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OCTOBER, 2018.

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This work is dedicated to God, for always being faithful.

I want to thank my supervisor miss Olukanmi Babafemi Ibukun for her help, advice and patience.
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Vermitechnology can be defined as a system used for the handling and breakdown of organic waste matter by employing the action of earthworms (Garg et al. 2006; Vivas et al. 2009). It is one of the many systems employed for organic waste disposal, but one that is internationally accepted as environment-friendly.

Earthworms are the main agents of vermitechnology, being decomposers. They engage several physical, chemical and biological process that leads to the transformation of waste into simpler forms in a short amount of time (Tognetti et al. 2007). Vermitechnology however, has not been fully initiated into the industrial scale, because earthworms are mesophilic organisms, thus pathogen suppression is not fully confirmed.
It is important to acknowledge the importance of vermitechnology as factors such as the world’s rapid growing population, intensive agriculture, and industrialization have created problems for other systems set up for organic waste management and disposal. (Garg et al. 2006). Vermitechnology can be taken as a solution to this problem, because it involves the fragmentation and simplification of organic wastes in a shorter time. This paper looks at vermitechnology, earthworm biology, uses and the potential of vermitechnology in Nigeria.

Earthworms are invertebrates that belong to the phylum Annelida. They are tube-shaped, coelomate and segmented organisms. They possess no bones or cartilages, do not have appendages, but instead, possess hook-like structures called chaetae for attaching themselves to their substratum (a surface on which an organism grows or is attached). They move by crawling, with the aid of bristles on their body, which moves back and forth. Their bodies are also surrounded by rings that enable them to twist and turn. (Ravindran et al. 2008).

Fig1: labelled diagram of earthworm anatomy
Habitation; Earthworms can survive in various habitats. They are usually found in hydrophilic environments close to fresh and saline waters. Some species can live under snow and few can live on plants, inhabiting accumulated debris in the axils of banana, palm and bamboo trees.
Reproduction; Earthworms being hermaphrodites, possess male and female reproductive organs, but they reproduce sexually. When earthworms become sexually mature, they develop a distinct epidermal ring shaped area called clitellum and it contains gland cells that produce materials to create cocoons. The wide band (clitellum) that surrounds a mature breeding earthworm secretes mucus (albumin) after mating. Sperm from another worm is stored in sacs. The mucus encases the sperm and eggs inside as it slides over them.
In the wake of sliding free from the earthworm, the two ends are sealed, framing a lemon-shape cover roughly 31 cm long. The three layered cocoon wall is discharged by a kind of clitella organ cell containing substantial granules. It contains protein and a chitinoid material (Needham 1969).
On account of the presence of chitin, the initially formed cocoons darkens with air exposure. More than one worm offspring are spawned and emerge from one end of the cocoon. Cocoon generation begins at the age of 6 weeks and proceeds till about 24 weeks.

The hatching time frame of the cocoon is generally around 21- 35 days. In temperate worms it extends somewhere between 3-30 weeks and in tropical species, 1-8 weeks. The hatching time frame shifts from species to species. It might be 14-30 days for some Indian species as contrasted with 8-30 days in European species.

Baby worms are 1.27 to 2.54 cm long and can have colours ranging from whitish to relatively transparent. The red worms take 4-6 weeks to reach full sexual development. Reproduction and cocoon creation is possible consistently.
Fig2: Earthworm sex organs
Fig 3: Earthworms mating.

Nutrition; Earthworms find food with the aid of chemoreceptors. They ingest soil and organic matter and can pass natural material proportional to their own weight, through their alimentary canal. Their digestive system consists of the pharynx, throat, gizzard, anterior intestines (which secretes enzymes) and posterior intestines (ingest nutrients).

