This Kashmir farmer earns Rs 50,000 daily through vermicompost

Abdul Ahad Lone, an organic farmer in Anantnag, Kashmir, began making vermicompost after hearing a conversation between two Sikkimese women on a train. His unit now produces over 5,000 kg of manure daily and Abdul gives free training in vermicomposting 

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Abdul Ahad Lone at his vermicompost unit in Anantnag, Kashmir

Abdul Ahad Lone at his vermicompost unit in Anantnag, Kashmir

Sometime in 1996, when Abdul Ahad Lone was travelling by train, he heard two women from Sikkim talking about the benefits of using vermicompost for their plants. Abdul, a farmer with 40 kanals (5 acres) of land in Semthan village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, got interested in the conversation. He had seen earthworms on his farm but never knew they could be used to make vermicompost, which strengthens the roots of the plants and increases soil fertility and crop yield. 

“I had seen increased output and healthier fruits and vegetables whenever I applied cow dung on my farm. But the concept of vermicompost (made by earthworms by breaking down organic matter like cow dung) was new to me and other farmers in Kashmir,” says Abdul.

After coming back home, he went to the District Agriculture Officer and discussed the idea of preparing vermicompost commercially so that other farmers could also benefit from its use. He set up a vermicompost unit with 30 pits where he put earthworms (available on his farm) and organic waste material. “But at that time, in Kashmir, the idea of vermicompost was too futuristic I think. There was not much response from farmers. So I had to shut it down,” says Abdul, who grows apples, soft pears, and vegetables. 

Also Read: How this Assam woman earns Rs3.5 lakh per month through vermicompost

Organic success

In 2002, he decided to give vermicomposting another try. He prepared four beds of 15ft x 3ft and used the resulting vermicompost on his farm. “It interested me. The crop yield was good and I knew organic fertilisers were the future. Chemicals have damaged our natural resources, including water bodies. I knew the solution lay in shifting to organic manures,” he says.

Next year, in 2003, he sold four bags of vermicompost of 50 kg each. “They were purchased by an agriculture scientist,” he recollects. 

Soon, the word started spreading about the benefits of using vermicompost produced at his Ahad Agro Farms in South Kashmir. “More and more farmers started approaching me for buying vermicompost and I began to increase the number of beds,” says Abdul, the pioneer of commercial vermicomposting in Kashmir.

ahad agro vermi
Work in progress at Ahad Agro Farms. Pic: Ahad Agro

Vermicompost can be prepared on raised beds, in cemented tanks or pits, crates, wooden bins, bamboo structures, plastic containers or even earthen pots. Earthworms convert organic waste into manure rich in nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and help in healthy plant growth.

“In 2013, to meet the growing demand, I purchased earthworms for the first time from Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Anantnag. The cost was Rs1500 per kg with compost. Around that time, the government also started creating awareness camp about using organic manures and the business started growing,” he says.

Today, Abdul makes vermicompost over 15 kanals (1,000 beds) with a daily production of 100 to 120 bags of 50 kg each.

He has two units in Anantnag and one unit in Jammu. Each bag is priced at Rs500, resulting in a daily income of Rs 50,000 at the lower end. “I am unable to meet the demand in the Anantnag district,” Abdul says.

Also Read: Jayant Barve: Maharashtra’s organic farmer who became manure millionaire

The annual turnover last financial year was Rs 1.5 crore. “I want to take the business to Rs 2 crore this financial year,” he says.

He procures 350 tractors (around 8,000 kg) of cow dung and agriculture waste from nearby villages to make the beds for vermicompost. “In the four winter months of November to February, earthworms work less effectively due to cold and the production reduces. We try to maintain the temperature by covering the beds with polythene,” he says.

1000 beds
Ahad Agro Farms currently has 1000 vermicompost beds. Pic: Ahad Agro

However, there is no product shortage in winter because the bulk of the manure is prepared during the rest of the year and the shelf life of vermicompost is three years if it is stored well with adequate moisture.  

Vermicompost entrepreneurship

Vermicompost buyers are farmers and owners of orchards of apples, apricots, peaches, soft pears and other fruits. With the use of vermicompost, the crop yield increases and fruits get a beautiful natural colour.

Also Read: Kashmir’s retired teacher turns food entrepreneur at 65; empowers farmers

Abdul also gives free training to young men and women looking for self-employment opportunities. Around 20 people trained by him are now running their units in Pulwama, Anantnag, Budgam, Baramulla, Bandipora, Qazigund, Jammu and Udhampur. 

“Vermicompost entrepreneurship is a good way to earn independently,” Abdul says, adding that a minimum of 1 kanal (0.125 acres) of land is required to start a unit.

The government also provides loans under different schemes to encourage entrepreneurship. Youth should come forward and take advantage of these schemes, says Director Agriculture Kashmir, Choudhary Mohammad Iqbal.

Abdul currently employs 20 people out of which three are MBAs and look after marketing.  

With a rising demand for organic manures, all the products of Ahad Agro are used within Anantnag.

Supply vs. Demand 

The demand for vermicomposting is increasing as more and more people are switching to organic farming. Abdul says the Kashmir valley needs 12-15 lakh bags of vermicompost annually. “We only produce less than 1 lakh bags locally and the rest is procured from outside Jammu and Kashmir. So we are not able to even cater to two percent of the demand,” he says. 

That’s why he encourages unemployed youth to take it as an entrepreneurship opportunity.“People can earn a profitable income out of it. The demand for vermicomposting is good. There are a lot of avenues in agriculture, floriculture etc.,” he said. 

A recipient of many awards including the Progressive Farmer and Entrepreneur Award by the Government of India, the best farmer award by SKUAST-K, SKUAST-J and the Krishi Vigyan Kendra Award, Abdul has been able to turn his native Simthan into an organic farming village. 

(Sameer Showkin Lone is a development professional & a journalist. He is a former Aspirational District Fellow (Bijapur, Chhattisgarh) at the Government of India. He writes on internal security, Kashmir politics, development & governance, education and health issues)

Also Read: How this Maharashtra engineer became a hydroponics fodder millionaire

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