In Turkey, an earthy alternative to chemical fertilizers

A black hair young woman holds a handful of the precious fertilizer
A student at Aegean University holds a handful of the precious fertilizer.
Photo: UNDP in Turkey

Earthworms are providing farmers with an appealing, organic alternative to chemical fertilizers in a part of Turkey that suffers from high levels of land and water pollution - with 45 farmers piloting the use of fertilizer made from earthworm waste in western Turkey’s Gediz River basin.

 

In recent years the Gediz River has seen rising levels of agricultural pollution – with a high incidence of nickel, copper, zinc and mercury – and many experts forecast water shortages caused by decreasing precipitation.

 

The area is home to almost 2 million people and one of the country’s most productive and ecologically diverse basins.

 

An earthy solution

Used in other parts of the world but new to the Basin, earthworm fertilizer creates no pollution and reduces the amount of water needed for irrigation by 40 to 60 percent compared with traditional chemical fertilizers because it increases the water retention of the soil.

 

Farmers say that earthworms offer other benefits, too.

 

"The crops produced with earthworm fertilizer were visibly better in quality than the ones produced with chemical fertilizer," said Şeref Sofuoğlu, President of a local Chamber of Agriculture, which has helped farmers pilot the technique.

 

two agricultural workers plant soil with earthworm fertilizer in the Gediz basin
To promote the use of earthworm fertilizer, special pilot fields were created.
Photo: UNDP in Turkey

 

To create the fertilizer, earthworms are placed in boxes full of organic waste. The decomposition process is accelerated and the resulting manure can be used to fertilize any kind of plant.  

 

The nearby Aegean University allocated a field for the project. Pilot areas were set up where strawberries, lettuce and tomatoes are grown with earthworm fertilizer.

 

Dynamic growth

Some 50,000 worms were purchased and an earthworm production pool was constructed. With support from the Agriculture Faculty, the earthworm population has grown to more than 1.5 million.

 

In 2012, the project set up four more earthworm production pools, and over 1,000 farmers were introduced to earthworm fertilizer and its uses.

 

Farmers have received some 2,000 bags of earthworm fertilizers, with the help of more than 1.5 million earthworms. They can make 50 to 100 tons of fertilizer a year, enough for 500 to 1,000 hectares of land.    

 

The project is supported by the Coca-Cola Life Plus Foundation, UNDP and YADA, a Turkish NGO.

 

a close-up shot of earthworm fertilizer looking like black earth
Earthworm fertilizer up close. Photo: UNDP in Turkey

 

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