Farmers in Molo area of Kenya's Rift are now rearing worms whose waste they use to make nutrient rich organic manure within 3 days while halving the use of conventional fertilizers which have been responsible for reduced yields in the area, a timely idea in environmental conservation with air pollution in the area having soared to unprecedented levels in what is being blamed on poor farming techniques.
Scientists estimate that over 2- percent of all global emissions of carbon dioxide and two thirds of nitrous oxide, two of the most dangerous gases that contribute to change in climate, come from the soil. These emissions are produced by a number of natural biological processes involving plant roots and the microorganisms that live in the ground. Worms have been known to correct these emissions by burrowing in the soil which makes it more porous. The worms also come into contact with many of the carbon emitting microbes, absorbing most of these gases.
The Molo farmers have over the years reeled under acute change in weather patterns compared to their counterparts in Rift Valley province of Kenya. For a long time the farmers have been the biggest beneficiaries of the government subsidized synthetic fertilizer. While it traditionally ensured they could plant in time ultimately harvesting in time, the over reliance on these fertilizers has turned against them.
Such common conventional fertilizers like Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) and NPK which have a high concentration of nitrogen eventually made the soils tired while interfering with the environment. According to climate scientists in the area the cause of the change in weather patterns in the area compared to other areas was the increased nitrous oxide in the air was nitrogen-based fertilizers like CAN which stimulates microbes in the soil to convert nitrogen to nitrous oxide at a faster rate than normal.
“This over reliance has not just had a toll on yields but also the environment in an area which traditionally faired very well in terms of the amount of rainfall it gets,”said Wachihi Mulwa a scientist. Mwangi Kiemi a retired stock broker turned horticultural area in Molo has known nothing but sleepless nights and crop losses since the year 2005. In his one acre farm which he inter crops fresh produces with maize, he recorded his worst harvest in decades getting just half of what he has traditionally been getting. “And from there on I have known no peace.
I have spent a fortune trying to look for where I went wrong. But I later realized even my neighbours were grappling with the same problem. And the only thing these agricultural officers are telling us is to minimize the use of conventional fertilizers. They say besides affecting the fertility of our soils, it has also been responsible for the crazy weather patterns we have been experiencing,” Kiemi said pensively.
When it shines, crops are reduced to dry twigs, and when it pours, crops lay flat on farms like envelops. “Problem is we don’t know when either of the two will strike. It has become unpredictable. Never seen something like it before,”said Kiemi.But the worms have come in handy for these farmers.
The process of putting worms in the farms dubbed vermicomposting involves placing worms in trash bins with the worms assisting in the fast decomposition of the waste into manure. The worms eat garbage like paper, fruits, vegetables, egg shells, and coffee grind among others.
The worms then excrete waste, which is used as a nutrient-rich compost to fertilize plants and vegetables. This well balanced fertiliser contains all the nutrients essential for plant growth including nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and zinc.
The worms, according to scientists involved in the study have also been instrumental in soaking in some of the greenhouse gases that they convert to oxygen which they later breathe into the soil. Sophia Watiri who pioneered this cheap manure making method after learning about it from a friend at the University of Dar es Salam says the ability to use few worms to turn around a huge pile of trash into a nutritious manure has endeared many to the otherwise inconceivable trade. “You only require 5 worms for the ordinary trash bin used by many homes and you get yourself a highly nutritious manure for your crops,” said Sophia who now has over 200 farmers using worms to make organic manure.
Farmers start by first getting worms either from the gardens or the forest which they then place in the trash. It takes about 36 hours to get good manure after placing the worms in the trash. While any worm can be used, Sophia encourages farmers to use the red worms since they are the only worms known to be heavy eaters and can eat as much as their body weight in waste each day. They are also known to burrow deep into the compost which ensures that all that waste is put as the worm's food.
The tried and tested use of the red worms has now seen farmers start domesticating and rearing them in a bid to maximize on the time it takes to produce the manure. “Farmers set up various trash point and use different red worms for each trash point. The many trash points you have the more manure you will get,” said Sophia. Infact the domestication of the worms has worked so well for farmers like Mbithi Kiere who now gets on average 5 bags of manure from the 10 trash points he has established. This has however been made possible due to the number of worms that he is rearing.
He currently has over 300 worms which he alternates within the trashpoint. “I got them from a nearby forest and started with about 50, but they reproduce so fast. I alternate them because each trash point has different garbage, so if I have vegetable left overs in one I have egg shells in another so after harvesting manure from all trashpoints I transfer the worms to another trash point,” said Kiere.
Kiere says he bought into the idea of worm manure after countless frustration with the government subsidized fertilizer which would come late and when it did would not be subsidized as agrovets and other businessmen cashed in on the farmers' desperation.
This novel manure making venture has now opened up possibilities of being expanded large scale especially to horticultural and flower farming as those in this business struggle to get fertilizers that have especially Zinc, Magnesium and calcium necessary for plant growth and well being.