Growing up, Tamil Nadu’s Azhaku Dheeran (36) watched closely how her father, a farmer, prepared vermicompost to get a flourishing harvest. She’d often help him in its preparation and handling.
Years passed by and the Ariyalur native got married and had children. When they started attending school, it gave her more time at hand to tend to her home garden, replete with different flowers and vegetables. In 2019, she followed the same methods employed by her father to put together a vermicompost for nourishing her home garden.
Vermicomposting is a scientific process to make compost using earthworms. These earthworms feed on organic waste material, like kitchen waste, and excrete ‘vermicasts’, which are rich in nitrates and minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. These work as excellent organic fertilisers and enhance soil quality.
When Azhaku tried implementing the process in her garden, she found that the harvest was faster and better.She felt that the vermicompost had the potential to be turned into a business.
However, the farmers in Ariyalur were not too familiar with vermicomposting, she recalls. Even when they visited her three-bed vermicompost farm and inquired about the fertiliser, no one bought it, even on a trial basis. “They’d ask, ‘Nee enna pandre? (What are you doing?)’, and when I’d explain the idea to them, they’d leave with a simple ‘Appadiya (I see)’.”
Azhaku was disheartened, but the interest and support she received from the nearest Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) made her pursue the venture anyway. “Through the KVK, the horticulture department came to know about my enterprise and they offered to collect the compost for sales,” the 36-year-old agripreneur tells The Better India.
Online sales changed the game
“During the first COVID-19 lockdown, we started using e-commerce platforms for purchasing things. One day, I casually searched for ‘vermicompost’ and several options appeared. Later, with external help, I listed myself as a seller, did the packaging, a photoshoot, and every other procedure mentioned on the website,” explains the MSc Chemistry graduate.
She kept her hopes high, but not even a single order was received for ‘Soil Spirit’, the brand under which she was selling her vermicompost. “This was because of the high competition on the platform,” she notes. Her first order, which was received in a month, was successfully delivered to Chennai. She ensured to provide the best compost, which resulted in the customer posting a great review on Amazon.
From then, sales surged and she started getting repeat orders from terrace gardeners across Bengaluru, Chennai, and parts of Kerala. “During the same period, some other seller used my product images and details to sell low quality items, which brought down the sales a little. This incident made me attain a trademark, but the process was tiring. I didn’t get one under the same name, and it was changed to ‘Aerboreal’,” she says.
Today, more than the sales that take place on Amazon, Azhaku has built a collection of personal contacts, so the orders arrive via WhatsApp. “The only challenge in the latter is the parcelling process. I need to travel 20 km from the village to reach the nearest parcel service. I always hire two or three people to transport the produce. The items will be delivered within 10 days, maximum. I have now got help in packaging too,” says the agripreneur, who sells around 210 kg of vermicompost a month.
The price of 5 kg of compost is Rs 120. Azhaku also sells coco peat and potting mix under the same label for the same price. “During the peak period of my business, I earned Rs 4 lakh a year. This is a huge number for someone who started from scratch using Rs 1 lakh investment,” shares Azhaku with happiness.
Right now, she has taken a break from sales through Amazon as the produce sent to them often ends up being wasted. On the other hand, she says, WhatsApp sales are increasing day-by-day, and she is able to earn more profit out of them.
Here are some tips from Azhaku if you are planning to make vermicompost at home:
- Picking healthy worms is a significant step. Do it with the help of nearby farmers or experts.
- The next step is to take care of them and save them from animals like hens and dogs. Prepare the bed in an area away from their reach.
- Maintaining room temperature (25 – 27 degrees Celsius) is vital. Keeps the worms away from direct sunlight. It’s always better to cover them or keep them in shade.
- The feed can be anything organic, from kitchen waste to store bought feed.
- It takes 60-90 days for vermicompost to be ready.
- Use it in your own garden and share it with neighbours/ friends.
In order to order vermicompost and potting mix prepared by Azhaku, contact +91 95853 40007.
Edited by Divya Sethu