COMMUNITY VERMICOMPOST UNITS AS a TOOL FOR PROMOTING ORGANIC FARMING AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
Authors: Subhashini, S., Daniel, A,R., Suresh, M & Balasubramanian ,A.V.
Key words: CIKS, Organic, Vermicompost, Women
Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS) promoted four community organic vermicompost units to meet the demand for organic vermicompost. An assessment was made on the status of the vermicompost production units run by women groups in four villages of Tamil Nadu state in India. The assessment provides an insight into the functioning of the units as well as the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats faced by these units. The units were initiated with the intention of providing organic inputs to farmers registered under CIKS organic agriculture programme. Women perceive that they have gained additional income by sale of vermicompost to organic farmers. Thus the community vermicompost units provide gainful employment and income to women farmers. There is scope for improving the skill of women in costing and marketing of organic vermicompost.
Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS) is a civil society organization promoting organic farming and agro-biodiversity in India. It assists farmer groups in adoption of organic farming in more than 2400 hectare. Vermicompost, an useful organic nutrient, is recommended for organic farmers. While some farmers produce their own vermicompost, there are some who are unable, as their cattle population is inadequate. Vermicompost relies upon worms to digest organic materials such as cattle dung, sugarcane trash, rice straw and other crop residues. Vermicompost is a high quality, clean to handle and easy to use compost. For these reasons, it is being widely promoted by various civil society organizations involved in organic farming. (Alvares, C. 2009).
Firstly, the major objective of CIKS selecting vermicompost units as a means of involvement of women in economic activity was to ensure that vermicompost is available to organic farmers' without any constraint even though the farmers do not own cattle. Vermicompost is also being recommended as one of the major inputs both as basal dose as well as top dressing in all the crops produced organically (Vijayalakshmi, K. et. al. 2007). Through vermicompost, low quality organic manure, in the form of fresh cattle dung, or dried leaves, etc. is made into high quality organic manure in the form of vermicompost (Vijayalakshmi, K. and A.V. Balasubramanian, 2004). Vermicompost is the result of treatment of such low quality organic manure (high C: N ratio) and converting them into high quality organic manure (low C: N ratio). Secondly, making of vermicompost can be done by using locally available raw materials. These raw materials include cattle dung or leaf compost. This organic manure is available within the vicinity of the rural women (Jayashankar, M. et. al. 2002). In many cases, CIKS has facilitated bank loans to women members for purchase of cattle so as to get income through sale of milk. Women farmers who are landed or landless were formed into groups in their villages. The criteria for selection were that the women should be organic farmers or having got trained with CIKS in organic farming and that they should own cattle. Four women groups were encouraged to be formed in the following villages--Allivilagam, Athamangalam, Alangadu and Kadinelvayal in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu. The women pooled their savings and met the costs of establishing the vermicompost units. Technical support was provided by CIKS, with initial marketing support.
Objectives of the study
Group vermicompost production units were started in the year 2008 of which the group at Allivilagam is the first one with others following after that the group allowed them to involve themselves in the learning process. The major objectives of the study were;
The study consisted of field visits to the four villages where vermicompost production is being carried out, discussion with women members, perusal of their records and review of available documents at CIKS field office in Srikazhi. Various issues were discussed with the members of the group. Some of the important areas that were taken up for discussion were;
The end market for vermicompost;
A case study was carried out on the Allivilagam women's group. This group was initiated in the year 2008 and was the first of the women group to initiate vermicompost production. There are 12 women members in this group. This venture was started with the aim of producing organic inputs for the organic agriculture programme of CIKS. The group started the production unit with US $ 875 as a loan, which has been repaid. So far, a total sale of US $1700 has been gained by this group as gross profit. They have also been training other women groups in vermicompost production. The group has a capacity to produce one tonne of vermicompost every month. All vermicompost produced by this group is not sold immediately. One of the main reasons is that the demand for vermicompost is not regular and is governed more by agricultural seasons. Higher demand is during the commencement of agricultural season. This group uses only cattle dung for vermicompost production. They bring cattle dung in buckets from their own households. CIKS is the main buyer and vermicompost is purchased at the rate of Indian Rupees. 4 per kilogram. Apart from CIKS they have also been selling vermicompost to others in bulk, occasionally.
Table 1: Comparative Assessment of Vermicompost Production by Women Groups
The production caters to the need of the organic farmers involved in the organic agriculture programme of CIKS. More than 80% of the vermicompost sold by the women groups are sold to such farmers. Presently, these farmers seem to be the major market for vermicompost produced by women group members.
The four vermicompost production units distributed the income from sale of vermicompost based on the contribution (of cow dung) by individual members. The members of the group assume equal responsibility for the running of the vermicompost unit. Accordingly, the income from vermicompost sales is equally distributed and in some cases, proportional to the level of contribution of inputs by the members. For the purpose of calculation of the quantum of inputs provided by the individual members, a detailed register is maintained for the purpose. The v ulnerability context s for the vermicompost venture are that the d emand for vermicompost is seasonal though production is possible throughout the year. Majority of the demand for vermicompost is from organic farmers and the number of organic farmers is slowly increasing in the district. The groups need to explore other marketing avenues apart from organic farmers such as nursery gardens, entrepreneurs involved in organic input production, households for home gardening, orchards and institutional buyers for landscaping.
It is evident from the study that community vermicompost production units can provide gainful employment and income to women if they can associate into a group. These units are more viable in locations where there is presence of organic farmers and who would be in need of organic inputs like vermicompost. The study also brought out the fact that the groups need capacity building in costing of vermicompost taking into account fixed investment like shed etc. and also explore avenues for marketing with other users like nursery gardens, orchards, institutions etc. The model (women owned and operated, community work, organic input production) can be replicated in other parts of the world as well. The units can be run on dung or plant biomass or a combination of both.