DA Sustainable Livelihoods  Vermicomposting

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Meet a Vermicomposter from Ganadulu Village | Meet a Vermicomposter from Boranakanive Village | Vermicomposting Project |
Vermicomposting Training Manual | DA Activities in Tumkur District

Vermicomposting Project

Development Alternatives (DA) launched a vermicomposting project in Tumkur, District, Karnataka State, in mid 1996. Background work in the region had revealed the need for enhancing the income earning capacity of women, as well as promoting natural resource management and sustainable farming. The project was initiated with support from the Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART).

The primary objective of the project is:

  • to help women set up micro-enterprises based on vermiculture technology, in rural and peri-urban areas of Tumkur, to improve their economic and social status.

The secondary objectives include:

  • improving soil fertility and food productivity through ecological methods of farming, including organic nutrient recycling.
  • improving village cleanliness by promoting the use of waste recycling (thus reducing the amount of waste strewn in the village).

Background on the Region

A group of villages in Chikkanayakanahalli (CNHalli) Taluk were selected for the first stage of the project. The main source of livelihoods in CNHalli are agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry. Land holdings are very meager and agriculture practices are, in general, poor. The area has very low rainfall, averaging 400mm per year. Agriculture is almost totally rainfed and land development is poor. Marginal farmers and the landless migrate to other rural and urban areas in search of work. There is a large population of backward communities. Women are uneducated, under-employed and have limited access to resources.

The Project Process

At the project onset, a permanent three compartment breeder unit was constructed at the DA Appropriate Technology Center in Tumkur. Earthworms of two species, Eisenia foetida and Eudrilus eugeniae, were introduced into cow dung and local organic matter (leaves, grasses, etc.).

Ashok Kumar, is the head of the vermicomposting project. He recalls, "We started by setting up a breeder unit and training our field staff how to do vermicomposting. I gave the staff all of the information they needed and then I let them do the composting. There was one problem. I noticed right away that they had set up the unit perfectly except they had forgotten the sacking (to cover the worms). I let them wonder for a few weeks before I told them that the one thing they had forgotten was the cover. First I wanted them to try to figure it out themselves. I believe people must learn by doing."

Once the DA field staff were experienced in vermiculture the project began in earnest. In the first phase of the project fourteen entrepreneurs from the rural areas of Hoyisallakatte, Ganadulu and Dasudi gram panchayat (lowest level of self-governance) were selected for enterprise development. The first orientation and training programmes were conducted in October and November 1996. Ashok explains the process, "Our goal was to train and set up 25 enterprises for vermicomposting. When we first started trying to get villagers involved there was an attitude or feeling among villagers that we "city folks" had nothing useful to tell them. We started with 45 or 50 in the training because we knew many would not stay through the entire programme. Ten people dropped out on the first day. By the end of the first week only 12 women were left."

The training lasted two months and covered aspects of vermiculture and vermicomposting. The women were also trained in micro-enterprise management including basic accounting and literacy. A stipend of Rs 300 was paid to each entrepreneur every month during the period of training.

Training aids and materials were prepared (in English and Kannada, the local language), including:

  • posters and charts covering vermicomposting
  • charts covering subjects such as sanitation, sustainable development, and women's economic empowerment
  • a teaching aid on organic wastes, and vermicomposting

The vermiculture units were constructed near the homes of the participants. The earthworms were distributed from Development Alternatives' breeder unit. Initially, 500 adult earth worms were distributed to each entrepreneur. Later, this was increased to between 2000 and 3000 earthworms.

Before introducing the earth worms, all of the units were filled with three week old cowdung or fodder. Some of the entrepreneurs had problems with breeding the worms in the beginning. Ashok says, 'The main problem in the beginning was that the women were not confident enough to handle the earthworms. Some women lost their earthworms because they didn't understand the compost cycle. Women forced the worms into the feed (manure, fodder etc.) before it was ready rather than putting a pile of the worms on top and letting them work their way down when the feed material was suitably decomposed." This was corrected by constant visits and supervision by the motivators.

Later, larger units were constructed for vermicomposting and the first units became decomposing tanks. The larger tanks can produce up to 800 kgs of vermicompost per month. Mesh covers were provided to protect the earthworms from predators.

Effectively marketing the produce was critical for the success of the enterprises. The training programme covered topics on marketing, product and pricing, differences with chemical fertilisers and farmyard manure, cost effectiveness, etc.

Awareness was created in local communities through demonstration plots. Vermicompost was applied to sections of farmers fields while other areas received chemical fertilisers or manure. The demonstrations were on local crops including mulberry, groundnut, ragi, and vegetables. The plants receiving vermicompost showed luxuriant and healthy growth compared with other fertilisers.

