Manure is a well-known type of compost, particularly in rural areas where it is referred to as “Gobar khaad”. However, studies suggest that vermicompost contains significantly higher levels of micronutrients compared to traditional manure. I first met Pooja Yadav, founder of Being Organic and an expert in the field of vermicomposting in December 2022 through my host organisation during a training session. Recently, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with her to gain insight into the lesser-known but highly beneficial process of vermicomposting. In this blog, I cover the highlights of my interview with her and explore the benefits of vermicompost and market opportunities for rural farmers.
About Pooja and Being Organic
When a close family member was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, Pooja Yadav, a Computer Science professional, returned to her hometown of Mangliya – barely 10kms from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Conversations with doctors back then got her interested in the link between the consumption of organic produce and reduced cancer risk. Despite initially trying organic fruits and vegetables, she found the high market prices unsustainable and decided to grow her own. Her search for affordable organic fertilizers in the market yielded similar results and ultimately, she began preparing vermicompost herself too.
“I experienced postpartum depression around the same time and made the decision to take some time off work and stay home”, says Pooja. While initially uncomfortable with the sudden shift in her routine, she saw this as an opportunity to reevaluate her priorities and explore her interests.
For the past four years, Pooja has been running her company, “Being Organic,” which sells organic fertilizers across 3 states – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. Today, “Being Organic” sells about 500 tonnes of vermicompost annually, with a goal to expand its market overseas.
On the market scope for vermicompost
The demand for organic produce is increasing both in India and abroad, and there is great value in this market. In urban areas, people are well aware of the health benefits of organic fruits and vegetables. Even those running nurseries, terrace gardens, and kitchen gardens prefer using organic fertilizers. Although vermicompost and organic produce have gained popularity in urban India, Pooja still notices low awareness levels about their benefits among many rural farmers – the largest group of potential suppliers.
When asked how we can address this, she says “I believe the first step is to bridge this gap by increasing awareness among farmers about what they stand to gain from this.” According to Pooja, many hesitate to dabble in this space because they’re worried about the reduction in crop yield*. While she agrees there may be some truth to that, it is important to explain to farmers that the value of organic produce can more than compensate for the reduction of output in the first year. This is because organic produce is often priced significantly higher than traditionally grown produce.
*This is usually about a 25% reduction in volume in the first year. If used along with a range of organic fertilizers, this can be mitigated to 10%.
“Unfortunately, due to the uneven supply of vermicompost, even those farmers who are interested in cultivating organic produce are often charged amounts as high as Rs.10 per kg of vermicompost.” For reference, most of Being Organic’s farmer customers, with an average landholding of 2 acres, purchase a minimum of 2 tonnes of vermicompost at Rs. 7000 per tonne.
What are the potential benefits and viable approaches for different categories of farmers when it comes to vermicompost?
While vermicompost can offer significant long-term benefits, its viability for different categories of farmers may vary.
- Small farmers: For a small farmer, it might make the most sense to use vermicompost they prepare for their own farms. Since it requires minimal investment, they gain by saving on the cost of synthetic fertilizers. It is also well known that the long-term use of synthetic fertilizers leads to the degradation of soil quality. As a result, farmers end up requiring a higher quantity of fertilizers to achieve the same output over time. Switching to organic fertilizers helps combat that as well.
- Large farmers: Large farmers, on the other hand, may have the capacity to invest in earthworms and hence prepare vermicompost on a larger scale, allowing them to sell organic produce in bulk at higher rates.
- Cattle owners without land: Those cattle owners without any land can form collectives to build local geographic belts of vermicompost suppliers. Over time, they can also lease land to expand their vermicompost units and sell at a larger scale. This would provide cattle owners with additional income from waste against a very low investment. Farmers in return can gain easy access to quality organic fertilizers at reasonable rates.
How can farmers raise awareness and increase their customer base for vermicompost, especially considering that many others may not be familiar with it?
