It has been a month since the UWI Tech-Agri Expo and admittedly it has had a positive impact on business for us at the worm farm. The demand for vermicompost, compost tea, and soil amendments has tripled. There has also been a sharp increase in demand for earthworms as well as numerous requests for the next date for our beginner’s course. Furthermore, many of our past students have felt a sense of motivation after seeing worm farming being promoted as a viable agribusiness.
There was also a general sense of curiosity amongst many of our visitors as it relates to the practicality of this ‘worm farming thing’.
It is understandable why many may have some doubt as there is a general lack of knowledge on the practice locally. Moreover, we have also met persons who have tried and yielded minimal success. It also seems like a dirty, yucky job to many.
The deep underlying question is will this survive? Is this another boom and bust type of business? Can you really build an industry on worm farming?
Worm farming is not novel!
It has been in practice for at least 50 years. Thanks to the pioneers who promoted it during the booming years of the ‘green revolution’. Worm Farming and its by-products are very popular in the developed world. Countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK have some of the most commercialized worm farms in the industry. Some of these popular farms are Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm USA, Worm Composting Canada, M&B Williams UK and The Worm Shed Australia. Several developing countries such as the Philippines and certain parts of India are also deeply involved in this practice. It is also important to mention that Cuba is considered a leader in Research and Development (R&D) in the vermicomposting industry.
Worm farming – a linkage industry.
An effective R&D program has earned Cuba its global status as a model for earthworm farming. Despite its economic constraints, Cuba was able to implement a national policy that would engage every household and other stakeholders who generate organic waste to recycle and reuse. Vermicomposting was no longer a hobby but rather an effective tool to sustainably manage organic waste. Worm Castings were now a value-added product for sale. This also created opportunities for middlemen (agro garden-shops) to earn their share of the market as they increased its accessibility on the local market to home gardeners and organic farmers. The earthworms derived also created a new opportunity as there was a need for protein in the livestock industry. Earthworm flour was then created to combine with local feed-rations. This well-structured and scientific approach created a solid foundation for the upward growth of the worm farming industry. This also attracted foreign revenue as several other countries consulted with Cuba to implement a similar program.
In other countries such as the USA, the enormous demand on the industry has led to specialized production systems which focused only on culturing earthworms in order to supply vermicomposting farms, fish and chicken farmers, pet shops and similar interests. Some businesses have also evolved to supply earthworm eggs in a clay capsule to be used as an inoculum for soil and new compost systems.
Research into the pharmaceutical importance of earthworms is also further dissecting the industry as preliminary studies are indicating that certain human health challenges could be addressed using extracts derived from earthworms.
While this is not an exhaustive description of the diversity of the industry, it is important to note the pivotal role R&D played in strengthening and sustaining the future of worm farming.
Prospects for the Caribbean community (CARICOM)
Agricultural diversification and sustainable agriculture are two terms which have gained political popularity within CARICOM, however, the exact method of implementation is still unclear. Nevertheless, their implications are quite realistic. We see worm farming as a tool that will practically demonstrate its ability to create new entrepreneurs with diverse interests. It will also simultaneously address the issue of sustainable farming as it closes the loop in most farming operations by creating a zero waste system.
The UWI is leading the way in research by identifying suitable local species for earthworm farming in Trinidad and Tobago. Meanwhile, we are also leading the way in developing the industry through education, training and developing suitable value-added products for the agri-sector. The Caribbean community is at a key advantage position where it could learn from the challenges faced by developing countries and therefore take more informed decisions to facilitate growth.
The green impact of worm farming on our local economies will attract special funding from non-governmental sources to local farmers. The growing interest in organic farming will be strengthened with vermicompost as a reliable source of organic fertilizer.
If we appreciate the history of the industry, then we will accept its growth and success. It is, therefore, the responsibility of our innovative entrepreneurs to evaluate the two primary products (earthworms and vermicompost) and decide what’s next?