Their gut also contains microorganisms which are usually similar to those in the encompassing soil or organic matter that they feed on (Edwards et al. 1985).
Natural enemies; Earthworms have numerous predators, which includes mattes, ants, centipedes, nematodes, fly larvae, termites, springtails, snails, slugs, millipedes, arachnids, birds, rodents, gophers, toads and snakes (Edwards and Lofty 1977; Edwards 2004). A wide assortment of parasitic and pathogenic organisms have been reported from earthworms. These include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, Platyhelminthes, nematodes and diptera larvae. Birds, moles, shrew are significant consumers of earthworm. Moles feed to a great extent on worms, earthworms comprise of 100% of their diet in winter and half in summer. They store worms in their tunnels in paralyzed conditions by removing their few anterior segments (Macdonald 1976). Mites, beetles, centipede feed on and crush developing earthworm and their cocoons (Edwards and Bohlen 1996). A carnivorous earthworm Agastrodrilus sp. reportedly feeds upon other earthworms.
Ecology And Distribution Of Earthworms
There are more than 3000 species of earthworms on earth, and they are mainly grouped into two categories:
1. Burrowing earthworms.

2. Non-burrowing earthworms.
The burrowers are; P. elongata and P. asiatica. They live deep in the soil. They have pallid bodies, measure 20 to 30 cm in length and have a life span of 15 years.
Non-burrowing types include; E. foetida and E. eugeniae. They inhabit the upper layer of the soil surface. They are more preferred for use in vermitech than the burrowing types because break down organic waste at a higher rate than the burrowing categories.

Card et al.(2004) groups earthworms into anecic, endogeic and epigeic.
Anecic (Greek word for “out of the earth”) – these include burrowing worms that emerge at the surface at night to drag food down into their permanent burrows deep within the mineral layers of the soil. They have long life cycle and are large in body size, slightly pigmented at anterior and posterior ends. They are phytophagous (that is, they feed on plant material) in nature, e.g. L. terrestris.

Endogeic (Greek word for “within the earth”) – They also include burrowing worms but their burrows are not very deep. They use the organic matter already in the soil as food. They rarely emerge at the surface. They have intermediate life cycles with limited regenerative capacity and range from small to large in body size. They are geophagous, e.g. Metaphire posthuma and Octochaetona thurstoni.

Epigeic (meaning “upon the earth”) – Includes worms that live in the surface litter and eat the decaying organic materials. These worms do not create permanent burrows, are phytophagous, very small in size, very active and have high regenerative capacity within a short period of time. These worms are “decomposers” and are the types of worms utilized in vermicomposting. The species used mostly in vermicomposting include: E. foetida, E. eugeniae and P. excavatus.

The dispersal of earthworms in the soil is dependent on elements like soil texture, aeration, temperature, moisture, presence of organic matter, soil pH, dung and litter. The reproductive ability and dispersive power of the species are also key. Some earthworm species are higly attracted to organic matter like humus, dung and kitchen watses. Earthworms are rarely found in soils with course or rough texture, and soils like high clay percentage, or soil with a pH less than 4 (Gunathilagaraj 1996). They react sensitively to touch, light and dryness. Water-logging in the soil can lead to forced emergence at the surface. Worms can survive a temperature range between 5° and 29°C. A temperature of 20° to 25°C and moisture of 50–60% is ideal for effective earthworm utility (Hand 1988).
Different species of earthworms such as E. foetida, E. andrei, L. terrestris, P. excavatus and E. eugeniae etc. Are utilized in the following processes;
Soil detoxification and vermicompost production (Gupta and Garg 2008).

To degrade organic waste matter for diverse industries such as paper and pulp industries(Elvira et al.1997, 1998).

Used in dairy and sugar processing industries (Kale 1998; Reddy and Shantaram 2005) (Gratelly et al. 1996).

Winery and distillery industries (Nogales et al. 2005).

Wood and wood chips (Maboeta and Van Rensburg 2003).

Textile mills (Kaushik and Garg 2004; Garg and Kaushik 2005).

Oil (Benitez et al. 2004) and power (fly ash) (Gupta et al. 2005).

Boost plant yield and control the population of some plant parasites (Johnston et al. 1995; Arancon et al. 2006).

