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Vermiculture technology for Socio-Economic development of Bihar

 

Dr Rajiv Kumar Sinha

Bihardays Exclusive

Vermiculture technology for Socio-Economic development of Bihar

By Dr Rajiv Kumar  Sinha

A revolution is unfolding in vermiculture studies (rearing of useful earthworms species) for multiple uses in socio-economic development (restoration and improvement of soil fertility to boost agricultural productivity without agro-chemicals) & environmental management (safe disposal of both solid wastes & wastewater by converting them into resource). Importance of earthworms in crop growth was indicated by the ancient Indian scientist Surpala in the 10th Century A.D. in his epic ‘Vrikshayurveda’ (Science of Tree Growing) who recommended to add earthworms in ‘pomegranate plants’ to get good quality of fruits. Sir Charles Darwin called earthworms as ‘unheralded soldiers’ of mankind working day & night under the soil’ and ‘friends of farmers’. Earthworms promises to usher in the ‘Second Green Revolution’ by completely replacing the dangerous agro-chemicals which did more harm than good to both the farmers and their farmland during the ‘First Green Revolution’ of the 1950-60’s.

Earthworms combine social, economic & environmental values for mankind. It is helping in ‘employment generation’ and ‘poverty eradication’ programs in India, Philippines and in several developing countries. The most versatile species in the service of mankind are Tiger Worms (Eisenia fetida), The Indian Blue Worm (Perionyx excavatus), the African Night Crawler (Eudrilus euginae) and the Red Worm (Lumbricus rubellus).

Vermiculture Revolution in Bihar

Earthworms Brings Prosperity for Farmers, Generates Employment for People

Earthworms have brought prosperity among the farming community in Bihar. This can be seen in some districts of Bihar namely Hazipur, Samastipur & Nalanda where I have been educating the farmers and the unemployed youths since 2006 and a ‘vermiculture revolution’ is going on. Large vermicomposting plants have been set up by the farmers and the unemployed people, and farmers in several villages have completely given up the use of ‘chemical fertilizers’. Prosperity can be seen among the poor farmers and the unemployed educated youth of these districts. Socio-economic development from living in small ‘huts’ to ‘brick houses’, from riding ‘bicycles’ to ‘motor-cycles’ and some to even ‘small cars’ (in 4-5 years) is a definite sign of prosperity and it has all been brought by the ‘little earthworms’. Credit goes to the then visionary Vice-Chancellor of RAU, Pusa, Dr. H.P. Singh (currently DDG, ICAR, New Delhi) who called me to address the agriculture scientists & graduates of RAU and the farmers around the locality. Agri-scientists of Bihar namely Dr. R.K. Sohane and Dr. P.K. Singh have been backbone of

Dr R.K Sohane one of the backbones of vermiculture revolution in bihar

this vermiculture revolution.

(Vermiculture revolution in also going on in other states of India mainly in Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karanatka mainly driven by vermiculture scientists, vermicomposting companies, enlightened farmers and the NGOs. In my last visit to Bihar in December 2010, I had the opportunity to address NGOs from all over Bihar in Patna).

Vermiculture for Safe Management of Solid Wastes

Safe management of MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTES is a mounting problem all over the world and like other Indian states it is posing a serious issue in Bihar too with the growing population. I am greatly concerned about the WASTE INCINEARTION PLANT for ELECTRICITY GENERATION being installed at Bairiya village near Patna in Bihar. It is NOT the real answer to SAFE WASTE MANAGEMENT. It has FAILED in India. In 1984, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi built an incinerator at the cost of US $ 3.5 million to process 300 tons of MSW per day to generate 3 MW of power with technical assistance from Denmark. The plant closed down within a week due to very low heating value of the MSW as it had high percentage of ‘inert materials & wet organics’. This is the characteristics of most Indian wastes. (UNHABITAT, Report 2009).

Waste incineration plants are also DANGEROUS for the life of people as it emits EXTREMELY TOXIC ‘DIOXINS & FURANS’ for which World Health Organization (WHO) has NO SAFE LIMIT for humans. Plastics are the main culprit which can never be segregated completely from the mixed Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW). Many times high temperatures cannot be maintained due to ‘low heating/calorific value’ of our wastes in India and this is also responsible for the emission of toxic gases. Waste incineration has been BANNED by STOCKHOLM CONVENTION on POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) (2001) and India is also a signatory.

