There is a growing realisation that vermi-composting provides the nutrients and growth enhancing hormones necessary for plant growth. The fruits, flowers and vegetables and other plant products grown using vermi-compost are reported to have better keeping quality. A growing number of individuals and institutions are taking interest in the production of compost utilising earthworm activity. Some of them ventured into commercial production as well. As the cost of production of this compost works out to about Rs.1.5 per kg, it is quite profitable to sell the compost even at Rs.2.50 per kg. Other organic manures like neem cake, groundnut cake, etc., are sold around this price.
The process of composting crop residues using earthworms comprise spreading the agricultural wastes and cow dung in layers as 1.5 m wide and 0.9 m high beds of required length. Earthworms are introduced in between the layers @ 350 worms per m3 of bed volume. The beds are maintained at about 40 - 50% moisture content and a temperature of 20 - 30o C by sprinkling water over the beds. The earthworms being voracious eaters consume the biodegradable matter and give out a part of the matter as excreta or vermi-castings. The vermi-casting containing nutrients is rich manure for the plants.
When the commercial scale production is aimed at in addition to the cost of production, considerable amount has to be invested initially on capital items. The capital cost may work out to about Rs.1500 to Rs.2500 for every tonne of compost produced annually. The high variability in the unit capital cost is due to the fact that large units require considerable expenditure on machinery and transport particularly when the source of raw materials is away from the site of production facility and the finished product has to be transported to far off places before being marketed. However, in most of the cases, the activity is viable and bankable. Following are the items required to be considered while setting up a unit for production of vermi-compost.
2.0 ABOUT THE WORMS
Of about 350 species of earth worms in India with various food and burrowing habits, Eisenia fetida, Eudrilus eugeniae, Perionyx excavatius are some of the species for rearing to convert organic wastes into manure. The worms feed on any biodegradable matter ranging from coir waste to kitchen garbage and vermicomposting units are ideally suited to locations / units with generation of considerable quantities of organic wastes. One earthworm reaching reproductive age of about six weeks lays one egg capsule (containing 7 embryoes) every 7 - 10 days. Three to seven worms emerge out of each capsule. Thus, the multiplication of worms under optimum growth conditions is very fast. The worms live for about 2 years. Fully grown worms could be separated and dried in a oven to make 'worm meal' which is a rich source of protein (70%) for use in animal feed.
Suburbs of cities and villages around urban centres can be ideal locations for practice of vermicomposting on a large scale, from the view point of availability of raw material and marketing of the produce. As use of the compost is said to have ameliorative effect on product from fruit, flower and vegetable crops, vermicomposting units may be located in areas with concentration of fruit and vegetable growers and floriculture units.
As the wastes are pulverised as they pass through the worm, the surface area of the material increases which in turn helps as base for nutrients. Vermicompost, apart from supplying nutrients and growth enhancing harmones to plants, improves the soil structure leading to increase in water and nutrient holding capacities of soil. Chemical fertilizer in moderate doses can go along with vermicoposting.
5.0 COMPONENTS OF A COMMERCIAL UNIT
For a vermi-composting unit, whether small or big, this is an essential item and is required for having the vermi beds. They could be of thatched roof supported by bamboo rafters and purlins, wooden trusses and stone pillars. If the size is so chosen as to prevent wetting of beds due to rain on a windy day, they could be open sheds. While designing the sheds adequate room has to be left around the beds for easy movement of the labour attending to the filling and harvesting the beds.
Normally the beds are 75 cm - 90 cm thick depending on the provision of filter for drainage of excess water. The entire bed area could be above the ground. Care should be taken to make the bed with uniform height over the entire width to the extent possible to avoid low production owing to low bed volumes. The bed width should not be more that 1.5 m to allow easy access to the centre of the bed.
About 0.5-1 acre of land will be needed to set up a vermiculture production cum extension centre. The centre will have at least 8-10 sheds each of about 180-200 sq.ft. It should also have a bore well, and pump set or watering arrangement and other equipments as described in the scheme economics. The land can be taken on lease of at least 10-15 years. Even sub marginal land also will serve the purpose.
When the activity is taken up on a large scale on commercial lines, considerable amount may have to be spent on buildings to house the office, store the raw material and finished product, provide minimum accommodation to the Manager and workers. The cost of the buildings along with the electrification of these buildings and the vermi-sheds may be included under this item.
5.5 Seed Stock
This is an important item requiring considerable investment. Though the worms multiply fast to give the required numbers over a period of 6 months to a year, it may not be wise to wait till such a time having invested on the infrastructure heavily. Thus, worms @ 350 worms per m3 of bed space should be adequate to start with and to build up the required population in about two cycles or three without unduly affecting the estimated production.
5.6 Fencing and Roads/Paths
The site area needs development for construction of structures and development of roads and pathways for easy movement of hand-drawn trolleys/wheel barrows for conveying the raw material and the finished products to and from the vermi-sheds. The entire area has to be fenced to prevent trespass by animals and other unwanted elements. These could be estimated based on the length of the periphery of the farm and the length and type of roads/paths required. The costs on fencing and formation of roads should be kept low as these investments are essential for a production unit, yet would not lead to increase in production.
As the beds have always to be kept moist with about 50% moisture content, there is need to plan for a water source, lifting mechanism and a system of conveying and applying the water to the vermi-beds. Drippers with round the clock flow arrangement would be quite handy for continuous supply and saving on water. Such a water supply/application system requiring considerable initial investment, however, reduces the operational costs on hand watering and prove economical in the long run. The cost of these items depend on the capacity of the unit and the type of water supply chosen.
