Vermicomposting to sequester carbon, enrich soil and improve livelihoods by Jaya Organic Yojana
We launch farmer-led micro businesses to restore soil fertility and sequester carbon through earthworm composting in India.
Born from a grassroots movement to restore soil fertility in Karnataka, India, Jaya Organic Yojana (JOY) is a nonprofit organization that trains smallholder farmers in the production of organic compost through vermiculture, a composting process using agro waste and earthworms to make nutrient-rich fertilizer. Since its inception in 2014, JOY has launched over 3,350 vermicompost micro businesses, which collectively produce over 30,000 tons of organic fertilizer annually.
When applied to farmlands whose nutrients have been depleted from the overuse of chemical fertilizers, a single ton of vermicompost can sequester up to .24 metric tons of carbon dioxide. In aggregate, JOY’s growing network of farmers sequester 7,230 metric tons of carbon, annually. Furthermore, JOY farmers benefit from increased crop yields, savings on fertilizer purchases and through direct sales of vermicompost to other farmers.
JOY’s scaleable model is based on a “train-the-trainer” approach, whereby JOY personnel provide capacity-building seminars and equipment to local community stakeholders, who then train local farmers to set up their own vermiculture operations. Farmers can either purchase equipment outright, or take out a microloan. After purchasing equipment and participating in a six-month training program for approximately Rs 28,000, farmers are typically able to produce over Rs 60,000 worth of vermicompost annually.
With support from the National Skills and Development Council of India, and an endorsement from the state government of Karnataka, JOY is expanding operations to include an additional 4,800 farmers across Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in 2017.
What actions do you propose?
Across India, a combination of environmentally damaging farming practices negatively impacts soil, water and air quality, while also contributing to the release of greenhouse gases, and the long term diminishing of farmers’ livelihoods. These practices include crop burning, and the use of artificial fertilizers.
Though banned across several Indian states, the burning of post harvest crop residue continues to cause serious air pollution across rural and urban areas. This practice is not only dangerous due to the uncheck spread of fires and the negative health impacts associated with smoke inhalation, but it also releases carbon dioxide that could otherwise be sequestered through composting. A nation-wide crop burning ban could improve conditions, but increased enforcement would most negatively impact poor farmers who lack alternative waste management practices. By offering credits to farmers who compost agro waste, on the other hand, policy makers could simultaneously address root causes of air pollution, while also increasing soil fertility, farmer livelihoods and carbon sequestration.
In the past 30 years, the overuse of chemical fertilizers - along with a reliance on monocrops and artificial pesticides - has reduced soil fertility by 50% in Southern India. Furthermore, the production of chemical fertilizers requires high inputs of fossil fuels, and the application of chemical fertilizers accounts for up to 80% of human-related emissions of nitrous oxide, without benefiting from carbon sequestration in soils where it is applied. Community-level vermicomposting, on the other hand, only requires the use of fossil fuels when transported long distances. While vermicompost, like any organic fertilizer, does release trace amounts of nitrous oxide, its application leads to decades of increased carbon sequestration, water retention and soil fertility.
The Indian state of Sikkim has taken a bold step towards banning the usage of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, and other state governments, such as Kerala, have introduced similar legislation. As a first step the government of Karnataka, where JOY farmers are already producing over 30,000 tons of certified organic vermicompost, should follow suit. Thereafter, a nation-wide ban, coupled with subsidies on organic fertilizers that meet key government standards, would result in dramatic increases of soil fertility, water retention, smallholder crop yields, and an unprecedented level of soil carbon sequestration.
Who will take these actions?
Key stakeholders of a successful, nationwide effort to increase soil carbon sequestration through vermicomposting include:
National government of India: to pass necessary legislation to ban crop burning and the usage of chemical fertilizers, while also offering credits to farmers who engage in sustainable composting practices, and subsidies of organic fertilizer producers.
State governments of India: to set quality standards for organic fertilizers.
Civil society groups: to activate, engage and train community networks of smallholder farmers.
Private business: to create accessible markets for smallholder farmers to sell their organic fertilizers.
Where will these actions be taken?
Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
To date, JOY’s 3,600 farmers have sequestered over 14,000 metric tons of carbon. With the addition of 4,800 farmers in 2017, JOY is on course to sequester an additional 17,500 metric tons of carbon by year end. This averages to 2.6 metric tons of carbon sequestered by each farmer, nearly double the per capita carbon footprint in India, of 1.6 metric tons. These figures do not take into account the reduction in carbon emissions from the production of chemical fertilizers, which otherwise would have been used on farmers’ lands.
What are other key benefits?
The application of vermicompost is proven to increase fertility, water retention and carbon sequestration in soil. Furthermore, value added products from the vermiculture process, such as “worm juice”, can be used as natural pesticides and plant boosters for flowering plants and fruits. JOY’s community-based business approach has lead to a number of documented social benefits, including increased crop yields of up to 60%, increased savings from disuse of chemical fertilizers and increased income by up to Rs 500,000 annually in vermicompost sales.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Startup cost per farmer: Rs 11,000 - Rs 22,000
Nitrous Oxide emissions from vermicompost: trace as compared to other organic fertilizers
Over the next five years, additional investments in the JOY model would allow the organization to scale operations to include farmers across all temperate regions of India. Subsidies should be introduced over the next five years, and ideally phased out once robust organic fertilizer markets have been fully developed.