can be consumed and, secondly, it enriches soil fertility and protects bio-diversity in the soil’, says Sulochana Manandhar Gurung, who has also started to cultivate earthworms commercially in Swayambhu, Katmandu. One earthworm sells for two rupees (3 cents) and one kilogram of compost manure produced by earthworms costs 25 rupees or almost 35 cents.
Of more than 300 species of earthworms, four types – Eisenia foetide, Eudrillus eugineal, Perionyx excavatus and Lumbricus rubellus – are popular for commercial farming in Nepal, since they eat organic waste and produce organic compost manure. ‘These four types of earthworms have been recommended for the climatic conditions in Katmandu’, says Gurung.
Ranjitkar and ‘Friends of Farmers’ have already conducted training on earthworm cultivation in 18 major regional centers outside the capital, and different types of earthworm have been recommended in different parts of Nepal depending upon climatic conditions. In view of the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, ‘Friends of Farmers’ now plan to experiment the breeding of other earthworms to increase their population in the soil.
As consciousness about biodiversity rapidly increases in Nepal, so earthworm cultivation is growing more popular among farmers and non-farmers alike.
‘Both farmers and non-farmers come to buy worms and their compost manure from us’, says Ananda Sobha, who has run similar schemes in Balaju, Katmandu. Sobha is now thinking of expanding the project to other parts of the country, not only to make profit but also to contribute to the conservation of Nepal’s biodiversity.
Yuba Nath Lamsal is deputy editor of the Katmandu daily The Rising Nepal