Context: Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) significance and challenges
- Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), which is a set of farming methods, and also a grassroots peasant movement, has spread to various states in India.
- 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.
- The movement in Karnataka state was born out of collaboration between Mr Subhash Palekar, who put together the ZBNF practices, and the state farmers association Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a member of La Via Campesina (LVC).
Zero Budget Natural Farming: ZBNF can be explained with four pillars
- Jivamrita/jeevamrutha: is a fermented microbial culture. It provides nutrients, but most importantly, acts as a catalytic agent that promotes the activity of microorganisms in the soil, as well as increases earthworm activity.
- Jeevamrutha also helps to prevent fungal and bacterial plant diseases. Palekar suggests that Jeevamrutha is only needed for the first 3 years of the transition, after which the system becomes self-sustaining.
- Bijamrita/beejamrutha: is a treatment used for seeds, seedlings or any planting material. Bijamrita is effective in protecting young roots from fungus as well as from soil-borne and seedborne diseases that commonly affect plants after the monsoon period.
- 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.
- 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, it can be composed of the dead material of any living being (plants, animals, etc). it – 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): 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
- Whapasa – moisture: 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.
- Intercropping-This is primarily how ZBNF gets its “Zero Budget” name. It doesn’t mean that the farmer is going to have no costs at all, but rather that any costs will be compensated for by income from intercrops, making farming a close to zero budget activity.
What is the need for ZBNF?
- Input cost: increasing cost of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides led to increased cost of farming. Majority of the farmers are indebted. To reduce debt and increasing the income of farmers ZBNF will be viable option
- Package method: chemical farming needs all inputs like high yielding variety seeds and fertilizers and pesticides along with assured irrigation. But in ZBNF no need of package method and it can be sustained from local inputs like cow dung and other farm wastage
- Sustainable: due to increased chemical intensive farming most of the soils in India are degraded and ground water was polluted. By practicing ZBNF soil will replenish with needed nutrients and fertility along zero contamination of ground water.
- Burden: for chemical intensive farming government every year raises the agriculture subsidy. In 2019-20 budget proposes almost 80,000crore for fertilizer subsidy. By promoting ZBNF in the long run the burden on exchequer will be reduced.
Challenges of Zero Budget Natural Farming:
- Wider scale: ZBNF is an untested procedure and various claims that are being made with regards to it have to be verified and checked if this technique is to be applied on a wider scale, and before its introduction.
- Yield: ZBNF would not be workable across all soil conditions and the yields are much lower when compared to modern scientific agriculture. Recently in Karnataka and Maharashtra the yield per acre was less than normal agricultural practices.
- Zero input: ZBNF is not really zero input; it connotes that no input needs to be purchased from the market, assuming that the farmer has at least a cow, a desi one at that, and plenty of water.
- Infrastructure and awareness: Experts and farmers opine that even if ZBNF is adopted at a national scale, the challenges that are associated with modern agricultural farming like knowledge gap, availability of native seed banks, cold chain facilities, price support, and marketing issues would remain unresolved.
- Budgetary allocations: The Centre’s rhetoric on ZBNF is not matched by budgetary allocations. The total allocation for schemes such as the National Project on Organic Farming, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, and National Project on Soil Health and Fertility is just about ₹650 crore.
Way forward: Farmers must be convinced that sustainable farming helps in doubling incomes. Their costs have been rising over time, while prices have not. If the government seeks to drive down costs of fertiliser and pesticide use, it must do so by ensuring that there are no serious production setbacks that derail the transition. Above all, farmers must be encouraged to undertake organic farming by trying what works for them and innovating accordingly.