24 May 2010

Cuba, the Compost King

I first learned about composting and vermicomposting (worms) from Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee. Composting is the foundation of the Commercial Urban Agriculture that can transform the current 'food deserts' of the inner cities across America into verdant gardens of abundance and prosperity. The following article shows that Cuba knows all about composting and vermicomposting and is using it on a massive scale to improve the food self sufficiency of the revolutionary island nation just 90 miles off the US coast. A lot of valuable information is contained in the following piece for those who want to know more.

Enjoy. Learn. Share.

Cuba's Composting!

Caught in a vice of economic sanctions, political pressures and faltering production, Cuba is faced with no alternative but to find alternatives to its past dependency on imports of fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides, animal feed and the like. Agricultural imports have been cut by as much as 80%.
Consequently, the Cuban government has established programs designed for sound and effective soil management and have made earthworms one of the key agents intheir drive for agricultural sustainability. By using selected earthworm species, Cuban scientists have developed a full technological package for the production of humus from earthworms, a process known as vermicomposting or vermiculture, and generally recommend an application rate of 4 tons/ha of earthworm humus to most crops.Compost productionCuba's verimcomposting program started in 1986 with two small boxes of red worms, Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus.. Today there are 172 vermicompost centers that in 1992 produced 93,000 tons of worm humus. Several different institutions and companies are involved in vermiculture operations, but research is conducted primarily by the Institute of Soils and Fertilizers and the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences. The production of vermicompost requires a mixture of worm castings, organic material and bedding in various stages of decomposition. First, manure is composted for approximately 30 days aerobically, and then transferred to open vermicompost beds. At some sites like the Pinar del Rio vermiculture center, these beds are located in the shade of large mango trees which benefit from nutrients leached from the piles. The beds are approximately 1.5 meters wide and of varying length. The compost is mixed with soil and "seeded" with
earthworms. Most vermicomposting operations in Cuba use cow manure as the primary source of organic material. Other sources include pig and sheep manure,filter press cake from sugarcane, coffee pulp, plantains and municipal garbage.Vermicompost beds are sprinkled with water to maintain optimum moisture and temperature requirements. The worms feed on the freshly applied compost at the top of the beds and deposit their castings in the lower levels. Compost is continually applied until the beds reach a height of approximately 0.9 meters after about 90 days. The worms are concentrated in the top 10 cm of the pile and scraped off or separated from the vermicompost in a screening process. The humus is either dried and bagged or used on-site as a soil amendment and fertilizer.Beneficial CastingsThe humus produced in vermicomposting improves soil nutrient content and permeability, helps control diseases that attack plants and stimulates plant growth. Cuban researchers have found that nitrogen concentrations are higher invermicomposting than in static compost piles. For instance, four tons of vermicompost per hectare can replace forty tons of cow manure per hectare of tobacco, resulting in as much as a 36% improvement in yield. Earthworm castingscontain 1.5 - 2.2% Nitrogen, 1.8 - 2.2% Phosphorous, 1.0 - 1.5% potassium and 65-70% organic matter, lasting up to five years in the soil.Jorge Ramon Cuevas, the earthworm man of Cuba, states that scientists have experimented with several earthworm species for vermiculture, including E. foetida and L. rubellus and a Pheretima species brought from the Philippinesto begin the national initiative. Work now focuses on two species thought to bemost useful under Cuban conditions: Eisenia andrei, which can tolerate the humid, subtropical Cuban climate better than E. foetida , and Eudrilus eugeniae, the African Red Worm. E. eugeniae is less tolerant and prone to
escaping when conditions are not quite right as compared to E. andrei . However, it produces more protein than E. andrei and is useful as a supplemental animal feed.Other Uses for the EarthwormWorm populations under vermiculture can double in 60-90 days. Worms not used to seed new compost piles are dried and used as a supplemental protein for animals. Earthworms are useful as animal feed because they are high in protein and contain the amino acid methionine (4%), which is absent from feed grains. Cuban scientists have determined the correct balance of earthworm proteins in various animal feeds (10-40% in fish meal, 4% in shrimp feed and 6% in chicken feed). They also discovered that chopping up earthworms releases enzymes whichquickly degrade the quality of the feed. Cuba's future plans include productionof earthworm excrement to be used as substrate for bacteria, which in turn willbe used as biofertilizer.Extension and ExpansionFive experimental stations located in different parts of the country have responsibility for training new worm growers in their regions. Information is exchanged among these growers at an annual national conference on vermicomposting. National television programs and newspaper articles are used to help educate farmers, school children and the general public about vermiculture.At the Soil Institute, plans exist for a vermiculture research facility, but construction has not started. The Institute is presently spearheading efforts to market and sell worm humus in 40 kg, 1 kg and 1/2 kg bags under the trade name Midas. A 40 kg bag of Cuban worm humus can sell for as much as $80-100 (US) on the international market, though humus production has not reached levels that permit significant exports. Income generating schemes have focused on joint production ventures and the sale of technical assistance for start-up vermiculture programs outside Cuba. Altogether, it looks as though Cuban
vermiculture is proving to be a promising means of import substitution as well as profitable.Gersper et al., Agriculture and Human Values, Vol. X, number 3, Summer 1993, pp.16-23.Werner, Matthew, Cuban Agriculture Looks to Vermiculture, The Cultivar, Vol. 12, No. 2, Summer 1994Contact: Paul L. Gersper, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management, University of California at BerkeleyFax: (510) 642-0535
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The World is Catching On
Because of the benefits of worm composting, farmers and governments around the world are beginning to
vermicompost like never before, especially in the warmer climates. India and Cuba are leading the way.
Vermicomposting centers are numerous in Cuba. When the Soviet Union fell, it became impossible for them to import commercial fertilizer. Vermicompost has been the largest single replacement for commercial fertilizer by Cuba.In 2004, an estimated 1 million tons of vermicompost were produced on the island.
In India, and estimated 200,000 farmers practice vermicomposting and one network of 10,000 farmers produce 50,000 metric tons of vermicompost every month.
Farmers in Australia and the West Coast of the U.S. are starting to use vermicompost in greater quantities, fuelling the development of

industries there.
Scientists at several Universities in the U.S., Canada, India, Australia, and South Africa are documenting the benefits of
vermicompost, providing facts and figures that support the observations of those who have used it.
Best Vermicompost Worm: The Red Worm
Redworms (red wigglers) are the most commonly used type of earthworm for composting in worm bins. Click here for some interesting facts, history and information about earthworms.
Now, let's get started with your worm compost bin so you can begin producing your very own vermicompost.
Go next to setting up your
Vermicomposting Bin.


Liz said...

Excellent blog post on worm composting. Worm Composting Rocks!
I give free advice on worm composting at www.wormbincomposting.com
BigTex Worms

Samadhan Agrotech said...

Great article with excellent idea! I appreciate your post.
Samadhan Agrotech &amp