Hyderabad, 24 April 2023: Food insecurity is a global crisis today. Besides the threat to farmers’ livelihood and agriculture, a bigger problem for India is loss and wastage, with India ranking 107 out of 121 countries, in the 2022 Global Hunger Index. Working to address the crisis in farm livelihood and food wastage, GITAM (Deemed to be University) is empowering local farmer communities in Andhra Pradesh and helping them develop entrepreneurial skills, while upcycling the food waste via a unique compost pelletization project. Having received a grant of close to INR 40 lakhs from the Science for Equity Empowerment and Development (SEED) Division under the Department of Science and Technology (Government of India), the project tackles the dual issues of food waste and availability of quality agricultural compost for farming.
It aims to uplift the economic status of farmers by providing them with training in producing compost pellets — made by compressing composted food waste into small pellets, making them easy to handle and transport. The use of leftover food as a sustainable and nutrient-rich fertilizer has the potential to reduce reliance on synthetic fertilizers, which negatively influence soil quality, leading to soil degradation and deterioration. Additionally, this project addresses food waste, a significant concern in India, where over 67 million tonnes of food is wasted every year. By converting food waste into compost, the project promotes a circular economy and reduces the environmental impact of food waste.
Having already conducted campaigns in Srikakulam and Vizianagaram, the varsity has collaborated with local farmer associations to create awareness among more than 250 farmers and to train 100 farmers in the production of compost pellets. The training involves preparing the compost and converting it into pellet form using scientific methods. This training is critical to ensure the quality of the product, which is essential for the project’s success.
The project is led by Prof. N. Srinivas, Principal Investigator and Prof. Ch. Ramakrishna and Dr. K. Suresh Kumar (Co-PI), Department of Environmental Science, GITAM School of Science, who said, “We are delighted to empower the farmer communities through this project. The project helps in waste management and creates sustainable entrepreneurship among the farmers. We are confident that the project will have a significant impact on the lives of farmers.”
The project uses leftover food, highly nutrient-dense in proteins, lipids, carbs, and other macro and microelements, as a fertilizer. The food waste is sent to an organic digestion machine, which converts it into compost within 24 hours. Such a compost digester facility is available at the university’s Vizag campus, which also helps demonstrate the production process to potential beneficiaries.
The compost quality is tested in a laboratory, and organic agents are added to enrich it and increase its value. At present, the research team is collecting feedback from the farmers to fortify the material with nutrients specific to their requirements. Finally, the compost is turned into pellets using a pellet maker, which increases its marketability by extending its shelf life and making it easier to store and transport.
The project is ongoing till August this year, but GITAM (Deemed to be University) plans to continue and expand the project to urban areas, where the demand for good quality manure is high, and urban gardening is catching up.
The project has received support from various stakeholders, including the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC), farmer associations, and temples. In particular, temples can benefit from the pelletization of compost, which can be stored for an extended period and used as required to maintain their garden’s nutritional content.