Medicine. Earthworms are applied in traditional medicine in China and Philippines to cure diseases such as fever, inflammation in various body parts, stomach-aches and toothaches, rheumatism and arthritis, to cure mumps and measles and even aid child delivery by inducing quicker uterus contractions and easing labor pains.
In countries like Canada, Philippines and Japan, research has been carried out on the isolation and utilization of certain biochemicals found in earthworms, these has led to discovery on the effectiveness of earthworm extracts for the cure of diseases like; low blood pressure, diabetes, eczema, digestive ulcer etc. (Mihara et al, 1990; Ang-lopez and Alis 2006). Earthworms are currently being used or researched on for the management and cure of other diseases including;
The Oleic fatty acids found in earthworms are omega-9atty acids, unsaturated fatty acids and are very valuable in the heart attack risks and risks of arteriosclerosis. Other fatty acids like the Linoleic acid help in the control of inflammation, blood pressure, heart function, kidney function and gastrointestinal function (Li 1995, Ang-Lopez and Alis 2006).

Two enzymes extracted from earthworms, namely; fibrinolysin and fibrokinase are used to reduce blood viscousity in the treatment of paralysis developed as a result of cardiovascular diseases. (Li1998).

It has been discovered through research that earthworm white blood cells have the ability to recognize and attack human cancer cells. (Cooper2009)
Earthworm coelomic fluid can be used as a compound for the production of antibiotics, as it has been proven to be anti-pathogenic. Fatty acids extracted from earthworms, including Lauric acid are known to have anti-microbial abilities.

Vermiculture is derived from two Latin words; “vermes,” meaning worms and “culture,” meaning farming. So, vermiculture can be defined as the scientific, feeding, breeding and the raising of a particular species of earthworms, at a particular time and space, providing ideal and artificial situations in seminatural conditions (Rao 2005). Vermitechnology is the process of producing compost through vermiculture.

Vermitechnology has been developed through the years since the first vermiculture experiments were conducted in Holland 1970 and subsequently in England and Canada (Sinha et al., 2002).

The first vermicompost farm was erected in the year 1978 to 1979 by the American Earthworm technology company. (Edwards 1998).

A biology teacher from Michigan, Mary Appelhof, called the mother of small scale vermicomposting, came up with the idea of home vermicomposting in the year 1972. She created a compost in her basement, using ordered species of Eisenia fetida, from a bait dealer. In 1973, she gave details on her method in a two-page flier titled “Basement Worm Bins Produce Potting Soil and Reduce Garbage,” which she sold by mail for 25 cents. In 1979, she created a four-page long brochure called “Composting Your Garbage with Worms.” Her book “Worms Eat My Garbage,” was published in 1982.
Fig3: Mary Appelhorf holding earthworms
Vermicomposting is the process of degrading and stabilizing organic waste by using earthworms and microorganisms to bring about the formation of vermicompost. Vermicompost can be used as a soil fertilizer due to its nutrient content and its lack of adverse effects to plants. Vermicompost is formed when the earthworms breakdown the organic waste materials, stimulate the action of microorganisms and increase rates at which minerals are formed, converting the waste into humus-like substances with fine structure and high microbial activity.

Vermicompost can even be used to improve clay soil for plant use. It loosens clay soil and improves the passage for the entry of air when applied to it. The mucus contained in the cast is hydroscopic and absorbs water, prevents water logging and improves the water holding capacity. Vermicomposting enriched soil, contains nutrient materials not found in fertilizers (Kale, 1998).
The nutrients found in vermicompost are highly dependent on the input material. That is, it contains larger concentrations of most of the nutrients that were already present in the raw organic matter (Edwards and Bohlen, 1996).

Factors that affect vermicomposting.

Earthworms are very sensitive animals that have to be cultured in controlled conditions to function efficiently. The earthworm function and quality of compost produced, is reliant of the following conditions.

