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Guyana; solid waste management


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1.1 Background

As a developing country, Guyana is faced with the basic problem of solid waste management. According to Gonzalez (2009)[1] “solid waste” refers to all putrescible and non putrescible solid and semisolid wastes, including but not limited to garbage, rubbish, ashes, industrial wastes, swill, demolition and construction wastes, abandoned vehicles or parts thereof, and discarded commodities. This includes all liquid, solid and semisolid materials which are not the primary products of public, private, industrial, commercial, mining and agricultural operations.

Although waste disposal practices in Guyana have not kept pace with the demands posed by increases in urban population and subsequent increases in waste generation over the past few decades, solid waste management is not at a critical stage (Závodská, 2003)[2]. However, it should be noted that the total waste generated in 1995 for Guyana was reported at 42,665 tons and this increased by 5 per cent to 44,831 tons in 1996, a further 2.4 per cent in 1997 and another increase of 2.4 per cent in 1998 (Caribbean Community Secretariat, 2008). Evidently, the most significant increase in the total waste generated in Guyana was from 1999 to 2000 where the waste generation increased from 47,287 tons to 57,256 tons, representing an increase of 21.1 per cent.

According to PAHO/WHO (2004), among the six municipalities of Guyana, the per capita generation of solid waste is greatest in Rose Hall, whereas, the smallest per capita generation corresponds to the municipality of Anna Regina. Moreover, there is inadequate information documented as it pertains to the solid waste composition in Guyana, especially for the municipalities outside of Georgetown.

In Georgetown, the per capita generation of wastes is considered to be the second largest in the country with approximately 180,000 inhabitants generating in excess of 190 tons of waste on a daily basis (Inter-American Development Bank, 1998). According to Závodská (2003) landfilling at Mandella Avenue is considered the only way of disposing municipal solid waste (MSW) in the capital city. Essentially, due to the absence of sufficient finances to develop proper, sanitary landfills, that are lined and have controls for leachate and methane generation, MSW is often dumped into temporary, poorly designed, unlined, unmonitored holes in the ground. As noted by (Závodská, 2003), these makeshift urban landfills are nothing more than shallow excavated trenches, backfilled with solid waste and covered with soil once filled to capacity.

Moreover, due to the lack of sufficient outdoor public waste bins in Georgetown, domestic wastes are often dispersed throughout the city thus making it difficult to take measures against contamination (United Nations, 1997). Additionally, PAHO/WHO (2004) notes that, solid wastes accumulations observed in urban areas' roads and informal markets tend to increase in the macro and micro rates of vectors as well as bad odours and toxic smokes generated by the in situ burning of these wastes. These informal markets along roadways and open spaces also generate solid wastes (most of them organic in nature) that create problems to the collection system as they do not have a proper storage system. Also, rainwater drainage is often used for disposing solid wastes throughout the city, and accumulated wastes often clog drainage canals rapidly (PAHO/WHO, 2004).

With regards to the composition of solid wastes in Georgetown, it should be noted that waste characterization data reported by (Brown and Vince, 2001) indicate that the organic fraction of the wastes generated exceeds fifty percent (by weight) of the total waste. The organic waste stream is essentially composed of wasteof a biological origin which may include items such as paper and cardboard, food, green and garden waste, animal waste and biosolids and sludges.[3] More so, organic wastes are usually generated as a component of most waste streams and the term is generally not intended to include plastics or rubber even though these polymers are certainly organic in nature. Also, putrescible wastesare a subset of organic wastes with the distinction being that putrescible wastes, for instance food scraps,tend to biodegrade very rapidlywhereas some other organic wastes, for instance paper, tend to require lengthy times or special conditions to biodegrade3.

In addition, with such large quantities of organic wastes being generated, this poses a serious threat to public health. However, the importance of biological processes in the management and recycling of organic wastes has been widely recognized. Vermicomposting, which is essentially one of the most efficient methods for converting solid organic materials into environmentally friendly, useful and valuable products for crop production is gaining recognition around the world, though it is not a popular technology (Edwards, 2004, Aalok et al., 2008).

As a process for handling organic residuals, vermicomposting represents an alternative approach in waste management, since the material is neither landfilled nor burnt but is considered a resource that may be recycled (Aalok et al., 2008). In this sense, vermicomposting is compatible with sound environmental principles that value conservation of resources and sustainable practices and thus, can be an appropriate alternative for the safe, hygienic and cost effective disposal of the organic fraction of solid wastes (Kaviray and Sharma, 2003). Vermicomposting may be defined as an accelerated process of biooxidation and stabilization of organic wastes that involves interactions between earthworms and microorganisms (Edwards, 2004).

Although the microorganisms are responsible for the biochemical degradation of the organic matter, earthworms are the crucial drivers of the process by fragmenting and conditioning the substrate, increasing the surface area for microbiological activity, and altering its biological activity (Domínguez et al., 2004). In essence, earthworms act as mechanical blenders and by breaking down the organic matter they modify its physical and chemical status, gradually reducing its C:N ratio, increasing the surface area exposed to microorganisms and making it much more favourable for microbial activity and further decomposition. The end product, or vermicompost, is a finely divided peat-like material with high porosity and water holding capacity that contains most nutrients in the form that can be readily taken up by plants. Additionally, these earthworm casts are rich in organic matter and have high rates of mineralization that implicates a greatly enhanced plant availability of nutrients, particularly ammonium and nitrates (Domínguez et al., 2004).

