Zero Budget Natural farming
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Zero Budget Natural farming

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Agriculture

Zero Budget Natural farming

Why in the news?

The Andhra Pradesh government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with German firm KfW regarding Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF).

The MoU is aimed at encouraging natural farming in the State. As part of it, the government has taken a loan of Rs 711 crore out of the estimated amount of Rs 1,015 crore earmarked for ZBNF.

Background:

Addressing the United Nations conference on desertification (COP-14), the Indian PM told the global community that India is focusing on Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). ZBNF was also highlighted in budget 2019 in the bid to double farmer's income by 2022.

However, scientists from the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences suggested that there is no need for the government to promote ZBNF unless there is proper scientific validation.

What is Zero Budget Natural Farming?

It is a method of farming where the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero. This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides to ensure the healthy growth of crops.

It is, basically, a natural farming technique that uses biological pesticides instead of chemical-based fertilizers. 

Farmers use earthworms, cow dung, urine, plants, human excreta, and such biological fertilizers for crop protection. 

It reduces farmers’ investment and also protects the soil from degradation.  

How did it come about?

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 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 is made into a “zero budget” exercise, breaking the debt cycle for many small farmers.

Four wheels of ZBNF to be implemented in practically:

The “four wheels” of ZBNF are ‘Jiwamrita’, ‘Bijamrita’, ‘Mulching’ and ‘Waaphasa’, says Palekar, a Padma Shri awardee.

Jiwamrita is a fermented mixture of cow dung and urine (of desi breeds), jaggery, pulses flour, water, and soil from the farm bund. This isn’t a fertilizer, but just a source of some 500 crore micro-organisms that can convert all the necessary “non-available” nutrients into “available” form.

Bijamrita is a mix of desi cow dung and urine, water, bund soil, and lime that is used as a seed treatment solution before sowing.

Mulching, or covering the plants with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves, is meant to conserve soil moisture and keep the temperature around the roots at 25-32 degrees Celsius, which allows the microorganisms to do their job.

Waaphasa, or providing water to maintain the required moisture-air balance, also achieves the same objective. 

Benefits of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF):

As both a social and environmental program, it aims to ensure that farming particularly smallholder farming is economically viable by enhancing farm biodiversity and ecosystem services.

It reduces farmers’ costs by eliminating external inputs and using in-situ resources to rejuvenate soils, whilst simultaneously increasing incomes, and restoring ecosystem health through diverse, multilayered cropping systems.  

Cow dung from local cows has proven to be a miraculous cure to revive the fertility and nutrient value of soil. One gram of cow dung is believed to have anywhere between 300 to 500 crore beneficial microorganisms. These microorganisms decompose the dried biomass on the soil and convert it into ready-to-use nutrients for plants.

Zero budget natural farming requires only 10 percent water and 10 percent electricity than what is required under chemical and organic farming. ZBNF may improve the potential of crops to adapt to and be produced for evolving climatic conditions.

Why does it matter?

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. In States such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, levels of indebtedness are around 90%, where each household bears an average debt of Rs 1 lakh. 

To achieve the central government’s promise to double farmer's income by 2022, one aspect being considered is natural farming methods such as the ZBNF which reduce farmers’ dependence on loans to purchase inputs they cannot afford. Meanwhile, inter-cropping allows for increased returns.

The Economic Survey has also highlighted the ecological advantages.

Government initiatives to support ZBNF

The GoI has been promoting organic farming through the dedicated schemes of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) since 2015-16 and also through Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY).

In the revised guidelines of PKVY scheme during the year 2018, various organic farming models like Natural Farming, Rishi Farming, Vedic Farming, Cow Farming, Homa Farming, Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), etc. have been included wherein flexibility is given to states to adopt any model of Organic Farming including ZBNF depends on the farmer's choice.

Under the RKVY scheme, organic farming/ natural farming project components are considered by the respective State Level Sanctioning Committee (SLSC) according to their priority/ choice.

What lies ahead?

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 Indian Council of Agricultural Research is studying the ZBNF methods practiced 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 has said. The Andhra Pradesh experience is also being monitored closely to judge the need for further public funding support.