The best way to get people interested in a product is by showing them results. Results influence people way more than words can.
She expands, “For example, when I began, I started off with the HDPE bag method and within 70 days, the vermicompost was ready. I used it on my plants that first time and the results were visibly great! Being farmers, my close relatives living in the area were intrigued by the quality of my produce and inquired about what had changed. So I distributed samples of the vermicompost that I’d prepared among close family members involved in farming and friends who had terrace gardens. Once they experienced the results themselves, they became loyal customers.”
After overcoming this initial hurdle, anyone with a basic understanding of social media can promote the sale of organic fertilizers online. For Pooja’s company, that happened through YouTube. Creating informative content about the benefits of vermicompost and showcasing the quality of the product can help attract potential customers and build a loyal customer base over time. “Ultimately, the key to building awareness and customer bases is to focus on producing high-quality vermicompost and demonstrating its benefits to others.”
Today, Pooja’s team also trains rural men and women on preparing and using organic fertilizers in hopes that it will spark an interest and form a belt of vermicompost suppliers and users in rural Madhya Pradesh. She has partnered with NGOs like my host organisation, in an attempt to reach more rural audiences and spread awareness about the benefits of vermicomposting. In addition to training rural farmers on vermicomposting, partnerships between grassroots organisations and those like Being Organic can also strengthen market linkages and distribution networks for vermicompost thus boosting demand and improving livelihood opportunities in rural India.
There are several methods of preparing vermicompost, including the windrow method, the pit method, and the bag method using HDPE bags. For those new to vermicomposting, the windrow method can be a great option since it requires the least investment and allows for aeration, which promotes faster earthworm multiplication. So for the sake of this interview, we’ve covered the windrow method below:
To prepare vermicompost using the windrow method, one will need a tarpaulin sheet (or ‘tirpal’), cow dung, earthworms, jute bags or green nets to cover the vermibed, and water for regular watering throughout the 70-day cycle
Tips for best results –
- Cow dung: Use cool cow dung that is 7-15 days old for vermicomposting, as fresh cow dung will begin to decompose after a week. To keep it cool and release gases, fresh cow dung should be watered every day until a week. Bear in mind that cow dung that has started to decompose will not be of any use. Cow dung turning black can be a sign that it has started decomposing.
- Earthworms: Earthworms can usually be availed at rates ranging from Rs.100 – Rs.350 per kg. In rural areas, one can also inquire about the same at the nearest Krishi Vidyalaya (Agriculture College). The number of earthworms required for a standard bed will depend on the size of the bed – approximately 1kg of earthworms per square foot of the vermibed.
- Water: Regular watering of the vermibed is crucial for the earthworms to thrive and for the vermicomposting process to be effective.
Length of a cycle
The process of vermicomposting takes around 70 days to complete a cycle. However, one can expect to see a 2-inch layer of vermicompost forming within the first 25-30 days in ideal conditions.
Size of a standard bed and output
For the windrow method, the standard bed size is 3 feet in width, 30 feet in length, and 1.5 feet in height, which can produce around 600 kg of vermicompost on average. “While the length of the bed can be adjusted to fit the space available, maintaining the recommended width and height standards is essential to ensure optimal results”, Pooja explains.
Detailed steps and tips on preparing vermicompost can be found on Pooja’s YouTube videos
In conclusion, vermicomposting is not only an effective method of promoting sustainable agriculture, but it can also provide an additional source of income to farmers. I hope this post helps grassroots NGOs understand and better communicate the benefits of vermicomposting, including better crop yield, reduced environmental impact, and the ability to generate additional revenue streams. While there are challenges that deter farmers from adopting the practice of vermicomposting, with proper training it is likely that vermicomposting can be scaled up, thus strengthening agricultural practices, creating job opportunities and supporting local economies.
Lim, Su Lin et al. “The use of vermicompost in organic farming: overview, effects on soil and economics.” Journal of the science of food and agriculture vol. 95,6 (2015): 1143-56. https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.6849