Dr Freddie Acosta, a Senior Lecturer of Technology and Innovation Management at Strathmore Business School has been studying vermiculture as a viable commercial business for the past few years. Vermiculture is the cultivation of earthworms especially for use in composting and production of organic fertilizer. Kenya imports 22,000 tonnes of synthetic fertilizer annually to boost food production in the region.
I primarily culture Red Wigglers at home, said Dr. Acosta in an interview. I feed them with my rabbits manure mixed with decomposed substrates. Earthworms are known to consume food equivalent to their body weight every day. Composted manure and other substrates are digested by the earthworms resulting in a dark, rich, earthly smelling fertilizer and soil amendment that is full both of primary and micronutrients readily available to plants. In addition to nutrients and biology, Dr. Acosta explained that worm casting also improves the physical property of the soil by improving tilt, ferocity and moisture holding capacity of the soil.
Dr Acosta revealed that at Cornell University, researchers have found out that adding vermicompost to soil has reduced insect pests and plant diseases in certain fields and greenhouse crops including corn, wheat, pea, cucumber, and tomato, whereas US vineyard owners using vermicompost as fertilizer reported that there is difference in the taste and flavor intensity of the wine they produced.
Earthworms are hermaphrodites where each earthworm contains both male and female sex. They double their number every month. One kilogram of earthworms (approx. 1500 worms) at the beginning of January for example, if fed very well and given the right moisture and protection from predators, can multiply and increase their number to approximate 4000 kilograms at the end of December.
Dr Acosta pointed out that after 1 year of operation, a worm farmer should be producing 2-3 tonnes of organic fertiliser every day. Vermicast is sold at Ksh50/kg. Earthworms are also sold at Ksh2500/kg for those who are interested in starting a worm farm. Other by-products include a vermi-tea and vermi-juice. These are highly concentrated liquid (Ksh100/litre) which are diluted with water before applied to plants. They are found to increase quality and quantity of yield per acre.
Dr Acosta is currently advising Kenyan farmers in the use of vermicompost as an alternative to inorganic fertilizer including business people who are interested in making vermiculture a commercial venture. His other researches include the use of EM Technology aimed to reduce farm inputs and increase yields in pig and chicken farming. He can be contacted through his email address firstname.lastname@example.org.