It should be noted that the role of earthworms in the improvement of soil fertility and concentration of pollutants has been known for a long time. However, earthworms were not commercially used for pollution control. In the last two decades, vermicomposting has found commercial applications in pollution management (Agarwal, 2005). This technology essentially involves the application of earthworms for combating the waste disposal problems, for minimizing the pollution effects and to obtain useful products from wastes. It is a small scale, low technology approach and uses locally available labour and raw materials. Furthermore, the transformation of solid wastes into vermicompost can be interpreted as one with a double interest. On the one hand, the wastes are converted into an agriculturally useful organic fertilisers which in turn have the potential to reduce the dependency on nonrenewable chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and, on the other, it controls a pollutant that is a consequence of increasing population, urbanization and intensive agriculture (Kaushik and Garg, 2003).

Moreover, it is imperative to note that plants, like other living things require food for their growth and development. As such, sixteen essential elements are required for plant growth; carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) are derived from the atmosphere and soil water while the remaining thirteen elements (nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo), and chlorine (Cl)) are supplied either from soil minerals and soil organic matter or by organic or inorganic fertilisers (Silva, 2000). While fertilisers may provide the essential nutrients required for plant growth, it is important to note that the rampant use of chemical fertilisers has contributed largely to the deterioration of the environment through the depletion of fossil fuels required for their production, increases in the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the contamination of water resources (Nagavallemma et al.,2006).

Nevertheless, there now is a growing realization around the world that the adoption of ecological and sustainable farming practices is critical in order to reverse the declining trend in the global productivity and environmental protection (Aveyard 1988, Wani and Lee 1992, Wani et al., 1995). Furthermore, the widespread adoption of vermicomposting in the era of sustainable farming has been proven beneficial by numerous studies. As such, there is evidence that organically based nutrient sources such as vermicompost may provide an alternative to synthetic fertilisers in order to provide nutrition for plants as well as influence their growth and productivity (Edwards, 1998). However, gaps in this field of research do still exist and thus there is continuous need for studies to determine the effects of other vermicomposted organic residues on plant growth. More so, a recent study conducted by Yusuf (2009) who investigated the potential of Eisenia fetida to produce organic fertilisers from three types of manure obtained from local farms, recommended that further research should be done to compare the effects of vermicomposts produced to that of an inorganic fertiliser on plant growth. With recognition of this potential gap in vermicomposting research, the present study therefore aims to compare the effects of vermicompost derived from plant based residues (including vegetable wastes and the peels of fruits) to that of an inorganic fertiliser on the growth of greenhouse Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis).

1.2 Proposed Title

Vermicomposting: A Sustainable Option for Organic Waste Management in Guyana

1.3 Problem Statement

Organic waste poses a serious environmental problem globally, and Guyana is no exception with the organic fraction of wastes generated on a daily basis being in excess of fifty percent (Brown and Vince, 2001). Management of solid wastes is a major issue in Guyana and waste disposal practices have not kept pace with the increasing demands posed by population growth and waste generation (Závodská, 2003). As a consequence, much of the wastes are often discarded into the environment in an indiscriminate manner, thus making it difficult to take measures against contamination.

In landfills, organic wastes decompose anaerobically in order to produce biogas (predominantly methane, a significant greenhouse gas) as well as leachate which contains nutrients and soluble organic materials (Waste 2020, 2001)[4]. Furthermore, the leachate has the potential to pollute groundwater and may also release and mobilise heavy metals from landfills. Some organic wastes such as sludges and biosolids may also contain heavy metals or nutrient pollutants and uncontrolled disposal of these substances may lead to site contamination or water pollution4.

Nevertheless, the biological process of vermicomposting presents a viable opportunity to decompose and convert the organic fraction of solid wastes into agriculturally useful organic fertilisers using locally available species of earthworms. Moreover, there is accumulating evidence which indicates that vermicompost may provide the essential nutrients required for plant growth. The widespread adoption of this technology can serve a double function; first in terms of minimizing the amount of organic wastes required for disposal and secondly by recycling these wastes into a valuable product that can be utilized for crop production, it may reduce the dependency on chemical fertilisers.

1.4 Purpose of Study

This research intends to compare the effects of vermicompost derived from plant based residues (including vegetable wastes and the peels of fruits) to that of an inorganic fertiliser on the growth of greenhouse Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis)

1.5 Significance of the Research

Given the fact that solid waste management is a serious environmental issue in Guyana and that the organic fraction of the total waste that is generated is in excess of fifty percent, it is important to note that vermicomposting can play a major role by recycling such wastes into environmentally friendly, useful and valuable organic fertilisers which can enhance crop production. Additionally, research has shown that vermicompost plays a significant role in improving the growth and yield of various crops. As such, this research will not only serve to supplement prior studies done where Eisenia fetida was used to convert organic residues such as vegetable wastes and manure into organic fertilisers, but it will also compare the effects of the vermicompst produced from plant based residues to that of an inorganic fertiliser on the growth of greenhouse Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis). Moreover, this research will potentially give weight to the argument of vermicomposting as a sustainable technology for recycling organic wastes which can in turn improve the management of organic solid waste in Guyana. Furthermore, this study may also support and provide a framework for future experimental studies in Guyana using the vermicomposting process, and a combination of these results could be used to promote and encourage the widespread use of organic fertilisers.

