Passionate about dudus

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As the world strives to move from chemical pest control and fertilizers to biological control, Dudutech Kenya Limited is setting the standards by rearing beneficial insects to control pest and diseases and also condition the soil to facilitate maximum production.

Dudutech works closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in rearing these ‘dudus’ as Ruth Vaughan, the company general manager, loves to call them. This is due to the fact that KWS are the custodians of insects in Kenya, and without whose consent Dudutech cannot rear them.

The company pioneered commercial Integrated Pest Management in Kenya,has a massive experience of 14 years and an excellent cold chain for transporting biological products.

Currently, it is ranked as the largest African insect producer, has 17 biological products in commercial use and more are being developed to enhance crop production. This all important technology has won the company various awards including the prestigious Marks and Spencers Plan A award in 2012 and had earlier on won the Fruiterers’ Company Environmental Award for Crop Protection in 2002.

HortiNews writer Ann Ndung’u had a chat with Vaughan on vermiculture – management of worms to produce organic fertilizers-, which is just one of their technologies.

Why the name Dudutech?

It is quite simple. ‘Dudus’ is a Swahili word meaning insects and ‘Tech’ is short for for technology. This simply means that we are using dudu technology to improve crop production.

Are there special ‘dudus’ for vermiculture? Please explain and give examples.

Yes. Dudutech rears a special type of large earthworms, the pink tiger worms, due to their effectiveness in processing waste.

Are they indigenous to Kenya or where do they come from?

Our worms are indigenous to Kenya, we originally collected them in Eldoret.

Where are they available? How much do they cost?

We don’t sell the worms. However, we sell vermicompost and vermiliquid to our clients either directly or through our partners, Lachlan Kenya. A litre of vermiliquid goes for Sh 80 while the solid vermicompost retails at Sh 35 a kilo. For the vermiliquid we produce on order basis. This is due its limited shelf-life which is between one and two weeks after which its effectiveness will start eroding. For the solid vermicompost we produce round the year. The solid fertilizer has a longer lifespan of about six months before its effectiveness decreases. We do about 10 tonnes a week equivalent to 200 bags of 50 kgs each. The solid vermicompost has a high demand and is all bought by our clients around Naivasha.

How can one take care of them for maximum yields?

The worms need essential requirements to survive. These include water, air and food. However, one has to protect the worms from rain to ensure they do not drown. Another thing one has to heed to is ensuring the worms are protected from direct sunlight. For the food, the worms love farm yard manure (either cow or goat waste), raw vegetable waste and any material which can easily decompose. However, one must avoid feeding them meat, cooked food and fats. The worms also need adequate air for survival failure to which they will all die.

How are they managed for this purpose? – accommodation, feeding, breeding, harvesting.

The worms should be reared in special bins with ventilations to enhance air circulation or in our case special trenches covered with shadenets and roofing. They should also be watered regularly every three days to dampen the compost and enable proper decomposition. The food should be chopped and mixed with farmyard manure in 10 cm layers. The worms tend to eat their food from bottom to top and one has to ensure that the bottom layer is fully transformed (eaten to casts).

Ready solid vermicompost attains a rich black colour, is soft to the touch and smells earthy meaning that it does not have decomposing ordour. After they have exhausted the food from bed, the solid vermicompost is ready for harvesting. To harvest the worms, we place nets with big mesh to allow the worms go through. We then put a thin layer of conditioning manure on top. After three to five days when we have trapped about 80 percent of the worm population, we transfer it by removing the net sections and use it to inoculate another bed. Then we harvest the vermicompost and spread it to attain moisture content of 40 percent. Store it in a cool dry place.

Do Kenyan farmers understand the importance of these dudus?

More and more farmers are becoming aware on the importance of this organic fertilizer. We have technical offices in Timau, Nairobi, Kericho and Naivasha in which we cater for interested farmers. We have also set up a demonstration site in Narok to familiarize farmers with this technology.

What is the reason for the above?

Farmers are increasingly getting information about organic farming through journals like the HortiNews magazine and such demonstration sites such as the one we have in Narok.

What crops are the dudus fertilizers mostly used to grow, and what is the reason?

Our main clients are vegetable and flower farmers who have a lot of pressure to produce in the healthiest way possible. Our programs also include biological control of pests and disease to ensure that the end product does not contain unwanted chemical residues. We also have programs with small-scale farmers who buy the products in small quantities.

Would you recommend that every farmer gets to know about dudus in soil management? Please give details.

Absolutely! Every farmer should get to know about earthworms and the importance of vermicompost as a soil conditioner. Dudus fertilizers contain all the nutrients required by plants to flourish. This helps farmers maximize production while at the same time they get to appreciate them.

If this happened, would you cope with a surging demand?

We are expanding. We hope to more than double our production to counter the ever increasing demand. We mostly produce for local consumption which now stands at 90 percent and export the remaining 10 percent to Europe and South Africa.

Why is vermiculture not well entrenched/known in Kenya?

It is due to lack of adequate information. I would suggest that the government introduces biological control and farming technology to the school curriculum as one way of enhancing awareness to the future generation of farmers.

How widely is it used in Kenya?

I don’t have any statistics to determine how widely it is used in Kenya.

What is being done to familiarize farmers with this technology?

For those interested in this technology, our training team can visit farms and provide a crash course of at a small fee of Sh25,000 a session. After the training we usually give farmers worms to start them off.

Can one have too many dudus in the farm?….excuse my ignorance here, but I am trying to get some education on the application of dudus…as in, once I purchase them from Dudutech, what should I do?

No. They will always be naturally controlled in terms of food and water. For instance, after the ‘good’ dudus introduced to the crops to control a certain pest clears them off, they start attacking each other due to lack of food.

Put them in a cage or throw them in the farm?

One is advised to construct a shielded wormery to protect the dudus from sunlight and excess rain.

The liquid and solid fertiliser collected from these dudus, what nutrients do they have?

Vermicompost is generally a balanced fertilizer which not only helps the crops to grow but is also rich in nutrients which are readily available for plants use. The fertilizer is full of beneficial micro-organisms such as protozoa, bacteria and fungus. Vermicompost also improves water retention capacity in the soil, enriches soil with micro-organisms, enhances germination, plant growth and improves root growth and structure. The leachate (liquid manure) is especially rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium commonly known as NPK.

What are the application directions to maximize yield?

For the liquid fertilizer, a farmer is advised to start applying it as a foliar feed once a plant gets four leaves. This type of fertilizer should be diluted to attain the colour of weak tea. A litre of vermiliquid can be used to spray a whole acre. On the other hand, the solid compost fertilizer can be used during planting or afterward. For this type of fertilizer, a farmer needs two tonnes per hectare.

Where did this vermiculture come from and how old is it?

It has been around since time immemorial though it’s just recently that people started rearing the earthworms and other beneficial dudus. The idea is basically to recycle organic materials and turn what would otherwise be an eyesore to good use.

What is its advantage over other forms of manure/fertilizers?

As I mentioned above, the main reason is the micro-organisms which increase the soil fertility and crop yield.

How does this innovation fit in the modern agriculture?

We are combining the traditional and the modern farming knowledge to get the best. We are also moving from synthetic chemicals which provide a short term solution towards pest and disease control to long term biological control.

What is your take on innovation of control of pests and diseases using dudus?

I love dudus. They are very good for the environment, no residues, no resistance buildup and they will be with us for a long time and still have the same effect.

Does this innovation have a future in this country?

Absolutely! The growing interest among informed farmers is a positive indicator of a future for the dudus’

 

By Ann Ndung’u

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