Everyone has tried their hands at converting waste into something useful during the art and craft classes at school, (best out of waste, remember?). Reused ice-cream sticks turned to photo frames or old CDs changed to toy houses.
For many of us, those waste management lessons did not go beyond school. But Prabhakar Mankoji utilises his farm waste to his advantage and even generates revenue from it.
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Fourteen years ago, the resident of Karnataka’s Kadale village incorporated the concept of waste-to-wealth in his agricultural practice and today, the 58-year-old farmer not only saves Rs 4 lakh annually by producing organic compost but also has doubled his income.
No mean feat right?
Mankoji’s waste management mantra is to use his farm waste to generate vermicompost which helps him naturally fertilise 160 coconut trees, 1,000 arecanut trees, betel leaf climbers, pepper and cashew crop, and green fodder on his eight-acre ancestral land.
The push for organic farming for Mankoji came in 2005 when the state government introduced a scheme which provided subsidies to farmers who showed commitment to replace chemical fertilisers and pesticides with organic alternatives.
“My father was a farmer who used pesticides and yet insects damaged the plant growth. I heard some village elders talk about farming with natural means. I thought of trying it out and applied for the scheme,” says Mankoji who had never heard of vermicomposting.
Yet, a determined Mankoji took guidance from fellow farmers, designed a plan and presented it to the officials to avail the subsidy.
He studied both, composting and vermicomposting and opted for the latter for multifold reasons
I found vermicomposting to be less labour-intensive as the worms break down the organic waste faster and even fragments and aerates the waste. It can be done round the year, helps in reducing the water loss as vermicompost retains moisture. Plus, it enhances the growth of plants, explains Mankoji.
Mankoji received a subsidy of Rs 60,000 and a loan of Rs 1.2 lakh which he used to install eight composting pits in his farm.
A year after making the organic switch, he realised that the vermicompost had not only improved quality of the soil but also increased the yield and quality of food.
For instance, his output of arecanut increased two-fold from ten quintal to 25 from which he earns up to Rs 20,000/kg. His pepper plantation also saw a hike from ten kg to over three quintals and fetches him Rs 300/kg. Meanwhile the coconut production rose by 3,000 coconuts.
The Vermicompost Process:
- Each pit or tank is twenty feet long and four feet wide with a depth of 2.5 feet. All the tanks are covered with a five sq ft of mesh to keep rats and frogs at bay.
- Mankoji has six cows, two calves and one buffalo. A pipe connects the shed to an underground tank. The cow urine and water used for washing the animals is transferred to the tank every 15 days which has a capacity of 15,000 litres. Once the tank is full, the liquid is led to a biogas unit, placed close to the shed.
- Mankoji deposits the dry farm waste like leaves and twigs in the vermicompost tanks which is then covered with the slurry from the biogas unit. He also buys additional dry waste from other farmers.
- Once the tank is filled, he introduces worms in the tank. Though not necessary but Mankoji suggests using cow dung water to quicken the reproduction process of worms.
- The tanks are covered with mesh and he sprays water in them once every week.
- After a month, he removes five inches of compost and again coats the waste with cow dung slurry. He follows this procedure till all the waste is converted into compost.
- On an average, it takes over a month to produce 25 quintals of compost from each of the eight pits.
He uses the majority of the compost in his farm and sells the surplus in the market or to his fellow farmers.
I sell one quintal of compost for Rs 2,000 and if I sell all my compost, it can annually fetch me up to Rs four lakh. In other words I would require rupees four lakh worth of compost to practice organic farming and I am saving that money by producing my own compost, he shares.
Back then one lakh seemed a lot but Mankoji also knew that it would be a one-time investment that would give returns in the long run.
I am just a tenth-pass and not educated enough to preach about the process or even give my expertise. But from my experience I can recommend vermicomposting, especially to those farmers who have space in their farms. When the input is less and output is more, it is a sure shot way to know that the process is profitable, smiles Mankoji.
It is these little steps that lead to big results. Composting house-hold waste at home or applying the same process to convert farm waste into a revenue-making resource, such initiatives are not impossible. It only needs an unwavering decision and will to make the switch from toxic to healthy and see our lives change for the better.
Image Courtesy: Prabakar Mankoji
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)