India Worm Farm

“The Single Largest Producer of Vermicompost in the World”

India 129 In 1991 Kamal M. Morarka, one of India’s leading industrialists and philanthropists, registered M.R. Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation in memory of his late father M.R. Morarka. The non-profit organization is funded by M/S Gannon Dunkerley & Company Ltd., Mumbai [Bombay] India. The foundation has a very strong focus in carrying out research by involving grass root beneficiaries for sustainable agriculture development.

The Foundation employs more than 400 full-time workers comprising over 40 professionally qualified post graduates, over 70 graduates, and a large number of well-trained extension workers in Agriculture Biotechnology and organic agriculture. Starting from Nawalgarh in 1993, the foundation has expanded within the state of Rajasthan [its headquarters are located in the “Pink City” of Jaipur] and now has a field presence in all agro-climatic zones of the country spread over 19 States and 3 Union Territories.

Today the foundation is providing vermiculture know-how to over 300 Agripreneurs every year in India. Foundation affiliates produce over 50,000 metric tons (1 metric ton is = 1,000 kilograms = 2,200 lbs.) of vermicompost every month [thus, 50,000 x 2,200 = 110 million pounds] and has over 100,000 hectares of land under Certified Organic Cultivation. [Source: www.morarkango.com] With its 10,000 vermicompost-producing partners, the Morarka Foundation claims it has become “the single largest producer of vermicompost in the world,” having begun its venture into vermicomposting with only about 100 earthworms in 1995. Its training program, according to the foundation’s website, has been disseminated to over 100,000 farmers and 500 entrepreneurs “creating a combined production capacity of over 5.0 Lakhs [500,000] metric tons per annum of vermicompost.”

The foundation claims it can deliver up to 500 metric tons of vermicompost in a single lot from over 50 locations in India. It also claims it can deliver up to 10,000 kg [22,000 lbs.] Eisenia fetida earthworms in a single lot from over 10 locations in India.

For pest control, the foundation has developed enriched vermicompost, probiotic applications for organic agriculture. In its literature, the Morarka Foundation says that “recent advances made by us to enrich vermicompost through microorganisms has enabled us to develop location-crop specific packages for application in difficult and degraded lands in India.”

A book with the title “Vermiculture: A Complete Guide” written in the Hindi language by the Foundation’s Executive Director, Mukesh Gupta, has become the first book published on the subject by the foundation. There is yet no English version available. Gupta has also written Organic Agriculture Development in India (Jaipur, India: ABD Publishers, 2004) and Organic Agriculture: Micro Planning and Decision Making, Volume I (Jaipur, India: M.R. Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation, n.d). The Morarka Foundation seeks to bring together a wide variety of interested parties in the areas of organic farming and certification, agriculture extension, tourism promotion, waste management, vermicomposting, and the conservation of India’s heritage. In its promotional literature, The Foundation states that it “restricts its role to that of a catalyst, coordinator and facilitator, encouraging necessary participation of the rural community and entrepreneurs.”

According to it website, “The Foundation with its involvement in biotechnology has successfully developed solid waste management technologies for converting household and segregated city waste to organic manure through a process of sanitization, deodorization and accelerated decomposition.” The Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation recently listed Morarka Foundation to provide know-how for conversion of city waste into vermicompost under Supreme Court direction for all municipal towns having more than 1,000,000 in population as an “Appropriate Technology On Solid Waste Management.

In 2001, the M.R. Morarka Foundation was awarded a gold medal for “Excellence in Technology Innovation” at the India International Trade Fair in New Delhi.

On July 2, 2004 VermiCo Director Peter Bogdanov visited the 20-acre Jaipur complex where Executive Director Mukesh Gupta explained how vermiculture is practiced in India. Gupta’s educational background includes a degree in agriculture engineering followed by a master’s in business administration. For a time he worked for a pesticide manufacturer but then turned toward specializing in the recovery of failing businesses. “After doing that for about ten to twelve years I realized I was making money for the wrong kind of people,” Gupta said. “So I decided to look for something in building quality as something more satisfying. That’s why I am happy here in my work as Executive Director of this foundation.”

