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Awareness programmes on vermitech
Agency: Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

Period: 2000 - 2001

Team : Mr. Ramesh, Dr. Lalitha & Dr Sultan Ahmed Ismail

Awareness programmes on vermitech Urban refuse tends to increase with the economic levels of countries and cities. Solid wastes not collected and disposed efficiently, pollutes and degrades essential land and water resources. Uncollected or untreated garbage creates serious human health hazards by attracting disease carrying vermin and insects. Solid waste disposal is a large expenditure with the costs varying with the type of disposal. The inexpensive dumping or littering or burning of municipal wastes pollutes the environment, while sanitary landfills with daily cover and controlled incineration are expensive.

Solutions are evolving as the problems and costs of urban waste disposal are increasing. Most of the solid wastes are being recycled and /or reused. Among the most important approaches of recycling wastes and generating energy are recovery of inorganic materials for remanufacturing, reuse of metals, plastic and polymers, protein, humus and fertiliser reclamation, in animal feed and agriculture, utilisation for land reclamation and energy recovery through direct combustion and biogas production.

Awareness programmes on vermitech Composting is a promising means of disposing urban organic wastes in third world cities because of the high percentage of vegetable and putrescible materials, including human faeces in the waste.

Compost prepared by using earthworms is called vermicompost. Vermicompost is a very important aspect of organic farming package today. It is easy to prepare, has excellent properties and is absolutely harmless to plants. The final physical structure of vermicompost produced from organic waste depends on the original material from which they are produced. The final product is usually a finely divided peat like material with excellent structure, drainage, moisture holding capacity, porosity, aeration and contains more of most mineral elements when compared to commercial plant growth media.

The nutrients in vermicompost are changed to forms more readily taken up by plants such as nitrate or ammonium nitrogen, exchangeable phosphorus and soluble potassium, calcium and magnesium. School children have been selected for this project because it is simple and lucid and can be set-up according to the convenience of the child either at home or in the garden and that the process educates children in the importance of nutrient cycles in ecosystems. 

OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT

1 To distribute educational and informative material on earthworms developed by DST to schools.
2 To associate with fifty schools in Chennai having science, nature or eco-clubs and give them practical training on setting up of a vermiculture unit at each centre.

APPLICATION:

Vermitech units were set up in fifty schools in Chennai city. For setting up of the composting units, fifty plastic crates (each 600mm x 400mm x 275mm) and the input materials were procured. The package given to each school comprised of: 

One plastic crate (600mm x 400mm x 275mm)
6Kg of blue metal
5Kg of coarse sand
0.5Kg of dried cattle dung pat, and
0.5Kg of straw 

The schools were requested to keep ready 15Kg of garden loam soil necessary to set up each unit. The composting units were organized in the Vermitech pattern. Holes (6 per crate) were first drilled in each crate to facilitate drainage of excess water. Vermitech pattern was carried out for setting up the units. Of special significance is the use of local varieties of earthworms in Vermitech, for the combined process of litter and soil management. 

The crates were placed in the shade. Children were asked to water and monitor the unit for the first thirty days after which organic waste was to be added.

Every school was provided with material giving a detailed description on how a Vermitech unit can be set up in English or Tamil depending on the requirements of the school. In most of the schools students from class VII, VIII, IX or XI attended the lecture and demonstration. 

The children were first presented with a detailed slide show, which helped them acquire a fairly good understanding of the importance of earthworms and composting. Slides shown to the students included information on the types of earthworms, Indian and exotic varieties, local earthworms available in Chennai city, their castings, cocoons and their life cycles. Children were shown the alternative sites for setting up of composting units in pits, concrete tanks, well rings and wooden crates apart from the plastic crate during the slide show.

Importance of using local varieties of earthworms and their advantages were emphasized. The children were also taught how to collect local varieties of earthworms and how to keep red ants that are normally attracted to units at bay. After the slide show, experimental units were set up with the help of the school children. 

Based on these observations, it could be classified that 60% of the schools could set up the experiments at the first attempt itself and that another 26% could harvest the compost after the units were restarted. However, 14% of the schools could not manage to maintain the units in regular condition. These failures could be attributed to improper maintenance of the units. 

Performance on gender basis indicates that in girl's schools (n = 12) 83% were successful in the first attempt while 17% had to restart the experiments. Amongst the boy's schools (n = 5) 80% were successful in the first attempt while 20% had to restart the experiments. Surprisingly, there were no failures in these schools. In co-education schools (n = 33), success in the first attempt was 49%, restarting the experiments was done in 30% of the schools while experiments failed in 21% of the schools. It is rather difficult to analyse the reason behind it. Probably, it was as to who should monitor and whose job it is, has to be defined in such situations. 

A comparison between schools run by private managements and by public organisations like the Government or Corporation have provided the following results:

86% of the students could do composting successfully in both the type of schools and the failure rate in both the types of schools has been 14% respectively. The only difference noticed is that in the Private schools 67% of the students could achieve the desired results in the first attempt while only 43% of the students could do it in corporation schools. Though the % of first attempt is less, it has to be appreciated that inspite of certain limitations there was profound interest in these students to be successful.

SUMMARY OF THE FEEDBACK 
ABOUT THE VERMITECH AWARENESS PROGRAMME

The phenomenal increase in human population and in the amount of garbage generated by man has posed a serious threat to Earth. The need of the hour is to learn to reduce, reuse and recycle our garbage - to avert the possibility of the earth becoming one large dumping ground! This calls for educating every strata of the public about the simple, effective and eco-friendly methods of waste management. The awareness programme on vermitech for school children has helped them learn and imbibe the simple principles of conversion of garbage into fertilizers using earthworms.

All the fifty schools in which the programme was conducted were very positive about the outcome of this programme. The fact that the majority of the schools were successful in their vermicomposting venture either in the first or second attempts stands testimony of the interest and motivation with which the school children had worked on this project. It was also heartening to note that many of the children took home this simple technology and educated their parents about garbage disposal. So what started as a training programme in schools also continued to be an extension programme in some of the households? This is indeed a ray of hope for all environmentalists that children, the future generation, will help spread the vital message of environment preservation to all around them.

Many of the schools not only succeeded in the process of vermicomposting but also harvested the compost and used it to grow plants in their garden. Having tasted success in their maiden attempt, they expressed a desire to take the next step - to carry out the project on a much larger scale, in large pits. One school in particular also used the vermiwash as a foliar spray and planned to conduct a pilot study on the effect of vermiwash on plant growth, which will indeed be a healthy challenge for young minds. While most of the schools reported success, it was not without initial difficulties. 

Excessive watering of the vermicomposting units or addition of too much garbage were some of the minor problems, which they managed to overcome during the course of the programme. Eventually, the hard work and the eagerness to learn paid off. However, one of the major difficulties expressed by the school children was their inability to monitor the crates during school examinations when they devote much time to examinations than the composting process. It is suggested that the school authorities can overcome this problem by allowing the school gardener or watchman to help the students maintain the units during examination time.

The Vermitech Awareness Programme supported by the DST and conducted at fifty schools in Chennai by us was indeed a success. It was the co-operative effort put in by the members of the institute, Principals and teachers of the schools and last but most definitely not the least, the school children, that have contributed to this success. A small step though it may seem, but very much in the right direction of saving Mother Earth.
Awareness programmes on vermitech
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