The history of vermiculture in Asia

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Vermiculture involves intensive earthworm culture, with domestication of the earthworm, by using earthworms in organic-waste breakdown. Vermicomposting is an aerobic (need oxygen) and stabilization process that is mesophilic (at room temperature) and depends on earthworms to fragment, mix, and aerate the organic waste, as well as promote microbial activity, producing earthworm casts or vermicomposts.

The main idea of converting green (e.g. fruit waste, rich in nitrogen) and brown (e.g. paper waste, rich in carbon) wastes or organic wastes into a source of protein (as earthworm biomass) and into vermicomposts is a part of bioregenerative ecological strategy. Bioregenerative life-support systems depend on living system for food, oxygen, and water. Vermicomposting is a part of self-renewing system that depends on recycling of organic matter and involves close interactions among plants, animals, microorganisms, and human beings.

In recent years, vermiculture and vermicomposting have become more popular all over the world, from the temperate regions to the tropics. Vermicomposting strategy differs when it is concentrated on organic waste management and used to convert organic wastes into high-value plant growth media termed vermicompost or when it is used for earthworm-protein production. The strategies to reach these aims are summarized in the table below.

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The first scientific article in relation to vermiculture in Asia was by Beddard (1883). In his article Note on Some Earthworms from India, he stated that Eisenia fetida was distributed universally. The species of earthworms in Indonesia were recorded by Dammerman (1929). Perichaeta musica, which was discovered in the mountains of Java, reaches a length of half a meter. Moniligaster houteni from Sumatra, has a length more than a meter. According to Gates (1948), the genus Pheretima is typical of Indo-Australian region and is common in Indonesia.

From about four thousands species of earthworms can be separated in three major groups based on their feeding and  burrowing habits: Anecic (the deep-burrowing earthworms),  endogeic (in the soil or upper-soil earthworms), and epigeic (above-soil or litter organic waste earthworms). Most of anecic and endogeic earthworms species are not suitable for vermiculture and vermicomposting of organic wastes because their habitat is associated mainly with soil and their reproduction rate are low.

The third group of earthworms, epigeic species live in surface soil associated with litter organic wastes or in compost piles are suitable for vermiculture-vermicomposting. They are typically about 8 – 10 cm long, well adapted to the very variable moisture and temperature conditions, and their reproduction rate are high.

Eisenia fetida and Eisenia andrei are the most common earthworms species used for vermiculture in Asia, including China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Other epigeic earthworms species, originally from the tropics (Asian origin) Pheretima asiatica, Perionyx excavatus, and Eudrilus eugeniae, are very common species that are used extensively in vermiculture and vermicomposting in India and Philippines.

According to Gates (1972) in his article On the Systematic and Biology of Earthworms, particularly those in Southeast Asia, Eisenia fetida is of European origin (from South of France) but was widely distributed by humans, with its dispersal partially due to the individual’s wandering propensity. This species has been carried around the world in soil and plant pots, and has been distributed locally from greenhouses, arboretums, and botanical gardens for several centuries.

The photo above is from the book’s cover of Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Wastes, and Environmental Management (2011) edited by Clive A. Edwards et al. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, UK.

It has been proven scientifically that the relationship between earthworms and microorganisms to process the organic matter/waste using vermiculture technology can contribute in plant growth regulator production, more available nutrients, plant disease suppression, arthropod pest control, decreasing nematode attacks, less fertilizer use, less pesticide use, benefits for organic farmers, decreasing environmental pollution, and increasing crop productivity.

It is a great pleasure for me that I can contribute in one of the book chapters Vermiculture Technology and worked on vermiculture – vermicomposting with prof Clive Edwards for 4 years (1998 – 2002) at his Soil Ecology Laboratory at the Ohio State University, Columbus, USA.

– Bintoro Gunadi

BRW card back

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