Ashok recalls, "In the beginning the women didn't think anyone would pay for something like vermicompost but from the start they were able to get 3.5 Rs per kilo for it."

Marketing efforts paid off. People started to buy the product. One example is a farmer from Hangalavadi village who has taken vermicompost to mix with onion seeds for sowing, replacing the need for sand. In another case, the Range Forest Officer in CNHalli has been buying vermicompost for his tree nursery.

DA also applied vermicompost to 250,000 saplings in their own nursery. The growth of the plants is fast and healthy and the leaves have turned dark green. Resistance to pests and diseases is also high.

Interest in organic farming and sustainable agriculture is growing in the region. Many of the women are successfully marketing the vermicompost while others are using it on their own fields. All of the vermicomposting units are working now. As Ashok said, "We wanted a 100% success rate and that is what we got."

Phase Two

With the first phase of the project running successfully DA continued into a second phase targeting peri-urban areas. The areas selected for enterprise development were Bukkapatna town of Sira taluk and Huliyar town of CNHalli taluk. Eleven entrepreneurs were selected from Huliyar and Bukkapatna and are now running successful units.

Ten self-help groups have been formed in the villages, which among other things disseminate appropriate technologies for enterprise development. These groups have also been motivated to start small savings programmes, allowing members to take loans for setting up enterprise units. Each group meets once in a month.

Phase Three

Nineteen enterprises using ferrocement tanks were set up with the balance amount in the villages of Hoyisalakatte, Dasudi and Thimmanahalli gram panchayats, by November 1998 while one unit was kept at the DA field office as a demonstration unit.

A manual titled 'do-it-yourself', in English and Kannada has been prepared for dissemination.

The vermicomposting project was completed at the end of 1998.

The project has revealed:

  • The demand for the training on vermicomposting is high in the rural areas which indicates its potential for enterprise development.
  • There is demand for the vermicompost in both rural and urban areas which is a reflection on the growing awareness of people at large on the harmful effects of chemically grown food.
  • The women have shown good potential in running the enterprises and have proven themselves capable of marketing the vermicompost and earning their livelihoods on a sustainable basis.
  • The empowerment of women has the potential to bring about social change; the women's self help groups show keen interest in community action.

The first stage in the vermicomposting project comes to an end this year. Buoyed by their success in the project DA is planning to have 150 to 200 more units established shortly. The longer term goal is to have 2000-3000 units in the region by December 1999.

In the next stage, DA is offering different schemes to villagers. In one scheme, DA will invest partly in setting up an enterprise (total cost of Rs 2000). The total cost includes training, earthworms and structure. In another scheme, DA will provide the training and earthworms; the farmers build their own structures. In both schemes DA pledges to buy back a part of the compost if the participant wishes. However, many of the participants want to use the compost on their own farms. DA encourages this local use. Ideally DA would like 95% of the compost to stay in the area.

Ashok Kumar sums up the project saying, "the vermicomposting project is very easy to replicate. It is cheap and requires no great expertise." The concept of sustainable livelihoods, he says, "often doesn't include the sector of people who need the most help. That is the farming community. If we talk about farming we are talking about 920 million people in India." By his definition, sustainable livelihoods are "things that need very little external help or input (whether financial or knowledge). They bring confidence and self reliance, independence, dignity and meaning. They are also ethical livelihoods - they meet real needs, such as meeting the need for food security."

People Involved in the Project

  • Mr. Shantha Kumar, Field Resource Scientist
  • Mr. G.V. Raghu, Field Resource Scientist
  • Ms. Bhuvaneswari, Motivator
  • Mr. Hanumantharayappa, Motivator
  • Ms. Antoinette Kavita Paul, Design of training materials
  • Mr. Nagaraj, Motivator
  • Mr. C.Ashok Kumar, Co-ordinator
  • Ms. Chaya Chengappa, Resource Scientist
  • Mr. V.A. Abraham, Resource Scientist

For More Information

Several articles from Development Alternatives' newsletter are available online. More information about vermicomposting is available from:

B-32 Tara Crescent
Qutab Institutional Area
New Delhi - 110 016
Tel : +91-11-696-7938 or +91-11-685-1158
Fax : +91-11-686-6031
Email: tara@sdalt.ernet.in

Meet a Vermicomposter from Ganadulu Village | Meet a Vermicomposter from Boranakanive Village | Vermicomposting Project |
Vermicomposting Training Manual | DA Activities in Tumkur District

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