Insights into Editorial: Stirring up the truth about Zero Budget Natural Farming
Most criticisms of modern agricultural practices are criticisms of post-Liebig developments in agricultural science.
It was after the pioneering work of Justus von Liebig and Friedrich Wöhler in organic chemistry in the 19th century that chemical fertilizers began to be used in agriculture.
In the 20th century, the criticisms levelled against Green Revolution technologies were criticisms of the increasing “chemicalisation” of agriculture.
Zero Budget Natural Farming:
- Climate Resilient, Zero Budget Natural Farming, or ZBNF, is a farming approach that believes in growing crops in harmony with nature.
- B.N.F has been pioneered by Shri. Subhash Palekar.
- Crops are grown without adding any synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, or other products/inputs from outside the farming system.
- The B.N.F farm model is based on polycropping.
- The expenditure on the main crop is recovered from the income from the short duration inter crops, hence the net expenditure on the main crop is ‘zero’.
- That is how the word ‘Zero Budget’ is suffixed to Natural farming.
- Livestock integration in the form of native breed of cows is stressed upon.
- The bio-inoculants and formulations for pest management used in this approach rely on the cow dung and cow urine from native cow species.
- The native cow species have a higher adaptive capability, and even small and marginal farmers find them easy to manage.
- There are several studies showing the effectiveness of the native cow in the various formulations – Bijamrutham, Jeevamrutham, etc.
What are the critical features of implementation?
- ZBNF is a holistic alternative to the present paradigm of high-cost chemical inputs-based agriculture.
- It is very effective in addressing the uncertainties of climate change. ZBNF principles are in harmony with the principles of Agroecology.
- The unique innovation of the A.P ZBNF programme is the farmer-to-farmer knowledge dissemination.
- The ZBNF trainers and extension workers are the best practicing ZBNF farmers, called Community Resource Persons (CRPs).
- They are highly motivated and strongly committed to ZBNF, as their lives have been transformed by implementation of ZBNF in their own fields.
- This enables them to communicate the ZBNF principles and practices to the new farmers. This is the unique strength of this programme.
- The program invests heavily in building the capacities of farmers and CRPs. The CRPs are provided multiple rounds of training, at the district level and at the state level.
- CRPs are trained in video dissemination and are provided hand held video projectors, called pico projectors.
- The CRPs conduct video dissemination in the evening. The video dissemination is followed by discussions with farmers. This happens every day in different parts of the village.
- This has greatly helped in accelerating the ZBNF adoption rates. The CRPs are also trained in using smart phones for tracking farmers’ practices.
Criticism to the ZBNF: Unsubstantiated claims:
ZBNF is not zero budget methodology of farming. There are several costs such as cow’s maintenance cost, paid up cost for electricity and pumps, labour etc.
There are no independent studies to validate the claims that ZBNF plots have a higher yield than non-ZBNF plots.
Indian soils are poor in organic matter and several other micronutrients varying as per the type of soil.
ZBNF insists on one blanket solution for all the problems of Indian soils. This cannot solve region specific soil problems.
As per Subhash Palekar, 98.5% of the nutrients that plants need is obtained from air, water and sunlight and only 1.5% is from the soil.
Thus, ZBNF takes an irrational position on the nutrient requirements of plants. In certain other regions, soils are toxic due to heavy metal pollution from industrial and municipal wastes or excessive application of fertilizers and pesticides.
The spiritual nature of agriculture promoted by ZBNF is baseless and just creates cultural chauvinism.
Why does it matter?
According to 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 91 lakh.
In order to achieve the Central government’s promise to double farmers 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.
The Economic Survey has also highlighted the ecological advantages.
There is need for scientific intervention in the agriculture to improve the health of soil and thereby sustainably improve fertility and production. ‘Soil health card’ scheme is a step-in right direction in this regard.
We need to improve the fertility of saline, acidic, alkaline and toxic soils by reclaiming them.
There is requirement of innovative technologies to deal with the wind and water erosion of soils and at the same time checking waterlogging, flooding and crusting.
There is need of location-specific interventions towards balanced fertilisation and integrated nutrient management.
Such a comprehensive approach requires a strong embrace of scientific temper and a firm rejection of anti-science postures.
In this sense, the inclusion of ZBNF into our agricultural policy by the government appears unwise and imprudent.