Kenya: ‘Worm juice’ helps farmers boost harvests

lombriculture kenya

Josphat Macharia stoops over a large plastic drum on his farm in southwestern Kenya. He scoops up a handful of dirt and examines the worms writhing in his hand.
He says, “These are ready for harvesting.”
By that, Mr. Macharia means it’s time to add water to the drum. This causes the worms to produce fluid that he will use to fertilize a plot of cabbages.
A prolonged drought and storm-related flooding have eroded fertile soils in parts of rural Kenya. This has forced farmers struggling with low yields to seek cost-efficient alternatives to fertilizers in order to improve the soil and boost crop production.
Rearing worms—called vermiculture—is a simple solution that allows farmers to harvest nutritious worm waste. They spread the waste—a darkish, slimy fluid smelling of rotten eggs—just as they would a synthetic fertilizer.
It can be tedious to produce “worm juice”: it requires checking on the worms daily to keep them alive. But it costs almost nothing to make.
Mr. Macharia says, “All I need is a handful of earthworms, water, [and] kitchen- and farm-waste to make organic fertilizer for my farm.”
To get enough fertilizer for his five-acre plot, Mr. Macharia uses five 20-litre drums of worms, and applies the “juice” every couple of days.
His crops have thrived: his tomatoes, maize, and strawberries are all growing well. In fact, the success of the crops means Mr. Macharia no longer has to use synthetic fertilizers.
He says, “You can see the crops are very healthy. They have been fed using organic materials.”
Experts say soil degradation is a major problem in Africa. It affects about 180 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone and costs $68 billion a year, according to a 2014 report by Agriculture for Impact. The report found that climate change, desertification, depletion of mineral nutrients, improper use of fertilizer, and a lack of infrastructure are compounding the problem.
Ben Momanyi is a researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, or JKUAT. He says vermiculture is becoming more common in central Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley where agriculture is the key economic activity.
JKUAT’s institute of energy and environmental technologies has been selling young worms at 2,500 shillings ($24.60 US) per kilogram. The worms take four months to reach maturity.
Mr. Momanyi says, “It is not easy to estimate how many farmers are using the technology since some of them are doing it on a very small scale.”
For farmers like Mr. Macharia, synthetic fertilizers are costly.
Perhaps most importantly for subsistence farmers, worm juice comes worry-free.
Mr. Macharia learned about vermiculture while on a study trip to the United States. He says that embracing organic farming at home would ensure long-term soil health and help to protect the environment.
Mr. Macharia says, “When the environment is safe, the food we eat is safe and everybody will be healthy.”


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