1.6 Research Questions

This research seeks to provide answers to the following questions:

1. What are the chemical properties (NPK) of the vermicompost samples, soil and inorganic fertiliser?

2. Is plant growth affected by the quantity of vermicompost applied?

3. What is the mineral nutrient content in Pak Choi plant tissues using the various fertiliser treatments?

4. Which fertiliser option results in best overall plant growth?

1.7 Research Objectives

Specific objectives could be derived from the research questions and they are as follow:

1. To determine the chemical properties (NPK) of the vermicompost samples, soil, and inorganic fertiliser;

2. To determine the effects of different quantities of vermicompost derived from plant based residues on the growth of greenhouse Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis);

3. To determine the mineral nutrient content in Pak Choi plant tissues;

4. To determine which fertiliser option results in best overall plant growth.

1.8 Scope of Research

Chapter 1: Background of solid waste management in Guyana, overview of the application of vermicomposting in organic waste management, background on fertilisers (inorganic and organic), the proposed research title, statement of the problem, purpose of the study, significance of the study and finally research questions and objectives

Chapter 2: This chapter outlines the literature review which explores, based on specific themes, similar areas of studies that lead up to the current research.

Chapter 3: This chapter describes the proposed methodology

Chapter 4: This chapter outlines how the analysis of the data collected and findings will be done.

Chapter 5: Concludes the study

2.1 Organic and Inorganic Fertilisers

Growth is defined as the increment in dry mass, volume, length, or area that results from the division, expansion, and differentiation of cells (Lambers, 2008). However, in relation to plants, growth refers to the process by which a plant increases in the number and size of leaves and stems (Rayburn, 1993). Plants, like other living things require energy for proper development and as such, sixteen essential elements are required for plant growth. Each is equally important to the plant; yet, each is required in vastly different amounts. Carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) are derived from the atmosphere and soil water while, the remaining thirteen elements are supplied either from soil minerals and soil organic matter or by organic or inorganic fertilisers (Silva, 2000). A fertiliser as defined broadly by Nielsson (1968) is any material, organic or inorganic, natural or synthetic, that is placed on or incorporated into the soil to supply plants with one or more of the chemical elements necessary for normal growth.

It is important to note that the quality of plant products can be considerably affected by plant nutrition. Moreover, the question is often asked whether there is any major difference in plant quality between plants supplied with organic or inorganic fertilisers. As such, (Mengel et al., 2001) notes that in organic fertilizers such as farmyard manure, slurries and green manure, most plant nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and phosphate, are present in an inorganic form. Other nutrients, specifically, nitrogen and sulphur, are converted to inorganic forms by soil microorganisms before the absorption by plant roots takes place. Thus, although plants may be supplied with organic fertilizers, they nevertheless take up inorganic nutrients derived from these organic materials (Mengel et al., 2001). Inorganic and organic fertilizers do, however, differ in the availability of the plant nutrients they contain. Nutrients in inorganic fertilizers are directly available to plant roots, whereas the nutrients of organic materials and especially organic nitrogen are of low availability.

It should also be noted that chemical fertilisers are either sterile or have insignificant microbiological activity. They are primarily composed of water-soluble chemical salts and as such organic material rarely forms part of chemical fertilisers[5]. Once these salts have been depleted from a chemical fertiliser, re-application is required in order to maintain the nutrient levels. However, in the case of vermicompost, due to the presence of nitrifying and nitrogen fixing bacteria in the compost, nitrogen can be easily fixed from the atmosphere and converted to plant soluble nitrates. Evidently, the process continues as long as there is sufficient organic matter (which is present in vermicompost) and therefore, re-application is not required at the same rate as chemical fertilisers5.

Another important distinction that must be highlighted is the fact that microbiologically active vermicompost is capable of regenerating the nutrients from the atmosphere, organic matter and water and thus replaces those lost from chemical fertilisers by leaching, plant uptake and chemical reactions5. With respect to moisture holding capacity and improvement of soil structure, chemical fertilisers have an insignificant effect, since they primarily consist of water-soluble salts. Vermicompost, on the other hand, due to the aggregate nature of the worm castings, has appreciable water holding capacity and its use leads to improved soil structure5.

Moreover, the disadvantage of chemical fertilisers comes in mistakenly thinking that it will substitute for all the benefits of organic materials (Nebel et al., 2001). In the absence of sufficient detritus, soil organisms starve, humus content declines, and all the desirable properties of the soil decline as the top soil mineralizes. With the soil's loss of nutrient holding capacity, applied inorganic fertiliser is prone to simply leach into waterways. Nebel et al., (2001) also emphasizes the point that the case is not one in which chemical fertilisers do not have a role to play in enhancing crop production but rather, a keen understanding of the different roles played by organic materials and inorganic nutrients is required and that each type is used as necessary. This is important to consider since the exclusive use of organic material may provide insufficient amounts of one or more nutrients required to support plant growth.

