Demand of the question
Introduction. Define zero budget natural farming.
Body. Analyse need of zero budget national farming. Discuss various challenges.
Conclusion. Way forward.

Indian economy is facing a deep agrarian crisis that is making small scale farming an unviable occupation. Privatised 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. Under these circumstances Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) can be an effective alternative. Budget 2019-20 also aim to promote ZBNF.

What is Zero budget natural farming?

‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with Nature and without use of fertilisers. Zero budget farming is a set of farming methods that involve zero credit for agriculture and no use of chemical fertilisers. The four-wheels of zero budget natural farming-

  • Water vapour condensation for better soil moisture.
  • Seed treatment with cow dung and urine based formulations
  • Mulching.
  • Ensure soil fertility through cow dung and cow urine based concoctions.

How Zero budget natural farming can help at national level?

In the subsequent years, methods employed in promoting the Green Revolution and farming has led to-

  • Massive loss of local agro-biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge.
  • Undermining of seed sovereignty.
  • Increased dependence on credit to purchase proprietary seeds, insecticides and pesticides.
  • Indebtedness on part of farmers due to low monetary returns from agriculture.
  • Stagnation in productivity.
  • Low value of agricultural produce.

All these have contributed to an unprecedented suicide epidemic among farmers. 0.35 million suicides are officially acknowledged as farm suicides during 1995-2015. In addition, farmlands are reporting high soil toxicity due to the use of pesticides and fertilisers, thus endangering public health. Various benefits of Zero budget natural farming are as follow-

  1. Low input cost- Agriculture in its prevailing form requires farmers to rely heavily on inorganic external chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. Zero budget farming promises to end a reliance on loans and cut production costs, ending the debt cycle for desperate farmers.
  2. Higher yield- Besides reduced input cost, farmers practising ZBNF gets higher yields. In Andhra Pradesh Yields of five crops (paddy, groundnut, black gram, maize and chillies) have increased by 8-32% for ZBNF farmers. Farmers use bio-fertilisers and that make the soil fertile, thus giving higher yields. It has the ability to solve the food and farm crisis in the country by cutting the cost of production and doubling productivity and production.
  3. Increase in Net income- There will be increase in net income for farmers and will improve the cash flow of poor and vulnerable farmers, and may enhance their ability to deal with economic shock. Crop cutting experiments from 2016 and 2017 indicate that ZBNF farmers in Andhra Pradesh earn better net incomes and can raise their disposable incomes. Farmers vulnerable to economic shocks have an important safety net against short-term shocks.
  4. Food and nutritional security- As a result of increased crop yields, it will be able to improve food and nutritional security at national level. The practice of intercropping growing multiple crops in proximity to each other is encouraged under ZBNF as it ensures vulnerable communities access to a suite of nutritional sources and income generating crops throughout the year. In the long-run, due to the use of local inputs, the project is likely to contribute to maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds and crops.
  5. Environmental benefits- It is free from health hazards, as no chemical or organic materials are used for farming.  Prevailing agricultural practices such as mono-cropping decrease soil moisture content, causing tremendous stress on water resources . Wide-scale adoption of ZBNF would help reduce the release of harmful chemicals to the air, water and soil.
  6. Soil fertility- It utilises only natural resources as inputs. Thus increases the fertility of the soil. Fertilisers and pesticides have been shown to have adverse impacts on farmers as well as consumers. Farmers are exposed to contaminants when applying chemical inputs to their crops. By replacing such external inputs with locally made natural concoctions, the project could help in reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases.
  7. Water efficient- ZBNF can help prevent over-extraction of groundwater, enable aquifer recharge, and eventually contribute to increasing water table levels. Zero budget natural farming requires only 10% water and 10% electricity than what is required under chemical and organic farming. It might help to reduce the leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous from the soil into groundwater or surface water, and eventually into rivers and oceans.
  8. Climate resilient- ZBNF might help farmers build resilience against extreme climate events by improving the fertility and strength of the soil. ZBNF farmers have shown that crop losses due to droughts, floods and other extreme events have been lower than in non-ZBNF farms.
  9. Reduce Ocean acidification- Zero budget natural farming eliminates chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and would help reduce ocean acidification and marine pollution from land-based activities. High concentration of ammonium nitrate in fertilisers, and hazardous chemical pollutants from pesticides which run-off into rivers and oceans can severely impact aquatic life. The use of natural concoctions in ZBNF will help to reduce the contamination and degradation of rivers and oceans.

Challenges posed and way forward:

  1. Efficacy of ZBNF is doubtful in resolving agrarian distress in India as it is not tested on a wider scale and on all soli types. Government should first address issues that resulted in agrarian crisis like rising input costs, better MSP to farmers and falling or stagnant prices.
  2. Even if even if ZBNF is adopted, challenges associated with modern agricultural farming like knowledge gap, availability of native seed banks, cold chain facilities, MSP, and marketing issues remain unresolved. ZBNF farmers want the government to play a more active role in terms of bridging knowledge gap, establishing local markets and provision of inputs among others.
  3. There are no other official policies to promote ZBNF. A proper policy is needed. Government must increase efforts and should promote and incentivise Zero budget farming through subsidies.
  4. A particular challenge is marketing. Many farmers sell their natural produce as if were chemically grown, to private traders or to government as wholesale, with no price differential. Other farmers rely on their own local marketing networks, such as to some organic shops and individual customers, but policy support in this area is crucial.

The implementation of this project at scale will impact a multitude of stakeholders, and also help India progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations (UN) to facilitate the post-2015 development agenda. The agriculture ministry plans to offer cash incentives to farmers who take up ‘yogik’ farming, ‘gou mata kheti’ and ‘rishi krishi’ is right step in promoting Zero budget natural farming in India.