What is zero budget natural farming?

What is zero budget natural farming?

Ever since, the July 2019 budget speech of finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman highlighted the government thrust on Zero based natural farming as one of the possible solution for doubling farmer’s income, there has been widespread curiosity and buzz regarding what is Zero based natural farming and the person behind this idea.

Background of the idea of Zero Budget Farming in India

The roots of Zero budget natural farming lie in the deep agrarian crisis that is making small scale farming an unviable vocation. Privatized seeds, inputs, and markets are inaccessible and expensive for peasants. Indian farmers increasingly find themselves in a vicious cycle of debt, because of the high production costs, high interest rates for credit, the volatile market prices of crops, the rising costs of fossil fuel based inputs, and private seeds. More than a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in India in the last two decades. Various studies have linked farmer’s suicides to debt. Debt is a problem for farmers of all sizes in India. Under such conditions, ‘zero budget’ farming promises to end a reliance on loans and drastically cut production costs, ending the debt cycle for desperate farmers. The word ‘budget’ refers to credit and expenses, thus the phrase ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with Nature and without chemicals.

Person Behind Zero Budget Natural Farming in India

Subhash-Palekar-Founder-Zero-Budget-Natural-Farming-in-India

Subhash Palekar, an agriculturalist from Belora village of Amravati district in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region is the creator of the ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ model in India.

Learn more about Subash Palekar & his contributions to Zero Budget Natural Farming in IndiaClick here

What is Zero Based Natural Farming ?

Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is a method of chemical free agriculture based out of traditional Indian practices. It has attained wide success in southern India, especially the southern Indian state of Karnataka where it first evolved. Additionally, in this method of farming, the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero. This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides from market to ensure the healthy growth of crops.

The phrase ‘Zero Budget‘ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming‘ means farming with Nature and without chemicals.

The Four Pillars of ZBNF

1. Jivamrita/jeevamrutha: 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.

2. Bijamrita/beejamrutha: It is composed of similar ingredients as jeevamrutha – local cow dung, a powerful natural fungicide, and cow urine, a strong anti-bacterial liquid, lime, soil. It is used for treatment of seeds, seedlings or any planting material.

3. Acchadana – Mulching: According to Palekar, there are three types of mulching:

  • Soil Mulch: This protects topsoil during cultivation and does not destroy it by tilling. It promotes aeration and water retention in the soil. Palekar suggests avoiding deep ploughing.
  • Straw Mulch: Straw material usually refers to the dried biomass waste of previous crops, but as Palekar suggests, it can be composed of the dead material of any living being (plants, animals, etc). Palekar’s approach to soil fertility is very simple – provide dry organic material which will decompose and form humus through the activity of the soil biota which is activated by microbial cultures.
  • Live Mulch (symbiotic intercrops and mixed crops): According to Palekar, it is essential to develop multiple cropping patterns of monocotyledons (monocots; Monocotyledons seedlings have one seed leaf) and dicotyledons (dicots; Dicotyledons seedlings have two seed leaves) grown in the same field, to supply all essential elements to the soil and crops. For instance, legumes are of the dicot group and are nitrogen-fixing plants. Monocots such as rice and wheat supply other elements like potash, phosphate and sulphur.

4. Whapasa – Moisture: Palekar challenges the idea that plant roots need a lot of water, thus countering the over reliance on irrigation in green revolution farming. According to him, what roots need is water vapor. Whapasa is the condition where there are both air molecules and water molecules present in the soil, and he encourages reducing irrigation, irrigating only at noon, in alternate furrows ZBNF farmers report a significant decline in need for irrigation in ZBNF.

Besides above, The ZBNF method also promotes intercropping, contours and bunds, revival of local species of earthworms and usage of cow dung and discourages intensive irrigation and deep ploughing. 

Is Zero Budget Natural Farming Effective ?

According to the Economic Survey, more than 1.6 lakh farmers are practising the ZBNF in almost 1,000 villages using some form of state support, although the method’s advocates claim more than 30 lakh practitioners overall. The FAO report highlights a rough estimation for just Karnataka and puts the figure there at around 100,000 farmer families.

Based on a NEWS article published in Hindu, A limited 2017 study in Andhra Pradesh claimed a sharp decline in input costs and improvement in yields. However, reports also suggest that many farmers, including in Mr. Palekar’s native Maharashtra, have reverted to conventional farming after seeing their ZBNF returns drop after a few years.

NITI Aayog has been among the foremost promoters of Mr. Palekar and the ZBNF method. However, its experts have also warned that multi-location studies are needed to scientifically validate the long-term impact and viability of the model before it can be scaled up and promoted country-wide.

The Next Steps:

In June 2018, Andhra Pradesh rolled out an ambitious plan to become India’s first State to practise 100% natural farming by 2024. It aims to phase out chemical farming over 80 lakh hectares of land, converting the State’s 60 lakh farmers to ZBNF methods. Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Karnataka and Uttarakhand have also invited Mr. Palekar to train their farmers.

Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research is studying the ZBNF methods practised by basmati and wheat farmers in Modipuram (Uttar Pradesh), Ludhiana (Punjab), Pantnagar (Uttarakhand) and Kurukshetra (Haryana), evaluating the impact on productivity, economics and soil health including soil organic carbon and soil fertility.

If found to be successful, an enabling institutional mechanism could be set up to promote the technology, NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar has said.