2.2 Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a simple biotechnological process of composting, in which certain species of earthworms are used to enhance the process of waste conversion and produce a better end product (Nagavallemma KP et al., 2006). According to Kumar (2005), the product is the result of organic wastes consumed by earthworms, digested and excreted in the form of granules. More so, vermicomposts are finely divided peat-like materials with high porosity, aeration, drainage, and water-holding capacity (Edwards & Burrows, 1985). They have a vast surface area, providing strong absorbability and retention of nutrients (Shi-wei & Fu-zhen, 1991) and they contain adequate quantities of NPK and several micronutrients essential for plant growth.

Moreover, vermicomposting differs from composting in several ways. It is a mesophilic process, utilizing microorganisms and earthworms that are active at 10-32°C (not ambient temperature but temperature within the pile of moist organic material). The process is faster than composting; because the material passes through the earthworm's gut, a significant but not yet fully understood transformation takes place, whereby the resulting earthworm castings (worm manure) are rich in microbial activity and plant growth regulators, and fortified with pest repellence attributes as well (Gandhi et al., 1997). These metabolites (i.e. growth regulators and polysaccharides) are strongly responsible for the fertilising value of casts. The polysaccharides present in the casts act as a cementing substance, contribute to soil structure by ensuring a better aeration, water retention, drainage and aerobic condition which are useful for root development and nutrient availability (Antonello, 2007). There is evidence that casts are able to influence plant metabolism, rooting initiation and development in controlled environments (Edwards et al., 1980; Tomati et al., 1990) as well as stimulate plant growth in open fields.

In addition, Sultan (1997) indicates that vermicompost has a special place in agriculture because of its presence of readily available plant nutrients, growth enhancing substances, and a number of beneficial microorganisms like nitrogen fixing, phosphorous solubilising and cellulose decomposing organisms. Moreover, Sultan (1997) suggests that vermicomposting has the potential to recycle organic wastes for which no proper mechanisms are available, or that which the conventional techniques such as incineration may be hazardous. It should be noted that, by recycling organic wastes in agriculture brings in the much needed organic and mineral matter to the soil (Nag, 2008). Since most recyclable wastes are organic, they directly add organic matter and the plant nutrients. When the organic input plays a vital role in improving the physical and biological properties of soil, the nutrient input improves its fertility, thus, providing a favourable environment for plant growth. As such, organic wastes recycling leads to an improvement in overall soil fertility and productivity.

2.2.1 The Role of Earthworms in Vermicomposting

Earthworms are segmented and bilaterally symmetrical worms, with an external gland (clitellum) producing an egg case (cocoon), a sensory lobe in front of the mouth (prostomium), with the anus at the posterior end of the animal body, no limbs but possessing a small number of bristles (chaetae) on each segment (Dominguez and Edwards, 2004). Furthermore, earthworms constitute more than 80 percent of soil invertebrates' biomass in many ecosystems. Pandey et al., (2008) notes that, about 10-15 percent net primary production is channelized through earthworms. Essentially, the earthworm acts as an aerator, crusher, mixer, grinder, chemical degrader and biostimulator. This in itself describes the earthworm's role in decomposition. Earthworms are known to help the soil in respiration, nutrition, excretion, stabilization etc. In addition, these organisms help to regulate soil temperature and thus stimulate useful activities of aerobic microorganisms (Pandey et al., 2008).

It should be noted that the food after passing through the alimentary canal of the earthworm, emerges as a compact concentrated mass termed vermicastings. The earthworm's casts contain more microorganisms, organic matter and inorganic minerals in a form that be used by plants. Vermicastings contain excreta, earthworm cocoons and undigested food making them excellent as organic manure. It is porous and has moisture absorbing capacity. It is also rich in vitamins, antibiotics and enzymes; upases, cellulases and chitinases. These enzymes continue the disintegration of organic matter after excretion from the worm as casts and, these casts are also rich in nitrates, phosphates and potash.

It is important to note that the ability of some species of earthworms to consume and breakdown a wide range of organic residues such as sewage sludge, animal wastes, crop residues and industrial refuse is well known (Edwards et al., 1985; Kaushik and Garg, 2003). Moreover, different species of earthworms have quite distinct life histories and occupy different ecological niches. However, research indicates that the epigaeic species are expected to be the most suitable for vermiculture and vermicomposting (Dominguez and Edwards, 2004). Epigaeic species tend to live above the mineral soil surface typically in the litter layers and plant debris and feed on them. They are phytophagous and most of the species have an insignificant role in humus formation. Nevertheless, they are noted for having high reproductive and cocoon production rates with a relatively short lifespan (Pandey et al., 2008). Moreover, they have high metabolic activities and hence, are particularly useful for vermicomposting. Examples of epigaeic species include; Eisenia fetida, Eisenia andrei, Eudrilus eugniae, Perionyx excavatus and Drawida medesta.

Additionally, it is important to note that Eisenia fetida and Eisenia andrei are closely related species which are commonly used for management of organic wastes by vermicomposting. They are peregrine and ubiquitous with a worldwide distribution and many organic wastes become naturally colonised by them. Another reason why these two species are prefered in vermicomposting relates to the fact that they both have good temperature tolerance and can live in organic wastes with a range of moisture contents (Dominguez and Edwards, 2004).

