Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a holistic alternative and approach to the present pattern of high-cost chemical inputs-based agriculture. It is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices. ZBNF principles are in harmony with the principles of Agroecology. Its distinctiveness is that it is based on the latest scientific discoveries in Agriculture, and, at the same time it is rooted in Indian tradition. FAO in April 2018 urged all countries to move towards the adoption of Agroecology to meet the twin goals of global food security and conservation of the environment.
‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with nature and without chemicals. It is a farming practice that believes in natural growth of crops without adding any fertilizers and pesticides or any other foreign elements and helps in retaining soil fertilizing and is climate change resilient.
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.
Moreover, it focuses on the sustainable approach of farming while considering the impact of climate change. Depending upon synthetic materials not only affects the pocket and income of the farmers but also affects the environment in long term along with health related issues.
Need for ZBNF
The need for ZBNF is because the state of Indian farmers is miserably especially of small and marginal farmers in rural areas. Farmers find themselves in a spiteful cycle of debt, because of the increasing production costs, high interest rates for credit, the volatile market prices of crops, the rising costs of fossil fuel-based inputs, and private seeds. More than a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in India in the last two decades. Under such circumstances, ‘zero budget’ farming promises to end a reliance on loans and considerably cut production costs, ending the debt cycle for distressed farmers.
Four pillars of ZBNF
- 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. During the 48-hour fermentation process, the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria present in the cow dung and urine multiply as they eat up organic ingredients (like pulse flour). A handful of undisturbed soil is also added to the preparation, as inoculate of native species of microbes and organisms.
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.
How to prepare jeevamrutha:
Put 200 liters of water in a barrel; Add 10 Kg fresh local cow dung and 5 to 10 liters aged cow urine; Add 2 Kg of Jaggery (a local type of brown sugar), 2 Kg of pulse flour and a handful of soil from the bund of the farm. Stir the solution well and let it ferment for 48 hours in the shade. Now jeevamrutha is ready for application. 200 liters of jeevamruta is sufficient for one acre of land.
Apply the jeevamrutha to the crops twice a month in the irrigation water or as a 10% foliar spray
- 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. Bijamrita Application as a seed treatment
Add Bijamrita to the seeds of any crop: coat them, mixing by hand; dry them well and use them for sowing. For leguminous seeds, just dip them quickly and let them dry.
- 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, but as Palekar suggests, it can be composed of the dead material of any living being (plants, animals, etc). Palekar’s approach to soil fertility is very simple – 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): According to Palekar, 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. For instance, legumes are of the dicot group and are nitrogen-fixing plants. Monocots such as rice and wheat supply other elements like potash, phosphate and Sulphur.
- Whapasa – moisture: Palekar challenges the idea that plant roots need a lot of water, thus countering the over reliance on irrigation in green revolution farming. According to him, what roots need is water vapor. 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.
According to the Economic Survey, more than 1.6 lakh farmers are practising 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 practise 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.
Many states, including Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, have been aggressively driving a shift towards this model.
Challenges in ZBNF
- The budget allocation for ZBNF by central government is not specific, although schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana- Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied sector Rejuvenation (RKVY- RAFTAAR) and Parampragat Krishi Vikas Yojana, were allocated with ₹3,745 crore in 2019 and ₹325 crore respectively.
- To shift from conventional farming to natural farming a buffer period of minimum 3 years is required, due to this reason many farmers are reluctant to adopt this farming model.
- Although ZBNF has certainly helped preserve soil fertility, its role in boosting productivity and farmers’ income isn’t convincing yet
- ZBNF backs the need of an Indian breed cow (desi cow),whose numbers are decreasing at a fast rate.
According to Livestock Census, the country’s total population of indigenous cattle has dropped by 8.1%.
According to NITI Aayog for the promotion of ZBNF on scientific basis, it requires, multi-location studies to corroborate the long-term impact and viability of the model before it can be ascend and encouraged country-wide.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research is studying the ZBNF methods practised by basmati and wheat farmers in 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.
Andhra Pradesh says it has utilized ₹249 crore from these schemes 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.
(this is based on 2019 study)
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