“We have two kinds of training programs,” Gupta explained. “One is our own establishment. We have about 300 of these. These units are kept open, all over the country, for any farmer to come and stay for instruction for any number of days. We have some farmers who come and, after three days, say they have learned enough. But we have seen other farmers who come and, after ten to fifteen days, have learned it reasonably well enough in order to make use of it. Those who stay for just three days are the ones who can only talk about it; they won’t be able to do much. Those who take the program for ten to fifteen days reach a level of ‘do-ability.’ Since all phases of the vermiculture operation are on-going, a farmer may come for training at any time of the year and learn about the various phases from the moment he arrives. This training is provided free of cost, provided the farmer comes to us. However, we also have an outreach training program, which means our people must go out to the farmer’s location. This will take somewhere between 2 to 3 months. We would get the farmer to execute all the steps necessary, from start to finish, from establishing new earthworm beds to harvesting the finished product. This costs around 5,000 rupees ($111.00).”

We asked Mr. Gupta about land surface requirements and availability of water. “Let’s say a farmer had one hectare [about 2.5 acres] of land,” Gupta began. “A farmer would have to produce, at the most, 2,000 kg of vermicompost [for application]. This amount, divided by 6 cycles, (which he would do in a year), is about 330 kilograms per cycle, requiring an average of 20 kg of worms per running foot. So he only needs about 20 [linear] feet of bedding. The water requirement for vermicomposting is one liter per linear foot, so only 20 liters of water [per day] are needed. This can also be done in small areas, as a de-centralized operation. [On the other hand] we also have people who are producing 10 tons a day.”

“The largest operation is a hundred miles from here,” Gupta said. “We also have operations in Maharashtra, Gujurat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Harayana, and many other states. [see sidebar] All of them are profitable, including our own units. The foundation money is used for carrying out our social welfare activities. We utilize some funding to carry on research related to other aspects of organic agriculture. But vermiculture is essentially a money-making activity for us. In the past year we’ve produced 20 crore (200 million) rupees equivalent of earthworms. [Ed. note: This amounts to approx. $444,444.00]. We sold 20 million [rupees worth of earthworms] for cash and the rest we distributed free of charge. There is a huge earthworm market in India.”

The Morarka foundation retails one kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of earthworms for 500 rupees (about $5.05 per pound). In larger quantities earthworms are sold for much less (wholesale), anywhere from 150-250 rupees per kilogram ($1.52-2.53/lb). These sales are made to commercial operations. Farmers who begin vermicomposting organic material for use on their own fields are supplied earthworms free of cost. “We have many farmers who have signed agreements with us to buy their vermicompost,” Gupta said, “at a minimum guaranteed price. But in reality farmers are able to sell their worm castings at a much higher rate than we will pay them. Our price is 1400 rupees ($31.11) for 1000 kg, i.e., one metric ton (2,200 lbs.). On the open market farmers have been able to sell worm castings for 1,800 to 2,000 rupees per metric ton ($40-44.44).” When the foundation sells vermicompost it purchases from farmers under the buy-back guarantee program, the price is 2,000 rupees per ton, but product handling and overhead take any profit out of it. The buy-back program exists only to encourage new farmers to begin vermicomposting. Once their confidence is developed, they sell their worm castings on the open market.

In Jaipur, a city of 2,324,319 (2001 census), like many cities in India, there is no organized public program for waste management. In order to obtain feedstocks for earthworms, the Morarka foundation is responsible for pick-up and delivery of organic waste products, such as animal dung in streets and dairies, and food waste. About 100 tons of vegetative waste is generated per day in Jaipur, half of which is delivered to the foundation. Although Executive Director Gupta is a member of various state and regional committees that have discussed payment for waste management services, no decisions have been made. There have been some private industries and townships, however, that have contracted with Morarka for consultation on handling waste. At one time the government of India explored the possibility of recycling its cotton-fiber currency through Morarka’s technology, but later backed out of the proposal. As for biosolids from wastewater treatment, no program currently exists for processing this material through vermicomposting. The city finds it can continue to dump wastewater residuals wherever it chooses.

Article reprinted from Casting Call Vol 9, No. 3 by Peter Bogdanov