Common earthworms provide uncommon benefits for agriculture and inmates
Creating healthier crops and breaking the cycle of imprisonment may seem unrelated, unless you are University of Swaziland, Kwaluseni Enactus – a team that recognized an opportunity to help inmates reintegrate into society by partaking in activities that decreased the amount of chemical fertilizers used in area farming.
To reduce to the number of inmates resorting back to crime due to a lack of skills and education as well as tackle the issues of soil depletion, the team devised an agricultural project that taught inmates to create organic fertilizer using eisenia foetida earthworms. Research by the team revealed eisenia foetida earthworms, or red worms, would improve the soil and save thousands of dollars by reducing dependency on chemical fertilizers. This activity would also provide new skills and much-needed opportunities for inmates while in prison and beyond.
The team trained 607 inmates at a local correctional facility how to breed the worms and apply the organic fertilizer to the crops produced on prison land, which are used to supply food for the prison and surplus to sell. They also worked with this group to provide lessons on farming business management, computer training and financial literacy. The first three test harvests were a huge success – produce was larger and healthier – which has led to the team to further work with the Swaziland Ministry of Agriculture to develop additional applications for the project.
Today, more than 300 acres of public and private farm land have been harvested using the organic fertilizer, which is estimated to have saved $22,000 by eliminating the cost of chemical fertilizers. Most importantly, seven former inmates have gone on to start a farming co-op and are using what they learned in the “New Ground” project to increase their profits by 50 percent.