a) Temperature
Earthworms are mesophilic. So the temperature should not exceed 30°C. Most earthworms need temperature ranging between 20° and 30°C to function effectively (Edwards and Bohlen 1996).
b) Moisture
The moisture content of vermicompost helps to retain heat and assists biochemical processes. Moisture content level between 60% and 70% of total weight of waste is accepted as the ideal range for vermicomposting (Edwards and Arancon 2004).
c) Aeration
Adequate flow of air is important for earthworm function (Edwards and Arancon 2004).
d) pH of medium
Earthworms react sensitively to any variation in pH. Although they can survive in a pH range of 4.5 to 9, they function best at neutral pH of 7.0 (Edwards 1998). Worms and their vermicasts reduce the acid-forming carbon in the soil and help maintain neutral pH.
e) Calcium
Calcium is a vital aspect of worm anatomy (as calcareous tissues) and assisting biodegradation activity. Pramanik et al. (2007) found that application of lime (calcium carbonate) at 5 g/kg of substrate enhances the production rate and quality of vermicompost.

f) C/N ratio
Vermicomposting is an aerobic process, and Nitrogen is an important aspect of any aerobic culturing process. (C/N=25:1) is considered ideal for faster vermicomposting (Visvanathan et al. 2005).
g) Worm biomass
The amount (biomass) of earthworms is an important factor that affects vermicomposting. The more the worms, the faster the disintegration of waste, and also the reduction of odor. 100-50 adult worms per kg of waste in the early stage is considered optimal (Sinha et al. 2002; Visvanathan et al. 2005).

How earthworms create vermicompost
Earthworms generate vermicompost through the following mechanisms;
a) Grinding action
They ingest waste materials which are ground in the worm gizzard into small particles and passed into the intestines for enzyme actions.
b) Enzymatic action
The intestine secretes enzymes proteases, lipases, amylases, cellulases and chitinases which brings about rapid biochemical conversion of the cellulosic and the proteinaceous materials in the waste organics (Dash 1978; Domínguez 2004; Pramanik 2007).
c) Worms reinforce decomposer microbes and act synergistically
Earthworms promote the growth of beneficial decomposers (bacteria, actinomycetes and fungi) in the organic matter. Earthworms serve as host to millions of decomposer microorganisms in their (Singleton et al. 2003). . Under favorable conditions, earthworms and microorganisms act symbiotically and synergistically to accelerate and enhance the decomposition of the organic matter in the waste.
d) Humification of degraded waste organics
This is the final process and involves the conversion of organic particles are into a complex amorphous colloid containing phenolic materials. (Domínguez 2004).
Usefulness of vermicompost over conventional technologies
a) Earthworms enrich compost by providing nutrients. They induce several beneficial changes in the biochemical properties of the composting wastes. They provide nutrients and in forms that make them bioavailable and easily absorbed by plants. (Buchanan et al., 1988). They ingest nitrogen from the waste and excrete it in the mineral form as nitrates, ammonium and muco-proteins. The nitrogenous waste excreted by the nephridia of the worms is mostly urea and ammonia and is plant-available.
b) Earthworms release valuable soil microorganisms in the manure. Certain microorganisms like; Actinomycetes, Nitrobacter, Azotobacter, Rhizobium and phosphate solubilizing bacteria can be found in vermicompost.
c) Earthworms destroy pathogens. Their coelom fluid has certain antibacterial properties that eliminates pathogens (Pierre et al., 1982). They as well consume destructive bacteria, protozoa and fungi as food.
d) Vermicompost emits less greenhouse gases.
e) No or little energy utilization in vermicomposting procedure. Earthworms ventilate the vermicompost system regularly by their burrowing activities (Visvanathan et al., 2005). In other composting systems where lots of energy is used to aerate the system for the use of the aerobic bacteria.

f) Homogenous end-products: The end result is more homogeneous and contains more in plant-available nutrients, humus and considerably lower contaminants. They are soft, extremely porous with greater water-holding capability (Edwards and Bohlen, 1996).
g) Earthworms eliminate poisonous substances from finished products. Earthworms can biodegrade chemicals together with heavy metals, organochlorine insecticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) deposits in the medium in which it feeds and purify the end-products (Hartenstein et al., 1980; Nelson et al., 1982; Ireland, 1983; Sinha et al., 2008).
h) Earthworm biomass presents as valued by-product of left-over vermicomposting. Huge population of earthworms is as a result of vermicomposting of wastes (Domínguez, 2004). The worms can be used in medicine, agriculture etc.
Benefits of vermicompost
Vermicompost improves the physical, chemical and biological attributes of soil (Kale, 1998).
It enhances the development of plants (Lalitha et al., 2000).