2.2.2 Recent studies on Vermicomposting

The use of vermicompost, as a source of organic manure in supplementing chemical fertilizers is becoming popular day by day (Kumar, 2005). As such, there is accumulating scientific evidence that vermicompost can influence the growth and productivity of plants significantly (Edwards, 1998). The beneficial effects of vermicompost on plants may be due to their physical and chemical properties such as particle size, porosity, water holding capacity, air capacity, electrical conductivity and pH which are even more important than the concentration of nutrients (Gouin, 1998). Moreover, a number of greenhouse and field studies have examined the responses of plants to the use or substitution of vermicompost to soil or greenhouse container media (Chan & Griffiths 1988; Edwards & Burrows 1988; Wilson & Carlile 1989; Mba 1996; Buckerfield & Webster 1998). Most of these studies have confirmed that vermicomposts, whether used as soil additives or as components of horticultural media, improved seed germination and enhanced the rates of seedling growth and development.

According to a study by Edwards and Burrows (1988), cabbages grown in compressed blocks from pig waste vermicompost in a greenhouse and subsequently transplanted to the field were larger and more mature at harvest as compared to those grown in a commercial blocking material. Moreover, in a field experiment in which cassava peel mixed with guava leaves and vermicomposts produced from poultry droppings were applied to field crops, Mba (1983) reported higher shoot biomass and increased seed yields of cowpea. Venkatesh et al. (1997) also reported that yields of Thompson Seedless grapes were significantly higher when vermicompost was applied and Kumar (2005) has reported significantly higher yields when vermicompost was applied to chillies, watermelons and paddies as compared to farm yard manure. It should also be noted that organic vermicompost could help to produce additional yields of crops to an extent of 30% more yield than normal yields as indicated by (Venkataratnam, 1994). Furthermore, Atiyeh et al., (2000) have reported the differences in the effects of vermicomposts and composts on marigold and tomato plants. As such, plants were less responsive to the composts than vermicomposts. This difference in growth may be due to the fundamental differences between the composting and vermicomposting processes which use different microbial communities, with composting tending to result in the release of mineral nitrogen in the ammonium form, where as vermicomposting releases most the nitrogen in the nitrate form, the form readily available for plant uptake.

Another study conducted by (Arouiee, 2009) which investigated the effects of different levels of vermicompost on seed germination parameters and the growth of greenhouse tomato (Lycopersicun esculentum) concluded that there were significant differences between treatments. The highest seed germination rate was in 25% vermicompost. Tomato seedlings growing in 100% vermicompost had the lowest amount of chlorophyll, the lowest leaf diameter, lowest dry weight and were the shortest seedlings between all treatments. Furthermore, the application of 50% vermicompost increased the inter-node number, root dry weight and nitrogen content of tomato seedlings significantly as compared to the control plants. Also, the incorporation of 25% vermicompost increased significantly the shoot dry weight and leaf area of tomato seedlings compared to the control.

Similarly, an experiment conducted to determine the effects of vermicompost on the growth, yield and fruit quality of tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum var. Super Beta) in a field condition by (Azarmi et al., 2008) revealed that the addition of vermicompost at a rate of 15 t ha-1 significantly increased growth and yield compared to the control. Vermicompost applied at this rate also increased electrical conductivity of fruit juice and percentage of fruit dry matter up to 30 and 24%, respectively. The content of K, P, Fe and Zn in the plant tissue increased 55, 73, 32 and 36% compared to untreated plots respectively. Moreover, the result of this experiment showed that the addition of vermicompost had significant positive effects on growth, yield and elemental content of plants as compared to the control.

2.2.3 Vermicompost and Inorganic Fertilisers

It is important to note that intensive cropping systems with fertilizer responsive crops that rely on high inputs of inorganic fertilizers often lead to unsustainability in production. However, complete dependence on organic sources of nutrients may also be in adequate to attain the most productivity. Furthermore, few studies have compared the effects of vermicompost to that of inorganic fertilisers on the growth of plants. The results of these studies indicate that the combined application of organic and inorganic fertilisers helps to increase crop productivity and quality and thus maintain soil fertility.

As such, (Ushakumari et al., 1999) have proven that amending soils with vermicomposts applied at 12 t ha-1 in combination with 100 or 75% of the recommended application rate of inorganic fertilizers increased yields of okra ( Abelmoschus esculentus Moench) significantly. Similarly, (Athani et al., 1999) have reported that by amending soils with vermicomposts, at 2kg/plant, together with 75% of the recommended rate of inorganic fertilizers promoted shoot production of bananas. Additionally, vermicompost applications to field soils combined with 50% of the recommended inorganic fertilizers increased the yields of tomatoes compared to soils treated with 100% of the recommended inorganic fertilizers only (Kolte et al., 1999). Anwar et al., (2005) also reported that the combination of vermicompost at 5tha-1 and fertilizer NPK 50:25:25kgha-1 performed the best with respect to growth, herb, dry matter, oil content, and oil yield in an experiment conducted with six different combinations of organic manure (farm yard manure and vermicompost) and inorganic fertilizers (NPK) to study their effects on yield and oil quality in basil (Ocimum basilicum L. cv. Vikas Sudha).