Commercial Vermicomposting of MSW a More Sustainable Option: Retrieving Gold from Garbage

 

Earthworms to the rescue

VERMICOMPOSTING of municipal solid wastes by EARTHWORMS are being promoted all over the world on commercial scale as it is 60-80 % faster than other composting systems and the end-product comes as a highly ‘nutritive biofertilizer’ better than chemical fertilizers. It is like ‘getting gold from garbage’. Vermicomposting technology is being commercialized all over the world for mid-to-large scale vermicomposting of most community wastes (cattle dung, poultry droppings, food wastes, farm & green wastes) and also some industrial organic wastes. Solid waste from paper pulp and cardboard industry, food processing industries including brewery and distillery; vegetable oil factory, sugarcane industry, aromatic oil extraction industry, sericulture industry, logging and carpentry industry also make excellent feedstock for vermicomposting. Worms can also degrade ‘fly-ash & sewage sludge’ (a biohazard from coal power & sewage treatment plants) into wonderful vermicompost. They have also been found to degrade toxic ‘asphaltens’ from the oil drilling sites.

Given the optimum conditions of temperature (20-30C) and moisture (60-70 %), about 5 kg of worms (numbering approx.10, 000) can vermiprocess 1 ton of organic wastes into vermicompost in just 30 days. To produce this ‘Windrows Trenches’ of 10’ (length) X 3’ (width) X 2’ (height) with bricks sidewalls and plastered base are constructed in cool & shaded areas to prevent direct sunlight and rain. About 1 ton of cattle dung & other composting materials can be vermicomposted in this size of trench every month starting with 5 kg of worms. Vermicomposting leads to generation of ‘huge worm population’ (as byproduct) as the worms multiply rapidly doubling its number every 60-70 days. Both vermicompost and the live worms are of great economic value for the farmers.

Vermiculture for Low Cost & Low Energy Treatment of Municipal Wastewater (Sewage)

Increasing volumes of MUNICIPAL WASTEWATER (SEWAGE) is also posing a serious issue and is the main cause of ‘river pollution’ in India. River Jamuna is said to be ‘flowing like a sewer’ in Agra & Delhi. So will be river Ganga in Kanpur and Patna soon. The conventional Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are highly ENERGY INTENSIVE & generates SLUDGE (biosolids) which is a BIOHAZARD containing pathogens and toxic chemicals and needs special treatment for safe disposal.

I am greatly concerned about the sewage generated by the residents of the MULTISTOREY BUILDING COMPLEXES in Patna especially those located beyond the municipal limits. This culture is spreading fast all over Bihar. Such buildings have all modern amenities and facilities but the builders provide no system for ‘proper disposal of their wastewater’ which are generated in huge volumes everyday and are being scrupulously flown down in the nearby waterways, ponds and ditches posing serious threat to the environment and health of society.

I have pioneered in the development of an economical method of WASTEWATER (SEWAGE) TREATMENT by EARTHWORMS at Griffith University. It is LOW ENERGY and NO SLUDGE is formed. It can also be installed in de-centralized manner in every housing colonies and building complexes.

Earthworms body work as a ‘biofilter’ removing BOD5 by over 90 %, COD by 60-80 %, TDSS by 90-95 % from wastewater. Worms also remove any toxic chemicals including heavy metals and pathogens from the wastewater and the treated water becomes fit to be ‘reused’ for non-potable purposes e.g. washing, cleaning, for farm irrigation & in industries. We have successfully treated some industrial wastewater including most toxic ‘petroleum wastewater’ by E. fetida at Griffith University.

The capital and operating costs are much less by over 70 % than other sewage treatment plants (STPs) and is very suitable for developing nations including India where STPs often remains closed due to shortage of power. Commercial ‘vermifiltration plants’ for wastewater treatment have been installed in large scale in Chile, Mexico and Venezuela and is spreading. I am providing consultancy for commissioning one in Baroda in Gujarat.

(I presented a paper on Vermifiltration Technology’ at the ‘Ganga Pollution’ Conference in Patna University in 2007 and asked the authorities to implement the technology in Bihar as it was very economical and extremely ‘low energy requiring’. CM Sri Nitish Kumar and then Education Minister Sri Brishin Patel had also chaired the ‘academic meet’ at different times, but no action was taken. No one approached me for further details about implementation of the technology in Bihar).

Vermiculture Can Boost Agricultural Production Without Agrochemicals

vermicompost unit at a farm

The biggest advantage of great socio-economic significance is that earthworms and its vermicompost can boost agricultural production ‘without agrochemicals’ and the food produced is ‘organic & chemical-free’ at a much ‘lower cost’ as compared to the costly chemical fertilizers. They are also remarkably ‘good in taste’ and with more ‘nutritious value’ (high in protein & vitamins) as compared to those grown on chemical fertilizers. Worldwide farmers are desperate to get rid of the vicious circle of the use of chemical fertilizers as their cost have been constantly rising and also the amount of chemicals used per hectare has been steadily increasing over the years to maintain the yield & productivity of previous years. Nearly 3 – 4 times of agro-chemicals are now being used per hectare what was used in the 1960s as the soil has become ‘addict’ of chemical fertilizers and the pests & disease causing organism have become resistant to lower doses of chemical pesticides.

