What is Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) - Relevance of ZBNF in India

What is Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)

Addressing the United Nations conference on desertification (COP-14) in 2019, PM Modi told the global community that India is focusing on Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). 

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman thrust zero budget farming into the spotlight in the first Budget speech of the 17th Lok Sabha in 2019, calling for a “back to the basics” approach.

  • Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) was included in 2019-20’s Union Budget of India as a way of increasing farmers’ income. 
  • The state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have spent a huge sum in encouraging this technology. 
  • In Andhra Pradesh, 5.23 lakh farmers have converted 13% of agricultural land into ZBNF. 
  • The Government of Andhra Pradesh claimed that this type of farming is more climate resilient and named it as Climate Resilient ZBNF and has implemented it since 2015-16 through a not-for profit-company Rythu Sadhikar Sanstha.

Need of Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)

Agriculture is both the cause and victim of water scarcity. Excessive use of water threatened the sustainability of livelihoods dependent on water and agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

  • Prevailing agricultural practices such as mono-cropping decrease soil moisture content, causing tremendous stress on water resources. Agriculture, today, accounts for almost 70 per cent of the world’s freshwater consumption
  • The use of external inputs by adoption of uniform, hybridized, and genetically modified crop varieties erodes genetic diversity of seeds, and reduces their capacity to adapt to changing climatic conditions. 
  • These practices, coupled with widespread farmland degradation, make agriculture a major contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and climate change.
  • In India, the Green Revolution had a phenomenal impact on India’s food production, but it also rendered the land infertile, led to extensive water consumption and aggravated groundwater loss.
  • The country’s agriculture sector already consumed over 83 per cent of the available water resources, according to the Central Water Commission. And the demand will grow.
  • In the recent past, there was a global demand to shift to sustainable farming systems, such as zero-budget natural farming (ZBNF). 

What is Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)
Image Source : Insights on India

What is Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) and how did it come about?

Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.

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

Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is based on 4 pillars:

  • Jeevamrutha: It is a mixture of fresh cow dung and aged cow urine (both from India's indigenous cow breed), jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil; to be applied on farmland.
  • Bijamrita: It is a concoction of neem leaves & pulp, tobacco and green chilies prepared for insect and pest management, that can be used to treat seeds.
  • Acchadana (Mulching): It protects topsoil during cultivation and does not destroy it by tilling.
  • Whapasa: It is the condition where there are both air molecules and water molecules present in the soil. Thereby helping in reducing irrigation requirement

Benefits of Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)

With the rising cost of external inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), which is the leading cause of indebtedness and suicide among farmers. 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.

  • Since in ZBNF there is the need to spend money or take loans for external inputs, the cost of production could be reduced and farming made into a “zero budget” exercise.
  • This would break the debt cycle for many small farmers and help to envisage the doubling of farmer's income by 2022.

At a time when chemical-intensive farming is resulting in soil and environmental degradation, a zero-cost environmentally-friendly farming method is definitely a timely initiative.

The ZBNF method promotes soil aeration, minimal watering, intercropping, bunds and topsoil mulching and discourages intensive irrigation and deep ploughing.

It suits all crops in all agro-climatic zones.

Citing the benefits of ZBNF, in June 2018, Andhra Pradesh rolled out an ambitious plan to become India’s first State to practise 100% natural farming by 2024.

Is Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) effective? Challenges to ZBNF?

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, in turn raising doubts about the method’s efficacy in increasing farmers’ incomes.

ZBNF critics, including some experts within the Central policy and planning think tank NITI Aayog, note that India needed the Green Revolution in order to become self-sufficient and ensure food security.

  • They warn against a wholesale move away from that model without sufficient proof that yields will not be affected.

Sikkim (India's first organic state), has seen some decline in yields following conversion to organic farming. 

  • It is being used as a cautionary tale regarding the pitfalls of abandoning chemical fertilizers.

While ZBNF has definitely helped preserve soil fertility, its role in boosting productivity and farmers’ income isn’t conclusive yet.

ZBNF advocates the need of an Indian breed cow, whose numbers are declining at a fast pace.

  • According to Livestock Census, the country’s total population of indigenous and nondescript cattle has dropped by 8.1%.

Low expenditure by the government: Last year, the government launched Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, a flagship Green Revolution scheme with an allocation of Rs 3,745 crore for the financial year 2019-20.

  • Whereas the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, which was meant to promote organic farming and soil health has been allocated Rs 325 crore only.
Low expenditure by the government: Centre revised the norms for the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana- Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied sector Rejuvenation (RKVY-RAFTAAR), a flagship Green Revolution scheme with an allocation of Rs 3,745 crore for the financial year 2019-20.
  • Whereas the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, which was meant to promote organic farming and soil health has been allocated Rs 325 crore only.
Which are the States with big plans?

According to the Economic Survey, more than 1.6 lakh farmers are practicing 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 original pioneer was Karnataka, where the ZBNF was adopted as a movement by a State farmers’ association, the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha
  • Large-scale training camps were organised to educate farmers in the method. According to a survey carried out in those early years, ZBNF farmers all owned small plots of land, had some access to irrigation and owned at least one cow of their own.
In June 2018, Andhra Pradesh rolled out an ambitious plan to become India’s first State to practice 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.
  • Andhra Pradesh says it has utilized ₹249 crore from these RKVY-RAFTAAR to promote the ZBNF over a two-and-a-half year period. The State estimates it will need ₹17,000 crore to convert all of its 60 lakh farmers to the ZBNF over the next 10 years.
Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Karnataka and Uttarakhand have also invited Mr. Palekar to train their farmers.

What lies ahead for ZBNF?

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 vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar has said. 

The Andhra Pradesh experience is also being monitored closely to judge the need for further public funding support.

Discussion Topic: Critically analyze the role Zero Budget Natural Farming can play in achieving the goal of doubling farmer’s income by 2022.

Source : TH

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