Vermicompost is becoming a commercial product

In Pakistan, the agriculture sector currently contributes about 21 per cent of GDP and generates productive employment opportunities for 45 per cent of countrys labour force. It has a vital role in ensuring food security, generating overall economic growth, reducing poverty and the transforming towards industrialization. For increasing world population, it is now important to increase the overall productivity to ensure food availability for every individual. Use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other such products to obtain maximum production in short time, doubtlessly is the need of the time but these approaches has become a danger for a safe and sound environment where we live. It not only increased the soil toxicity level and water and air pollution but also reduces the soil biota as well. So it is necessary to use the other approaches in agriculture sector on sustained basis to enhance the productivity.

By knowing the importance of earthworms, over the past several years, many people have begun raising earthworms as a source of income and as a means of managing organic waste. Some are drawn to the business by extravagant claims of vast potential markets for earthworms in large waste disposal systems and agriculture and as a source of food for animals. Although several other outlets for sales of worms exist, there is much competition for markets. Research and development on uses for worms are under way throughout the world, but the opening of new markets for worms and castings will be slow and somewhat uncertain. Those interested in getting into the earthworm business should explore potential of local markets carefully, particularly if a full-time occupation is the goal.

Earthworm growers can make money by selling earthworms and vermicompost or from tipping fees (charging to have organic materials normally disposed of in landfills “tipped” by a dump truck onto the worm growers site, to be fed to the earthworms). Vermicomposting is the process of turning organic debris into worm castings (manure). The focus is on processing the waste rather than creating ideal conditions for raising earthworms. Large vermicomposting facilities typically make money primarily from tipping fees, followed by sales of castings, and then, in a distant third place, by sales of earthworms. Several options are available for the sale of earthworms. Home vermicomposters, composters, and gardeners are interested in buying earthworms. It may be possible to sell earthworms to locally owned sporting goods or fishing tackle stores, although most of the larger stores of this type rely on established wholesalers for their bait supplies.

Other markets for earthworms include: Large-scale vermicomposting facilities, Institutions and businesses that do on-site vermicomposting of their food scraps and other organic materials (including prisons, hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, restaurants, grocery stores, and office buildings), farmers desiring to vermicompost animal manure (including livestock and poultry farms, rabbitries, and horse stables), worm growers with orders too large to fill from their own stocks, Industries with organic wastes suitable as feedstock for worms, such as paper mills, breweries, cardboard manufacturers, land reclamation sites, generators of sludge/bio-solids, food processors, canneries, wineries, and cotton mills.

Due to its high cost, compared to commercial fertilizers, vermicompost is not commonly used as a soil amendment or plant growth enhancer by large commercial plant growers. Nonetheless, vermicompost is increasingly being used by organic gardeners and is sold commercially in some nurseries as a soil amendment or planting medium for ornamental plants. A growing body of research demonstrating the beneficial uses of vermicompost is helping to increase market outlets. Markets include home improvement centers, nurseries, landscape contractors, greenhouses, garden supply stores, grocery chains, flower shops, discount houses, and the general public.

A relatively new product coming on the market is vermicompost tea (a liquid). Organic matter, microorganisms, and nutrients are extracted from vermicompost to produce the tea. Unlike vermicompost and compost, this tea may be applied directly to plant foliage, reportedly to enhance disease suppression. These worms are also capable of accelerating the processing of waste. This means they can be used to detoxify soils contaminated with solid waste, pesticides or heavy metals from industrial or agricultural waste.

So, the vermicompost is gaining much importance day by day and is a key tool for sustainable agriculture. Whether we are backyard gardeners or fully fledged farmers, it must be remembered that earthworms are not the antidote to infertile soils and poor management. If soils are to be improved through the use of earthworms, we must provide them with sufficient food and moisture. Only then we may profit from their activities as ploughmen and builders of the soil.

The authors are associated with the Agro-biology Lab, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

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