Another study done by Alam et al., (2007) also validated the combined effects of vermicomposts and chemical fertilisers on the growth and yield of potatoes. The results for this experiment revealed that the application of vermicompost at a rate of 10 t ha-1 with 100% of the recommended NPK fertiliser produced the highest growth and tuber yield of potato. However, the lowest yields were recorded in the control treatment.

2.2.4 Vermicompost studies in Guyana

It should be noted that vermicomposting, though not a popular technology has also gained recognition in Guyana, and studies conducted over the last five years have indicated the potential of vermicompost as an organic fertiliser. As such, Yusuf (2009) investigated the potential of Eisenia fetida to produce organic fertilisers from cow, sheep and chicken manure. A similar research was also done by Sealey Adams (2008) where an evaluation of the vermicomposting process using filter press mud, cow and sheep manure was done. The conclusions were made that although there was a significant difference in the optimum period of vermicomposting between the substrates, there was no significant difference in the NPK values when composts were compared.

Evidently, a few studies have also been done on vermicomposted plant based residues in Guyana. Ansari (2006) showed that, the combination of biodung composting and vermicomposting of grass clippings, water hyacinth and cattle dung could be successfully processed within 60 days using Eisenia fetida. Similarly, Sullivan (2005) conducted an experiment whereby kitchen wastes comprising plantain and eddo skins were converted into vermicompost over a 70 day period. Moreover, each of these studies conducted in Guyana utilized the Eisenia fetida species of earthworm in the vermicomposting process.

2.2.5 Vermicomposting studies using plant-based residues

Other studies elsewhere have also indicated the potential of vermicomposting plant based residues. As such, Sukumaran (2008) investigated the possibility of utilizing vegetable wastes for vermiculture using Megascolex mauritii species of earthworms. The results obtained from this study indicated that the NPK values were maximum in the compost obtained from vegetable waste amended with soil and cow dung (N 1.76, P 1.60 and K 4.98) as compared to the other treatments which included the soil alone (control) (T1), soil + cow dung (T2), and soil + vegetable waste (T3). Moreover, Suthar (2009) also conducted a study whereby vegetable solid waste amended with wheat straw, cow dung and biogas slurry was converted in vermicompost. Evidently, vermicomposting resulted in a decrease in organic C (12.7-28%) and C:N ratio (42.4-57.8%), while an increase in total N (50.6-75.8%), available P (42.5-110.4%), and exchangeable K (36.0-78.4%) contents. Furthermore, the results from this study indicated that vermicomposting can be an efficient technology to convert insignificant vegetable-market solid wastes into nutrient-rich biofertilizer if mixed with bulking materials in appropriate ratios.

2.3 Characteristics of Pak Choi

Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis), is a biennial, though if checked or grown in adverse conditions it will run to seed in its first year. The classical pak choi is a loose head of up to a dozen, glossy green leaves with smooth margins. The leaves contrast dramatically with the very white leaf stalks, which often broaden at the base into a characteristic spoon-like shape (Larkcom, 2008). The leaf stalks vary in length from about 7cm to 30 cm. Pak choi is also noted for being a versatile crop. During the seedling stage, the small, separate leaves are no more than 7.5-10cm/3-4 inches long, with the leaf stalks undeveloped. This stage can be reached within two weeks of sowing in good growing conditions. Moreover, for the fully developed plants, standard varieties vary in height from 20-23cm/8-9inches to 60cm/2feet. This stage is often reached between 5 to 8 weeks after sowing (Larkcom, 2008).

There are many forms of pak choi, some with very light green leaves and some with very cupped, ‘ladle'-shaped leaves. The leaf stalks also vary enormously. Varieties of pak choi range in size from large, very robust plants 60cm/24inches or taller to the perfectly formed miniature or squat pak chois only 8-10cm/3-4 inches tall (Larkcom, 2008). Large plants can weigh over 2kg/4lbs with very little wastage. On the whole, the younger the plants the more tender they are. The Chinese white pack choi is a sturdy looking type, with light to dark green, fairly thick leaves, often curling outwards. The leaf stalks are very white, wide, somewhat short and generally flat, sometimes overlapping at the base of the plant. Plants tend to be of medium size, around 30cm/12inches high. In addition, most pak chois are relatively cool-season crops, with the ideal temperature during growth being 15-200C.

With regards to the soil type for this crop, it should be noted that pak choi has a relatively shallow, finely branched root system, so it must be grown in fertile, moisture retentive soil. Lack of moisture at any stage during growth often leads to premature bolting and poor quality plants. Moreover, seedling pak chois and small young plants can be grown satisfactorily in containers and sown at a depth of 1/4 - ½ inches deep. Additionally, it is important to note that pak choi is a heavy feeder, thus it should be fertilized with composted manure or a balanced fertilizer four weeks after setting out transplants (NGB, 2010).

In terms of harvesting, it is important to note that pak choi should always be picked when the leaves and leaf stalks look fresh and crisp. It can either be harvested a few leaves at a time, by picking the outer leaves when they reach a useful size, or by cutting a whole head 1.5-2cm above ground level (Larkcom, 2008).