Farm machinery and implements are required for cutting (shredding) the raw material in small pieces, conveying shredded raw material to the vermi-sheds, loading, unloading, collection of compost, loosening of beds for aeration, shifting of the compost before packing and for air drying of the compost, automatic packing and stitching for efficient running of the unit. Costs of providing necessary implements and the machinery have to be included in the project cost.
For any vermi-composting unit transport arrangement is a must. When the source of raw material is away from the production unit, an off-site transport becomes major item of investment. A large sized unit with about 1000 tonnes per annum capacity may require a 3-tonne capacity mini-truck. With small units particularly with the availability of raw material near the site, expending on transport facility may become infructuous. On-site transport facilities like manually drawn trolleys to convey raw material and finished products between the storage point and the vermi-compost sheds could also be included in the project cost.
A reasonable amount could also be considered for furnishing the office-cum-stores including the storage racks and other office equipment. These enhance the efficiency of operations.
5.11 Operational Costs
In order to operate the unit, expenditure on some items have to be incurred on a recurring basis. These items include salaries of the staff, wages to the labourers, cost of raw material, fuel cost on transport of raw materials and finished goods, packing material cost, repairs and maintenance, power, insurance, etc. The number of office personnel and labourers have to be decided breaking each activity into a number of sub-activities and for each sub-activity estimating the work involved and the capacity of the labour to finish the work in a given time. The number of persons should be so chosen to keep them engaged throughout by providing enough persons at various work points like stores, vermi-beds and equipping them with adequate number of implements to avoid undue waiting.
6.0 PROJECT PROFILE
Vermi-composting could be taken up on any scale starting from 10 tonnes per annum (tpa) to 1000 tpa and above. As the production is proportional to the vermi-bed space, it is advantageous to start with less capacities and later expand the unit after gaining production experience and developing assured market for the product.
The Society for Preservation of Environment and Quality of Life (SPEQL) organised a pilot project on vermi-composting in fruit market premises, Kothapet, Hyderabad. The project, being operated currently on commercial lines is serving as a demonstration unit. The estimates of costs and benefits, presented in the profile are based on the experience of that pilot project.
A bed volume of 330 m3 spread over sixteen beds - 15 m long, 1.5 m wide and 0.3 m high is estimated to produce vermi-compost of 200 tpa over 5 cycles/crops of 75 days each annually. These beds are housed in 8 open sheds of 15 m x 5.4 m.
The cost of construction of sheds, cost of machinery and tools, operational cost/production cost of compost are set out in annexures I, II and III respectively. The costs and benefits of the unit are set out in annexure-IV. As can be seen, the investment cost is Rs.2,77,000/-, operational cost Rs.3,68,000. Operational cost of two cycles amounting to Rs.1,47,200 is capitalised. Production of 60% in the first year and 90% in the subsequent years is assumed. Benefits include the income from sale of vermi-compost @ Rs.2500 per tonne and worm @ Rs.50/- per kg. The net income from the 2nd year onwards would be about Rs.1,37,000 annually. The financial analysis of the project suggests that the activity is financially viable with financial rate of return of 36% (Annexure-V). Economics have been worked out with out the subsidy component. With the subsidy its viability will be much better. The loan could be repaid over a period of 8 years with a grace period of 1 year. The repayment schedule is set out in annexure-VI.
7.0 EXTENSION SERVICE
The unit will provide extension services to the near by villages. Under this the unit will provide cultural material of the desired species, and train farmers and entrepreneurs who would like to set up their own small units for use in their farms. Those who want to set up commercial units also can get know-how and culture material at a reasonable cost. The technical graduates who will establish such an unit under the scheme for agri-clinics will train more people, demonstrate practically the production methodology on the unit that will be set up by him and also supply the pure culture with quality worms. He may also try to explore marketing for small units that will be promoted by him at a reasonable cost. The following benefits can be assumed under extension services for the unit:
Sale of culture material @5-10 paise
Consultancy for setting up new units @Rs.1,000/- per unit and say 10 units per year comes to Rs.10,000/-.
It is advised that the same unit will also construct models of simple, alternate methods of compost making to serve as demonstration to the local farmers. One of the simple method is NADEP compost process. Two NADEP tanks of size 10x6x3 feet will be constructed at a suitable location. In addition any other simpler low cost methods also may be installed inconsultation with research institutions/Universities and give wide publicity to popularise the sustainable practices for wider adoption.
Estimate for construction of temporary shed for setting up 200 TPA vermicompost unit
(Size 8 m x 15m x 5.4 m)
Wooden ballies (3 m long)
Wooden ballies (3.6 m long)
Bamboos (3 m long)
Bamboos (6 m long)
Bamboo mats for covering the roof
Coir rope 6 mm dia
Binding wire for tying bamboos & mats
Labour charges for erection of sheds
200 TPA vermi-compost unit - Implements and machinery
Particulars of item
Shovels, spades, crowbars, iron baskets,
dung fork, buckets, bamboo baskets,
trowel, wire mesh sieves (3 mm and 6 mm)
Plumbing and fitting tools
Power operated shredder
Sieving maching with 3 wire mesh sieves
0.6 m x 0.9 m size - power operated with out motor