Studies indicate that there is significant amount of ‘residual pesticides’ contaminating our food long after they are brought from farms to the market for sale and even after they are washed at homes simply by water. Vegetable samples were contaminated 100% with HCH and 50 % with DDT. A study made by the Society for Research and Initiative for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI), Ahmedabad to analyze the ‘residual pesticide in soils’ of croplands of Gujarat found that 41 out of 70 samples contained ‘insecticidal residues’. According to United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) nearly 3 million people suffer from ‘acute pesticide poisoning’ and some 10 to 20 thousand people die every year from it in the developing countries.

Earthworms & Vermicompost Improve Natural Fertility & Water Holding Capacity of Soils

Use of chemical fertilizers over the years have destroyed the natural properties of soil and made it more ‘compact’ and ‘biologically dry’ (depleted in beneficial soil microbes). Earthworms make the soil ‘soft & porous’ by its burrowing actions & excretions containing nutrients & beneficial soil microbes to improve its natural fertility and productivity. Vermicompost works as a ‘soil conditioner’ and its continued application over the years lead to total improvement in the physical, chemical and biological quality of all soils even the ‘sodic soils’. It has very ‘high porosity’, ‘aeration’, ‘drainage’ and ‘water holding capacity’ thus reducing the demand of water for irrigation.

Vermicompost: A Miracle Bio-fertilizer Powerful than Other Composts & Chemical Fertilizers

Earthworms vermicompost is a nutritive bio-fertilizer rich in NKP, macro & micronutrients, beneficial soil microbes (nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi) and are excellent growth promoters. They work as a ‘slow-release fertilizer’, retaining more nutrients for longer period of time & unlike chemical fertilizers which release nutrients fast and gets depleted in soil soon. Vermicompost also contain ‘plant growth hormones’ and enzymes secreted by the earthworms. Enzymes continue to degrade organic matters in soil and release nutrients. More significantly, it is rich in ‘humus’ which is generally lacking in other organic fertilizers as it takes very long time for soil or any organic matter to decompose to form humus while earthworms secrete humus in its excreta. Without humus plants cannot grow and survive. It is essential for root formation. Studies indicate that vermicompost is at least 5-7 times more nutritive & powerful growth promoter than all the other composts and gives 30-40 % higher yield of crops over chemical fertilizers. It may not be evident in the first year, but with continued application its miracle starts appearing from the 2nd & 3rd years onward as the soil gains its vitality.

Vermicompost consistently promote total plant growth and at all stages – improve seed germination, enhance seedling growth and development of roots, shoots & leaves, induce early flowering and formation of healthy fruits and seeds. Studies at CSIRO Australia found that the earthworms & its vermicompost can increase growth of wheat crops by 39 %, grain yield by 35 %, lift protein value of the grain by 12 % & fight crop diseases. It increased yield of ‘cherries’ for three (3) long years and of grapes for 5 long years after ‘single application’. It boosted ‘grape’ yield by two-fold as compared to chemical fertilizers. Fruits & vegetables grown on vermicompost have ‘distinct’ taste and nutritional values.

Our studies at Griffith University, Australia and collaborative studies made at Horticulture College, Noorsarai, Bihar also found that vermicompost supported growth and yield in corn, wheat & several vegetable crops better than chemical fertilizers by over 30-40 %. It also reduced the demand for irrigation by nearly 30-40 % and reduced the ‘incidence of pests and disease attacks’ by over 75 %.

Vermicompost Protects Crops from Pests & Diseases, Can Eliminate Use of Chemical Pesticides

Another significance of great agronomic & environmental value is that vermicompost generates ‘biological resistance’ in plants against pests & diseases, ‘repels’ insect pests & ‘suppress’ plant diseases in crops and ‘inhibit’ the soil-born fungal diseases. This has led to significant reduction in the use of dangerous ‘chemical pesticides’. Moreover, the body fluid of earthworms (vermiwash) produced during vermicomposting of waste and the ‘vermicompost tea’ (vermicompost dissolved in water) also works as a powerful ‘bio-pesticide’ completely safe for agricultural uses. They are rich in nutrients and growth hormones and also promote growth.

(Great works on pesticidal properties of vermicompost, ‘vermiwash’ and ‘vermicompost tea’ is being done in U.S. Dr. George Hahn has produced a ‘vermiwash’ that can completely replace chemical pesticides. Addition of ‘chitin’ from shrimp or crab shells or even dead insects to the vermicomposting bed makes the vermicompost a powerful pesticide).

