[Updated] Zero Budget Natural Farming – The Key to Sustainable Agriculture

While addressing the United Nations conference on desertification (COP-14), Indian PM told the global community that India is focusing on Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). ZBNF was also mentioned in budget 2019 for doubling farmer’s income by 2022.

But scientists from the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences argued that there is no need for the government to promote ZBNF unless there is proper scientific validation.

What is ZBNF?

  • Zero Budget Natural farming (ZBNF) is also known as “do nothing farming”.
  • It involves the application of nature’s principles in farming.
  • It practises no-till, no chemical use in farming.
  • Alongside, dispersal of clay seed balls to propagate plants is done.

What are the key features of ZBNF?

  • The key features integral to it and which require locally available materials are:
    • seeds treated with cow dung and urine
    • soil rejuvenated with cow dung, cow urine and other local materials to increase microbes.
    • cover crops, straw and other organic matter to retain soil moisture and build humus.
    • soil aeration for favourable soil conditions.
  • These methods are combined with natural insect management methods when required.

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What are the benefits of ZBNF?

  • In ZBNF, yields of various cash and food crops have been found to be significantly higher. For example yields from ZBNF plots were found on average to be 11% higher for cotton than in non-ZBNF plots.
  • Input costs are near zero as no fertilizers and pesticides are used.
  • Profits in most areas under ZBNF were from higher yield and lower inputs.
  • Model ZBNF farms were able to withstand drought and flooding. Notably these are the serious emerging concerns with regard to climate change.
  • Planting multiple crops and border crops on same field provides varied income and nutrient sources.
  • Overall, there is
  • reduced use of water and electricity
  • improved health of farmers
  • flourishing of local ecosystems and biodiversity
  • no toxic chemical residues in the environment
  • improvements in soil, biodiversity, livelihoods, water
  • climate resilience
  • women’s empowerment and nutrition
  • ZBNF is better than organic agriculture because
    • Organic agriculture often involves addition of materials required in bulk and have to be purchased.
    • These are large amounts of manure, vermicompost and other materials.
    • These turn out to be expensive for most small farm holders.

What is the Andhra Pradesh model?

It has to be noted that, in 2018, the Andhra Pradesh government announced that the State would fully adopt Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF).

  • Initiatives – Successful pilot programmes were initiated in 2015 and partnerships for gaining inputs were taken up. With this, Andhra Pradesh has become the first State to implement a ZBNF policy.
  • Coverage 
    • This year, 5 lakh farmers will be covered, with at least one panchayat in each of the mandals shifting to this new method.
    • By 2021-22, the programme is to be implemented in every panchayat, with full coverage by 2024.
  • Strategies
    • Tenant farmers and day labourers are being trained. This ensures that through the ZBNF, livelihoods for the rural poor are being enhanced.
    • Farmer-to-farmer connections are vital to the success of the programme.
    • Establishment of farmer’s collectives such as Farmer Producer Organisations are encouraged.
  • Funding
    • The Government of India provides funding through the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana.
    • Additional resources have been made available through various philanthropic organisations.
  • Participation
    • Andhra Pradesh has supported and learned from its many effective civil society organisations.
    • This include Watershed Support Services and Activities Network, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Deccan Development Society.
    • The scaling up relies primarily on farmers and local groups; in all, very much a bottom-up process.
    • Open-minded enlightened political leaders and administrators have been fundamental in this process.
  • Geography
    • Andhra Pradesh has a combination of delta regions, arid and hilly tribal areas.
    • Thus the districts in Andhra Pradesh are similar to those in other parts of the country.
    • It could therefore serve as a workable model for replication.
    • The drought-prone Rayalaseema region (Andhra Pradesh) is reportedly seeing promising changes in farms with the ZBNF.

ZBNF success in AP

  • In Andhra Pradesh: Due to the combination of (delta regions, arid and hilly tribal areas), districts in Andhra Pradesh are similar to those in other parts of the country and could, therefore, serve as a model for replication.
  • The drought-prone Rayalaseema region (Andhra Pradesh) is reportedly seeing promising changes already in farms with the ZBNF.

What are the issues related to ZBNF?

  • Sikkim (India’s first organic state), has seen some decline in yields following conversion to organic farming.
  • Several farmers have reverted to conventional farming after seeing their ZBNF returns drop after a few years.
  • 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 decreasing at a fast pace. According to Livestock Census, the country’s total population of indigenous and nondescript cattle has declined by 8.1%. Also how many farmers can afford to keep desi cows that yield very little milk?.
  • 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.
  • The important concern is “what about the cost of labour for collection of dung and urine, apart from the other inputs used in the preparation of Jiwamrita, Neemastra or Bramhastra”?
  • If ZBNF is practiced in isolation, the crop grown would be vulnerable to attacks by insects and pests which may move there from fields where chemical pesticides are being sprayed.

What is the way forward?

  • The government should step in and reduce dependence on middlemen.
  • Mixed cropping is the key to recover the cost of production:
    • The farmers have to practise mixed cropping, the cost of the main crop is recovered by the sale of cash crops that you sow alongside.
  • Also, it is about using organic manure, it takes time but ultimately yields positive results.
  • One should start by devoting a small portion of land to organic farming as in the first couple of seasons the yield is low in comparison to the one sprinkled with chemical fertilisers.

Conclusion

More encouraging is that the programme can have a positive effect on many of the sustainable development goals through improvements in soil, biodiversity, livelihoods, water, reduction in chemicals, climate resilience, health, women’s empowerment and nutrition.

Many state governments, including Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka have openly supported ZBNF after studying its efficacy.

Agricultural scientists in India have to rework their entire strategy so that farming is in consonance with nature. The dominant paradigm of chemical-based agriculture has failed and regenerative agriculture is the emerging new science.

Practice Question:

1. “Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) can be a potential game changer for Indian agriculture”. Discuss this statement by examining the Andhra Pradesh model of ZBNF.

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