Harnessing “Earthworm Power” for Rural Development
Poverty in the country’s rural areas is pervasive. Among the reasons for this are the low income and productivity of families, non-sustainable practices of natural resources management, and the lack of viable livelihood industries.
A national program now ur place to help address the above concerns intends to harness “earthworm power” for rural development. Known as the National Vermicompost and Vermimeal Production Program or N2V2P for short, it is supported by the Philippine Japan Program for Underprivileged Farmers of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and coordinated by the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
Earthworms are harmless and useful soil-dwelling animals without backbones (invertebrates scientifically known as annelids or segmented worms) that contribute to soil fertility and conservation through their environment-friendly characteristics. They enrich the soil with humus (organic matter) and enhance beneficial microbial activities that promote plant growth and resistance to pests and diseases. Unlike parasitic worms such as the hookworm and tapeworm that many of us detest, earthworms have been considered as the “intestines of the earth,” “angels of the soil,” and “bio-engineers,” by various authorities from ancient to modem times.
Vermicompost is the product of composting that involves the suitable earthworm species such as the tropical “African nightcrawler” (Eudrilus eugeniae) introduced into the country in 1982 from Germany. Vermitompost is better than ordinary compost because of its microbial properties enhanced by the earthworm’s digestive system. A byproduct of vermicomposting is earthworm biomass that can be used as a “live feed” or processed feed ingredient (vermimeal) for cultured birds, fish and livestock to replace the commonly used but scarce and expensive “trash fish” and imported fishmeal.
Although there are more than 400 species of earthworms in the country, only the exotic “Indian blue” (Perionyx excavatus) has been found appropriate for vermicomposting. The “African nightcrawler” or ANC, however, is the more efficient species compared to the “Indian Blue” because of its larger size and faster growth.
The N2V2P aims to disseminate nationwide the vermicompost and vermimeal production technologies developed locally and to make the ANC more accessible to underprivileged farmers through the establishment of 16 Regional Vermicompost and Verwimeal Production Center (R2VPCs) throughout the country. Based in state colleges and universities that have the facilities, expertise and extension service, each R2VPC has been provided with a funding support of P1 million by the N2V2P to put up a techno-demo facility, conduct training of trainors in the region and provide technical assistance to underprivileged farmers and other stakeholders. Each R2VPC is also committed to sell the ANC as “started stock” to underprivileged farmers at only R30 per kilo or less.
For application of the technologies, a simple and very affordable vermin module of 10 square maters made of locally available materials (e.g., bamboo slats, cogon sheaves and nipa shingles) is used to show farmers that they can easily apply them. For vermibed materials (substrates), agricultural wastes such as crop residues (e.g., rice straw, banana stalks, sugarcane trash, etc.) and animals wastes (e.g., manure of pigs, goats, cattle, carabao, etc.) are utilized. Farmers are taught the science and appropriate practices of vermicomposting including site selection, sourcing and preparation of bed materials, construction of the vermin beds, care and maintenance, and harvesting/processing of the vermicompost that can be produced in 30-45 days.
The vermicompost produced by the farmers can. be used by them for the production of crops (e.g., vegetables, rice, corn, fruits, etc.) with less chemical fertilizers applied (up to 50 percent reduction), reduced burning of crop residues that contribute to “global warming” due to the “greenhouse effect” and diminished pollution of water bodies where animal wastes from large livestock farms are usually dumped indiscriminately. It has also been found that good quality vermicompost can also be used as an organic fertilizer for fishponds and even as a low-cost source of protein, vitamins and minerals for animal and fish feeds.
From local studies, it has been shown that the cost of producing vermicompost under commercial conditions is from P2 to P4 per kilo depending on the locality and management. The product . can be sold for P3 to P6 per kilo exfarm or wholesale. From a 10-square meter bed, as much as P250 kilos of vermicompost can be produced from 500 kilos of bed materials.
Vermimeal, an excellent substitute for imported fishmeal, is processed from the earthworm biomass which is a byproduct of vermicomposting. It is possible to produce a net of one to two kilos of ANC per square meter of vermin bed with the right culture methods. To produce a kilo of vermimeal, 5.5 kilos of fresh ANC are needed. The cost of producing a kilo of live ANC is only P5.60, according to a study done by a commercial producer in Negros. The commercial production of vermimeal in the country is highly feasible particularly if the value of the vermicompost produced as a byproduct is considered.
For small farmers using the 10-square meter module, an income of P550 can be derived every month from the sale of 250 kilos of vermicompost at P5 per kilo and 10 kilos of ANC biomass at P30 per kilo from an initial capital of only P1,000 or less.