Three years ago, when he started rearing red earthworms, Daniel Mwiti became the laughing stock of his village in Meru.
The county government had been put on the spot after spending Sh4.3 million to supply farmers with materials for earthworms and black soldier fly projects, with the Auditor-General raising concerns over the money disbursed without a needs assessment.
One of the beneficiaries of the project was Mr Mwiti who embraced the idea when other farmers shunned it. He says he became a subject of ridicule in the village, with even his wife and children threatening to throw the earthworm materials away.
But Mr Mwiti, accustomed to such criticism having been one of the first farmers to take up fish farming in Meru 10 years ago, did not give up.
“I stood my ground and told my wife and children that it was my project, and they should not be bothered since I did not want their help,” says the 69-year-old retired teacher.
Today, Mr Mwiti who does mixed farming is a happy man. At his home, neighbours, friends, relatives and groups of environmental enthusiasts visit to learn red earthworm rearing.
I am at his farm with a delegation from the county government that is documenting such projects for inclusion in the Global Mayor’s Challenge being organised by US-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, which attracts an award of Sh110 million.
Meru has already jumped the first hurdle and was named among 50 entrants in the competition that attracted 631 towns across the world, with the 50 set to receive Sh15 million to help them fine-tune their proposals.
Mr Mwiti has been selected alongside Sharon Mutiga, a young farmer who has a black soldier flies project in Tigania West.
Sh2,500 a kilo
Mr Mwiti says when he received the plastic tank with a capacity of 200 litres, he split it into two halves and placed them horizontally on a structure raised about a metre high.
On the base, he spread about 10 kilos of concrete and placed a sisal sack on top then spread river sand on the sack. He collected waste silage from his cow shed, placed it on the sand and poured 30 litres of water into each tank to provide a conducive environment for the worms.
The red earthworms were sourced from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). He says since the one kilo of worms provided by the county government for free was not enough, he bought another kilo from JKUAT for Sh2,500.
“I add more water and food for the worms after every two weeks. The sand and concrete filter the water and after four months, I am ready to harvest the liquid, which is foliar fertiliser,” he says.
After four months of worms consuming silage waste and water, he harvests the organic manure and a liquid rich in proteins. He harvests about 80 litres of the liquid and sells it to farmers at Sh300 a litre.
He also sells seed worms at Sh2,500 a kilo.
When maize, cowpeas and pigeon peas are sprayed with the diluted liquid, yield grow by more than 70 percent.
“Since the concentrate is rich in protein, I experimented by adding it to the water that my cow drinks. The results were amazing. Within two weeks, the daily milk yield increased from five litres to 12 litres,” he says.
He also harvests the worms and feeds them on his 2,000 catfish and uses the organic manure on his banana farm. Feeding fish on earthworms cuts reliance on commercial feeds, reducing the cost of production by over 50 percent, he says.
“Since I started this project three years ago, I have discovered that projects that people oppose are the most successful and profitable. Farmers just need guts to overcome criticism because the returns are rewarding,” he says.