In order to achieve the research objectives, an experiment will be conducted. An experiment is a method of research in which the researcher deliberately intervenes in order to introduce changes into a situation, with the intention of observing the effects of those changes on the process being studied (Dyer, 1995). Whereas the investigator who uses the descriptive method makes observations under natural conditions, an investigator using an experimental approach manipulates the situation in some way in order to test the hypothesis that has been made. A controlled situation is set up; that is, certain factors, or variables, are held constant, an independent variable is manipulated, and the results are evaluated and compared with the results obtained in the controlled group (Notter et al., 1999).

3.1 To determine the chemical properties (N, P, K) of the vermicompost samples, soil, and inorganic fertiliser

To achieve this objective, samples will be taken to GuySuCo Laboratory for analysis. In order to obtain the vermicompost samples, an experiment will be done using Eisenia fetida earthworms to decompose plant based residues (including vegetable wastes and the peels of fruits).

3.1.1 To conduct the Vermicomposting Experiment

The site for the experiment will be at the Department of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus. Both the worms and cow manure required will be provided by Saints Stanislaus College Farm while the plant residues (including vegetable wastes and the peels of fruits) will be obtained from market sites.

3.1.2 Bed Construction

* The tank system will be used for this experiment. The site currently has three (3) vermiculture tanks of dimensions 1.9 m (length), 1.5 m (width) and 1 m (depth) constructed from concrete of which two (2) will be used for this experiment;

* In one of the tanks, a bottom layer of crushed stones (4 cm) will be added followed by a layer of white sand (4 cm) and loam soil (4 cm). These layers will then be moistened but not completely soaked;

* A layer of plant based residues will then be placed over the foundation followed by cow dung. This will be repeated until the height reaches 50 cm;

* 100 of the Eisenia fetida species of earthworms will be released into the tank. The unit will then be sprinkled with water to keep the contents moist so that the earthworms would have a suitable habitat to live and multiply;

* The tank will be covered with a polythene sheet so as to prevent rodents and birds from attacking the earthworms as well as to exclude light since earthworms prefer darkness.

3.1.3 Biodung Precomposting and Vermicomposting

· A second tank of similar dimensions will be used for the biodung precomposting process. 200kg of fresh plant based residues and 40kg of cow dung will be used to prepare the precompost;

· The plant based residues will be deposited in layers, with cow dung slurry being soaked after each layer. After reaching a height of 3 feet, the heap will be soaked with a substantial quantity of cow dung slurry and covered with a polythene sheet;

· The biodung precompost will be watered and turned every ten (10) days. This process will last for thirty (30) days and temperature readings will be recorded every five (5) days;

· At the end of thirty (30) days the precompost will be harvested and weighed noting the conversion rate. The broken down waste will then be subjected to the action of earthworms.

· The biodung precompost will then be transferred into the first tank in which the earthworms will further degrade the waste and produce vermicompost over a period of 60 days;

· The vermibed will be moistened every three (3) days by sprinkling water over it. Temperature readings will also be recorded during the vermicomposting process.

3.1.4 Harvesting the Compost

· At the end of sixty (60) days the vermicompost will be carefully harvested so as to remove only the compost and not the soil in the tank. All earthworms will be returned to the tank;

· The vermicompost will then be weighed and spread on to a polythene sheet and air dried for two (2) days;

· The compost will then be sifted and packaged in zip lock bags and stored in a cool dark place;

· Samples will be subsequently taken to GuySuCo Laboratory to undergo NPK testing and used for growing pak choi.

3.2 To achieve Research Objectives 2, 3 and 4

In order to achieve research objectives 2, 3 and 4, a plant growth experiment will be conducted at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara.

3.2.1 Hypothesis

Hnull :Vermicompost does not have an effect on the relative growth of Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis)

Alternative hypothesis: Vermicompost has an effect on the relative growth of Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis)

3.2.2 Conducting the Plant Growth Experiment

Data from the vermicompost analysis will provide the basis for determining the elemental content per gram of vermicompost to guide the quantity of vermicompost added to each plant pot relative to the control pots which will receive no fertiliser application and to the commercial fertiliser treatment. Pak Choi seeds and a recommended inorganic fertiliser will be purchased.

3.2.3 Sowing of Seeds

* One hundred and eighty (180) seeds will be sown in plant pots, three (3) seeds per pot and allowed to germinate in the greenhouse located in the plant nursery at the (NARI) and seedlings will be watered on a daily basis;

* The soil will be obtained from the soil storage in the plant nursery at the (NARI);

* After the first two leaves of each seedling have emerged, sixty (60) seedlings will be transplanted to individual pots and placed in respective groups (control treatment, vermicompost treatment, combination treatment and inorganic fertiliser treatment) each with 10 replications.

* Moreover, baseline data such as the average leaf area, plant heights, leaf numbers and dry and wet weights of these plants will be recorded. This data will be used to calculate the relative growth rate, leaf area ratio and net assimilation rate of the treatments at the end of the experiment.

3.2.4 Applying the Fertilisers

* The experiment will comprise four (4) treatments; ten (10) control pots (T1) with ordinary garden loam soil, ten (10) commercial fertiliser + loam soil pots (T2) with a fixed amount added to reflect closely the equivalent nutrient content of the vermicompost, three (3) levels of vermicompost pots (T3) (L1, L2 and L3) with ten (10) replications each and ten (10) combination treatments (T4) consisting of vermicompost + inorganic fertiliser in a recommended ratio.

