Sunday, November 23, 2003


Worms of change
Sushmita Malaviya

Vermicomposting has not only helped in conserving soil nutrients but has also empowered women in Andhra Pradesh

In Kothapally village (Rangareddy district, Andhra Pradesh), Laxmamma and Venkatamma show you around their new project with pride. In several covered pits in a shed outside Laxmamma’s house is their new vocation-vermicomposting.

For the last four years, Laxmamma’s 15-member group has been saving a rupee each day to start vermicomposting. Since her husband is a mason, he helped her build the pits needed for the new endeavour.

Vermicomposting in this village has been undertaken as part of the Adarsha Watershed Scheme, supported by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) and the Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP).

Touted as the Innovative Farmer Participatory Integrated Watershed Management Model, apart from taking up soil and water conservation measures, farmer-based activities, integrated nutrient management and integrated pest management, its vermicompost component has proved to be a successful enterprise, especially for women in the village. Training was imparted to 10 women’s self-help groups (SHGs). After an exposure visit to ICRICSAT, where 60 women from the village were briefed about vermicomposting, Laxmamma’s group decided to take it up first.

Everything they needed for the project was locally available—parthenium weed, earthworms, agricultural waste, rock phosphate and cowdung. The women were both enthusiastic and focussed, for they wanted to learn something new and enhance their income. Today, the compost is marketed in nearby cities with a little help from ICRISAT in quality control and packaging.

The introduction of vermicomposting gave the SHGs a new direction. Laxmamma says she previously earned only Rs 20 as an agricultural labourer; today she earns Rs 50 a day. This new opportunity has helped her support her children’s education. While her son has completed his Class 12, her elder daughter has finished her intermmediate and plans to train as a teacher, and the younger daughter is studying in Class 10. A steady income has also helped Laxmamma save for emergencies.

In Venkatamma’s village, work was available for only 10 days in a month, and when the rains played truant, there was even less work. But vermicomposting has given a steady income and security to many families suffering due to the long drawn drought in the area. For Venkatamma, 45, whose husband is bedridden, work with the vermicomposting project has helped her tide over very difficult times.

According to Dr V.V. Padmaja, visiting scientist, 40 villages in three districts - Nalgonda, Mehaboohnagar and Karnool - are involved in the vermicompost programme and 50 women SHGs have been formed. The programme has made the women confident about the future despite the hardships they face.

For men, too, things have changed. Dr Pyara Singh, ICRISAT’s soil scientist, says that earlier, the approach to work in these villages had been very top-down, with an emphasis on soil and water conservation and little people’s participation. "Thus, earlier, the benefits were only for a handful of people. In this programme, our approach is focussed on farmers’ participation and a people-centered approach to improve livelihoods."

Adds Ramalinga Reddy, DPIP Project Officer, "After the integrated approach taken by the DPIP, ICRISAT, CRIDA and others, and the resultant increase in income, people have voluntarily come forward to contribute in building cost-effective structures for water harvesting."

One of the farmers, Narayana Reddy, says today farmers in the village contemplate setting up drip irrigation in the village. He emphasises that improvements in the village have led to the return of many people who had earlier migrated to other districts in search of work. WFS