Other Socio-economic Values of Earthworms for Human Society

Can Promote Poultry & Fishery Industries

Live earthworms are proving to be a valuable bio-resource for mankind. They are rich in high quality protein (65 %) and is ‘complete protein’ with all essential amino acids. There is 70-80 % high quality ‘lysine’ and ‘methionine’. Glutamic acid, leucine, lysine & arginine are higher than in fish meals. Tryptophan is 4 times higher than in blood powder. They are also rich in Vitamins A & B. Thus worms are wonderful ‘pro-biotic feed’ for fish, cattle and poultry industry. As earthworm protein is complete with 8-9 essential amino acids especially with the tasty ‘glutamic acid’ it can also be used for human consumption. Worm protein is higher than in any meat products with about 2 % lower fats than in meats and ideal for human consumption. They are being used as ‘additives’ to produce ‘pellet feeds’ in the USA, Canada and Japan. Vermiculture is now a flourishing business in US, UK, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand where large ‘Vermicomposting Companies’ have come up supplying vermicompost to big farmers and ‘earthworms biomass’ to poultry, fishery & cattle feed industries.

New Discoveries as Source of Valuable Industrial Raw Materials

Earthworms are also finding new uses and applications as ‘raw materials’ for pharmaceuticals, rubber, lubricant, soaps, detergent, insecticide & cosmetics industries. Being ‘biodegradable’ they are environmentally friendly and sustainable.

New Discoveries as Source of Modern Medicines for Combating Human Diseases

Recent studies in US, Canada, China, Japan & India confirm that earthworms have some ‘bioactive compounds’ that can be used to develop ‘modern medicines’ to combat some chronic and deadly human diseases including ‘heart & brain’ diseases and some forms of ‘cancers’. Oral administration of earthworms ‘powder & extracts’ were found to be effective in treating ‘thrombotic diseases’, ‘arthritis’, ‘diabetes mellitus’, ‘pulmonary heart disease’, ‘liver diseases’, ‘lowering blood pressure’, ‘epilepsy’, ‘schizophrenia’, ‘mumps’, ‘exzema’, ‘chronic lumbago’, ‘anemia’, ‘vertigo’ and ‘digestive ulcer’.

There will be great demand for live earthworms in future once the earthworms products gets popularity in modern medicines and the industrial world.

A Word from the Author

1). Need for Public Movement Against Global Agrochemical Producing Industries & Integration of Vermiculture in Agriculture Policy of India

It is disappointing to see that despite the miraculous role played by the earthworms and its vermicompost in production of healthy food for people in more economical way and without damaging the soil and environment, government of nations and the policy makers all over the world have not paid much attention towards this valued technology. The rich lobby of ‘agro-chemical producing companies’ all over the world and their vested interest are working against developing a sustainable alternative. There is need for a public movement to counter this. Vermiculture scientists and companies in U.S., Canada and European nations are also fighting this issue. The society has also to be educated about the ‘ill-effects’ of use of farm agro-chemicals on human health and the values of chemical-free ‘ORGANIC FOODS’ which are gaining great popularity all over the western nations.

There was a shocking news report in 2010 from the Union Agriculture Minister of India that the ‘country was destined to face a severe shortage of food-grains as the soil was badly degraded and unable to produce more to meet the demands of growing population’. I responded immediately suggesting him to integrate vermiculture in agricultural policy of India and call a meeting of vermiculture scientists. I have not heard since. All Indian politicians lack this simple courtesy even to acknowledge.

Request to Govt. & Policy Makers of Bihar

The Govt. and policy makers of Bihar must promote ‘Vermiculture Technology’ which has several benefits for the farmers and the entire society in general. Earthworms can change the fate of farmers. It can provide a better & cheaper alternative to the costly & destructive agrochemicals to produce ‘safe chemical-free foods’ for society and also manage all community wastes, even the wastewater in a highly economical way.

Govt. of Bihar should identify the intellectuals of Bihar in & outside the state and country and request them to use their ‘skills of specialization’ as an ADVISOR for BIHAR in various DEVELOPMENTAL PROGRAMS such as in the areas of ‘AGRICULTURE & ANIMAL HUSBANDRY’, ‘WASTE MANAGEMENT’, POLLUTION CONTROL & ABATEMENT, ‘WATER RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT’, ‘RENEWABLE ENERGY GENERATION’, ‘SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY, TRANSPORT & URBAN DEVELOPMENT’, SUSTAINABLE MINING etc. Many talented people of Bihar left the state due to some compelling reasons. People like Dr. H.P. Singh should be called back in Bihar as ‘AGRICULTURAL ADVISOR’ to promote ‘Vermiculture & Sustainable Agriculture’.

(I offered my honorary services to the CM as an ‘Academic Advisor & Environmental Educator for Sustainable Development in Bihar’. But no response to date).

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Dr Rajiv Kumar Sinha is a Senior Lecturer at the school of Environmental Engineering, Griffith University, Australia. He has more than 40 years of teaching experiences and he gained International Recognition in Vermiculture research for Using Earthworms in waste management, land remediation and organic farming.

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One Response

  1. Rajeev says:

    plz suggest some ngo, org who work on vermi in bihar

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