Boosts yield of crops e.g. paddy, wheat and sugarcane (Ismail, 2005).
Vermiwash is a liquid substance gathered after water is passes through a column of worm action. It is a compilation of excretory products and mucus secretion of earthworms together with micronutrients from the soil’s organic molecules. It is a clear and translucent, whitish yellow colored liquid (Ismail, 1997) and contains key micronutrients of the earth and soil organic molecules that are beneficial for plants (Ismail, 1997). Vermiwash can be used as manure and also as a minor biocide (Pramoth, 1995).

Water treatment (vermifiltration).

Vermifiltration is a process where waste water is treated, using waste eater earthworms. The Earthworms body serves as a biofilter and revives waste from the waste water through ingestion and biodegradation and also through absorption through their body walls.

They grind the soil and silt particles, and thereby increase its abilities to absorb organic and inorganic wastes from the waste water due to increase in surface area by the worm action (Komarowski 2001)
They produce vermicast which is very absorbent and collects suspended solids and heavy metals from the waste water (Taylor et al. 2003; Urdeneta et al. 2008).

They feed on the harmful and ineffective microorganisms in the wastewater, selectively avoiding effective biodegrading microorganisms (Xing et al. 2005)
No sludge. Earthworms eat the sludge and converts them to vermicast (Sinha et al. 2008a).

No odor. Earthworms feed on rotting and decaying solid matter and on sludge material, reducing formation of foul odors effectively (Sinha et al. 2008a).

Vermifiltered water is clear of pathogens, toxic chemicals and can be reused in agriculture and industries (Sinha et al. 2008a).

Cheaper. Its low energy consuming and results in the production of valuable products like vermicast, water for farming and earthworm biomass for industrial use (Sinha et al. 2008a).

Bioremediation. Soil detoxification. Earthworms can be used to biodegrade chemical soil contaminants. Compared to other conventional methods, this is least expensive and is internationally acceptable. Earthworm species such as E. fetida are highly resistant to several chemical contaminants, which heavy metals and organic pollutants in soil, and bio-accumulate them in their tissues.

Production of biofertilizers and improving soil fertility. Vermicompost and vermiwash can be used in place of agro-chemicals. These are a result of the metabolic action of the earthworms. They excrete effective and useful soil microbes, and are involved in secretion of proteins, polysaccharides and other nitrogen-containing compounds into the soil around them. They fragment the soil and increase proper circulation of air, and facilitate dispersion and soil turning in farmlands.
Earthworm biomass are used in animal feed production and for human dietary supplements. Earthworms are rich in proteins, minerals, vitamins and roughages. Their protein is high quality and contains all essential amino acids, in higher quantities than in animal feeds enriched with fish meal, blood powder and cow liver, making them wonderful for poultry, fish and pig feeds (Barcelo 1988; Fisher 1988; Dynes 2003).
Vermitechnology can be employed as a means of tackling some of the problems plaguing the Nigerian society in this industrial age, by proper application of some of useful characteristics of earthworms. (Sinha et al., 2010)
Use of Vermi-composting for adequate processing and managing of solid organic wastes. This then turns them into useful resources, which can be used in agriculture. Improving yield, food quality and economic growth. E.g. Vermicompost.
Fig 4: Vermicompost production
2. Vermi-filtration for water purification and reuse.

Fig 5: Diagram of the process of vermifiltration
71120097790000Vermi-remediation which is a bioremediation method, for cleaning contaminated lands and reducing the pollutants. This can help areas affected by pollution from industries and improve the quality of soil for agricultural use.

Fig 6: Earthworms introduced to soil for bioremediation.

4. Vermi-agroproduction for the increase of soil fertility without resorting to agro-chemicals. Providing chemical free food due to the application of nutrient-rich vermicompost.

5. Vermi-protection and generation of large earthworm biomass for in the development modern vermi-medicines to fight disease and improve human health.

