Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

If earthworms provide life to soil, Dawa Sherpa is their guardian.

It was 2010 after a farmer’s tour to Kalimpong that ignited Dawa Sherpa’s interest in earthworms.

With the help of a vermicompost manual written in Hindi, the father of four started looking for earthworms.

Dawa Sherpa, 71, loves experimenting in his farm.

He started a vermicompost shed with about 5,000 earthworms, and made compost from semi-dry soil, kitchen waste, banana leaves, and cow dung in a wooden container.

“Earthworms eat into the layers and the darkish granular powder formed on the top is organic manure,” he explained.

With the help of the dzongkhag agriculture sector, he upgraded his plant and started breeding earthworms to produce organic fertilisers. As a pioneer in vermicomposting in the dzongkhag, he supplied earthworms to other vermicompost farms in other gewogs.

His daughter, Gopini Sherpa, recently started her vermicompost plant. She said that the demand for organic manure has drastically increased. She sells her products to Punakha and Damphu Town in Tsirang.

The dzongkhag has seen gradual increase in the vermicompost production. Out of four plants, two are run by young people. In two years, the dzongkhag has produced 20 metric tonnes of vermicompost worth Nu 900,000.

Vermicomposting is a simple composting process that takes advantage of what earthworms do naturally, but confines the worms to bins making it easier for farmers to feed them and to harvest their nutrient-rich compost.

The earthworms are bred in a mix of cow dung, soil, and agricultural residues or pre-decomposed leaf-litter. The whole mass is converted into casts or vermicompost, which can be used as fertilisers.

According to experts, vermicompost contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and eleven times more potassium than ordinary soil.

Nim Dorji Dukpa runs the Dukpa Vermicompost in Rilangthang. The high school drop out has been in the business for the last two years. He said that the production from his farm has been good.

“The production quantity depends on the weather. Rilangthang is a warm area,” he said. Till date, he has produced six tonnes of vermicompost.

The 25-year-old had never thought about seeking employment outside his home. He first learnt about vermiculture at a smart vegetable training in Zhemgang. After a three-week training, he came home brimming with ideas.

His friend, Chandra Kumar, 26, from Sergithang, is also a successful farmer. He says that the production is yet to improve in his farm.

In five months, he produces about one metric tonne of compost. A packet of compost costs Nu 45.

Due to moisture and heat, production is better in summer.

“There is more demand and I am hoping to expand but there are challenges,” the high school graduate said.

The duo said that they did not get any formal training in vermiculture but learnt from the agriculture officials in the farm. Training, they think, would help further their skills.

“The current PH of the compost is 7, considered high by standards. If we are properly trained, it would be easier,” said Chandra.

They also lack packaging and labelling skills. The products are packed in either plastic bags or sacks.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer Dorji Gyeltshen said that a vermicompost shed is a first step towards starting a composting farm. “Interested farmers get hands-on training.”

Most of the farmers in the dzongkhag are trained on organic manure and other solutions preparation.