Zero Budget Natural Farming
What Zero Budget Natural Farming and how did it come about?
Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.
It was originally promoted by Maharashtrian agriculturist and Padma Shri recipient Subhash Palekar, who developed it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution’s methods driven by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and intensive irrigation. He argued that the rising cost of these external inputs was a leading cause of indebtedness and suicide among farmers, while the impact of chemicals on the environment and on long-term fertility was devastating. Without the need to spend money on these inputs — or take loans to buy them — the cost of production could be reduced and farming made into a “zero budget” exercise, breaking the debt cycle for many small farmers.
Instead of commercially produced chemical inputs, the ZBNF promotes the application of jeevamrutha — a mixture of fresh desi cow dung and aged desi cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil — on farmland. This is a fermented microbial culture that adds nutrients to the soil, and acts as a catalytic agent to promote the activity of microorganisms and earthworms in the soil. About 200 litres of jeevamrutha should be sprayed twice a month per acre of land; after three years, the system is supposed to become self-sustaining. Only one cow is needed for 30 acres of land, according to Mr. Palekar, with the caveat that it must be a local Indian breed — not an imported Jersey or Holstein.
Who introduced Zero Budget Natural Farming?
Subash Palekar (Indian Agriculturist and Padma Shri Recipient) is the father of Zero Budget Natural Farming. He developed it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution methods.
The points put-forward by Subash Palekar in support of Zero Budget Natural Farming are:
- Lakhs of farmers are using the technique of Zero Budget Natural Farming in different agro-climatic zones and soil types.
- To grow a plant, whatever is needed is present in nature. No chemicals are required to grow a plant. An example – Earthworm excreta has seven times more nitrogen than the soil.
- Large number of small farmers are using this technique as they see Zero Budget Natural Farming as a tool that can free them from debts and defaults.
- It makes farming both profitable and sustainable.
Zero Budget Natural Farming and Farmers’ Income
- The major characteristic of the Zero Budget Natural Farming is that the cost of production is zero and farmers do not have to buy any inputs to initiate this method of farming.
- Against the conventional methods, the Zero Budget Natural Farming used only 10 percent of the water that is used in the former method.
- As it promotes use of Indian local breed of cow for 30 acres of land, it makes it possible for farmer to earn profits earlier than expected
- Palekar suggested that with Zero Budget Farming One can make an income of ₹6 lakh an acre in irrigated areas and ₹1.5 lakh in non-irrigated areas.
- As the Zero Budget Natural Farming covers all kings of agro climatic areas, it is mentioned to be suitable for all kinds of crops
- Farmers can get more yields in the first year only giving them a benefit
- The Zero Budget Farming is also seen to ease out the debt pressure on the farmers as they don’t have to take loans to buy any inputs for their farming
- Farmers are expected to earn more money per acre and the chances of migration from villages to cities can also lessen.
Zero Budget Natural Farming
- Zero budget natural farming is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.
- It was originally promoted by agriculturist Subhash Palekar, who developed it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution’s methods that are driven by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and intensive irrigation.
- It is a unique model that relies on Agro-ecology.
- It aims to bring down the cost of production to nearly zero and return to a pre-green revolution style of farming.
- It claims that there is no need for expensive inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and intensive irrigation.
- ZBNF is based on 4 pillars:
- Jeevamrutha: It is a mixture of fresh cow dung and aged cow urine (both from India’s indigenous cow breed), jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil; to be applied on farmland.
- Bijamrita: It is a concoction of neem leaves & pulp, tobacco and green chilies prepared for insect and pest management, that can be used to treat seeds.
- Acchadana (Mulching): It protects topsoil during cultivation and does not destroy it by tilling.
- Whapasa: It is the condition where there are both air molecules and water molecules present in the soil. Thereby helping in reducing irrigation requirement.
Benefits of Zero Budget Natural Farming
- With the rising cost of external inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), which is the leading cause of indebtedness and suicide among farmers. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, almost 70% of agricultural households spend more than they earn and more than half of all farmers are in debt.
- Since in ZBNF there is the need to spend money or take loans for external inputs, the cost of production could be reduced and farming made into a “zero budget” exercise.
- This would break the debt cycle for many small farmers and help to envisage the doubling of farmer’s income by 2022.
- At a time when chemical-intensive farming is resulting in soil and environmental degradation, a zero-cost environmentally-friendly farming method is definitely a timely initiative.
- The ZBNF method promotes soil aeration, minimal watering, intercropping, bunds and topsoil mulching and discourages intensive irrigation and deep ploughing.
- It suits all crops in all agro-climatic zones.
- Citing the benefits of ZBNF, in June 2018, Andhra Pradesh rolled out an ambitious plan to become India’s first State to practise 100% natural farming by 2024.
Issues Related to Zero Budget Natural Farming
- Sikkim (India’s first organic state), has seen some decline in yields following conversion to organic farming.
- Many farmers have reverted to conventional farming after seeing their ZBNF returns drop after a few years.
- While ZBNF has definitely helped preserve soil fertility, its role in boosting productivity and farmers’ income isn’t conclusive yet.
- ZBNF advocates the need of an Indian breed cow, whose numbers are declining at a fast pace.
- According to Livestock Census, the country’s total population of indigenous and nondescript cattle has dropped by 8.1%.
- Low expenditure by the government: Last year, the government launched Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, a flagship Green Revolution scheme with an allocation of Rs 3,745 crore for the financial year 2019-20.
- Whereas the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, which was meant to promote organic farming and soil health has been allocated Rs 325 crore only.
- There is a host of structural marketing issues which needs to be addressed first before aiming to achieve the ambitious goal of ZBNF. For example:
- Strengthening of agricultural market infrastructure.
- Extending the procurement mechanism to all foodgrain and non-foodgrain crops to all States.
- Implementation of price deficiency payment system for selected crops.
- Fixing minimum support prices (MSP) in consonance with the cost of cultivation.
- Abolishing minimum export price for agricultural commodities.
- Enacting legislation on ‘right to sell at MSP’ needs immediate attention.
- MGNREGS must also be linked with farm work in order to reduce the cost of cultivation which has escalated at a faster pace over the past few years.
Zero Budget Natural Farming – Criticism
- The concept of Zero Budget Natural Farming is not well-accepted by the scientific community. National Academy of Agricultural Sciences scientists mentioned that India cannot rely on Zero Budget Natural Farming as there is no scientific validation of the techniques used in Zero Budget Farming.
- As against the name suggests, the farming method does bear a minimum input cost
- The maintenance of the local cow breed is difficult as against those that are used currently
- Organic certification of the crops planted by the Zero Budget Natural Farming will face another hurdle and it might lead to a difficulty in selling the products to the organic brands.
Zero Budget Natural Farming – Conclusion
It is a farming method that Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned in the United Nations Conference on Desertification (COP-14) while stating that India is focusing on this method. The farming method offers resilient food systems. Through two of their initiatives:
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