6. Vermi-production of earthworms for use in industries to process raw materials for production of rubber, lubricant, soaps, detergent and cosmetics industries and use of rich worm proteins as feed materials (vermi-meals) to promote fishery, dairy and poultry industries to produce more nutritive foods for the society.
Earthworm related technologies are easy to maintain as they regulate themselves, improve themselves, enhance themselves and utilize little energy, produce no waste , are easily constructed, operated and maintained. They are preferred above other bio-degradation, bio-conversion and bio-production technologies because they can make use of organics that otherwise cannot be made use of by others (Wang 2000; NIIR 2004). They are environment friendly and easy to sustain as the worms are a highly renewable resource with regenerative abilities (Sinha and Valani 2011).
The main issue surrounding the effective practice of Vermitechnology in Nigeria is the lack of information. Seeing as this is an efficient, low cost method of waste management, it’s disheartening to note that millions of Nigerians do not know about this and the problem of organic waste management remains an issue. This problem can be solved by raising awareness on the benefits or earthworm technology, as this paper attempts to do.

Other problems surrounding vermitechnology.

Time consuming.

It takes about six months for earthworms to degrade organic matter and transform it to useful content. This is a disadvantage, compared to other compost methods where the result of the organic matter processing can be gotten in three months.

Bad Odor
This would be a problem particularly for small scale or home vermicomposting owners. If just a few factors are not managed effectively, vermicompost bins can produce effective odors. As an example, poor ventilation for the worms, overfeeding and even utilizing too much wet feed can result in bad odor. To avoid this problem, vermicompost owners have to ensure that the factors are well managed and maintained.

High Maintenance
The worms have to be properly taken care off. As they can consume large quantities of organic matter, they have to be fed constantly, but then the feeding has to be monitored to prevent the worms from being overwhelmed with too much to eat. Moisture levels and pH levels also have to be monitored.

Pest and Pathogen Problems
While the heat generated from other compost methods helps to kill pathogens and pests.
Vermitechnology is at a disadvantage as earthworms cannot survive high temperatures. The vermicompost bins must be kept at a temperature cool enough for the earthworms to survive.

Because of this, vermicompost can be home to some pathogens and pests found in the parent soil material.

Harvesting Time
Harvesting the final products of vermicomposting out of a vermicompost system should be done carefully. This is done by sorting and taking out the worms as the soil amendment is collected. This is takes time, depends on how big the vermicompost bin is and size of worm biomass used.


Vermitechnology can be used to drive Nigeria and the rest of the world into an era of efficient production of agricultural products and solid waste managements. Sugar industries burn their wastes. This leads to increase in the carbon contents of the atmosphere and promotes global warming, also, in Nigeria, most organic wastes also end up burnt. Apart from the effects on the atmosphere, burning also affects soil texture and nutrients. Managing these wastes through vermicomposting will be a bold step to securing a safer future.

Also, products of vermitechnology, like vermicompost, vermiwash and vermicast, can be used as biofertilizers, and to reduce the use of agrochemicals. Thereby increasing food production, improving soil health and reducing pollution that arises as a result of runoff of agrochemicals from the soil surface.

Incorporating earthworm proteins into animal feeds can also help Nigeria reduce cost on fish meal importation, while yet providing a better source of protein and nutrients. Leading to food production and economic stability.

1.2 Conclusion
The world’s population is estimated to grow at an average rate of 83 million people per year ( Thus the need of efficient organic waste management systems to help reduce the strains on the already set systems. Vermitechnology is environment friendly, efficient, high through put and should be employed
Vermitechnology can be used to improve the county’s approach to organic waste management and agricultural industry productivity. It can be used to reduce the application of agrochemicals and for biofertilizer production and even for biocontrol of some pathogens. Nigeria as a country has had to deal with oil spillage and pollution for centuries and Verdi technology can be employed for biodegradation and land remediation. By culturing and employing the use of earthworms like the Hyperiodrilus africanus moderately polluted soils in the Niger Delta regions of Nigeria can be vermiremediated.

Vermitechnology is a technique that should be practiced on a larger scale in Nigeria, to bring about development in waste management, agriculture and in our industrial sectors.

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