* Treatments will commence after the seedlings would have reached an averaged height of 3 inches;

* Treatments will occur once weekly and measurements of plant heights, leaf area and leaf numbers will be recorded noting the average number of leaves, leaf area and heights for each corresponding treatment;

* At the end of the experiment, plant samples will be harvested from each treatment, weighed (plant wet and dry weights) using the oven and scale provided by the Biology Department, final leaf areas will be determined and soil and tissue samples will be tested for nutrient contents (N, P, K, Mg and Ca) at GuySuCo Laboratory.

4.1 Data collected from the elemental analysis for the samples; vermicompost, soil and inorganic fertiliser (to achieve Research Objective 1)

Using the values for NPK obtained from the elemental analysis of the samples, line and bar graphs will be generated using the computer software Microsoft Excel 2007. This will allow the researcher to have a visual representation of the results and thus convert the data into a format that can be easily read, interpreted and explained. The graphs produced will show a comparison of the NPK values obtained for each sample.

4.2 Data collected from the plant growth experiment (to achieve Research Objectives 2-4)

Using the values obtained over the entire experimental period for the average number of leaves and heights per plant for each treatment, the researcher will input this data into the Microsoft Excel 2007 software in order to generate graphical representations that will show which treatment resulted in the greatest increase in plant heights and number of leaves on average. Moreover, using the values obtained for the wet and dry weights of the plant samples at the end of the experiment, the researcher will evaluate the Relative Growth Rate (RGR) of the plants in each treatment in order to deduce the effect of the various treatments (control, vermicompost, combination and inorganic fertiliser) on plant growth. The formula that will be used for this analysis is:

And t re the means of the natural logarithm-transformed plant weights and t2 and t1 represent the final and initial times respectively. Moreover, graphs will also be generated in order to show the comparisons of the (RGR) for weight of the plant species and the results from the soil and tissue analysis. After calculating the (RGR) for the different treatments, t-test will be used to determine whether or not the differences in RGR of the plants in the various treatments were statistically significant using a significance level of 0.05. When the significance level is set at 0.05, any test resulting in a p-value under 0.05 would be significant. Therefore, the researcher would reject the null hypothesis in favor of the alternative hypothesis.

In addition to calculating the RGR, the researcher will also calculate the Leaf Area Ratio (LAR) and Net Assimilation Rate (NAR) for each treatment. The (LAR) is an indication of the efficiency of a given leaf area to produce a given plant size and the following formula will be used to calculate LAR:

Leaf Area Ratio (LAR)

Over any time LAR = leaf area2 - leaf area1 = LA2 -LA1 interval plant dry weight2 - plant dry weight1 W2 - W1

;Units = cm2 g-1 or cm2/g

The net assimilation rate (NAR), which is also called unit leaf rate, is a measure of the increase in plant weight per unit of leaf area (or weight), per unit time. It is a measure of the efficiency of production. The formula that will be used to calculate the NAR is:

Net Assimilation Rate (NAR)

NAR = RGR = 1 · RGR


= 1 · ln W2 - ln W1

LA2 - LA1 t2 - t1

W2 - W1

= W2 - W1 · ln W2 - ln W1 ; units = g cm-2 day-1 or g/cm2/day

LA2 - LA1t2 - t1

Finally, based on the results obtained from these calculations, the researcher will be able to determine which treatment would have resulted in the best overall plant growth.


This research is intended to compare the effects of vermicompost derived from plant based residues (including vegetable wastes and the peels of fruits) to that of an inorganic fertiliser on the growth of greenhouse Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis). Moreover, this study will take the form of an experimental approach and the researcher intends to provide answers to the following questions: What are the chemical properties (NPK) of the vermicompost samples, soil and inorganic fertiliser?; Is plant growth affected by the quantity of vermicompost applied?; What is the mineral nutrient content in Pak Choi plant tissues using the various fertiliser treatments?; and Which fertiliser option results in best overall plant growth? In addition, specific objectives that were derived from the research questions include: to determine the chemical properties (NPK) of the vermicompost samples, soil, and inorganic fertiliser; to determine the effects of different quantities of vermicompost derived from plant based residues on the growth of greenhouse Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var chinensis); to determine the mineral nutrient content in Pak Choi plant tissues and to determine which fertiliser option results in best overall plant growth.


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5.2.1 Proposed Budget

Apparatus and Materials

Field Supplies


Supply Units Required Cost (G $)

Pak Choi seeds 25g 150.00

Plastic bags 100 bags 2000.00

Inorganic Fertilizer 1kg 400.00

Paper bags 100 bags 500.00


To GUYSUCO (2 wks) Return Trip 2000.00

To NARI (8 wks) Return Trip 6000.00

Office Expenses

Printing proposal 2000.00

Binding proposal 400.00

Printing final report 3000.00

Binding final report 400.00


Total Cost 16,450.00

5.2.2 Proposed Schedule

Proposed Schedule


Start Date

Duration (days)

End Date

Set up preliminary vermicomposting units




Final review and submission of Project proposal




Conduct experiment




Collect and transport samples for NPK testing




Conduct NPK testing




Collect NPK results




Purchase pak choi seeds and inorganic fertiliser




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