- What is zero-budget farming?
- Main practices of ZBNF
- Other important principles of ZBNF
- Advantages of Zero-budget farming
- Criticism of ZBNF
Truth about Zero Budget Natural Farming
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What is Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)?
- Zero-budget natural farming (ZBNF) is a farming practice that believes in natural growth of crops without adding any fertilizers and pesticides or any other foriegn elements.
- The phrase ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with Nature and without chemicals.
- In 2018, The Government of Andhra Pradesh launched a scale-out plan to transition farms/farmers cultivating land from conventional synthetic chemical agriculture to Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) by 2024, making Andhra Pradesh India’s first 100 per cent natural farming state.
- The neoliberalization of the Indian economy led to a deep agrarian crisis making small scale farming an unviable vocation.
- 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 etc.
- Under such conditions, ‘zero budget’ farming was introduced by Subhash Palekar, as a movement for farmers who were in debt due to the Green Revolution.
- Palekar was awarded India’s fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, in 2016. This was an important recognition for the ZBNF movement.
Main practices of ZBNF
- It 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.
- It also to prevent fungal and bacterial plant diseases.
- It is only needed for the first 3 years of the transition, after which the system becomes self-sustaining.
- It is a treatment used for seeds, seedlings or any planting material.
- It is effective in protecting young roots from fungus as well as from soil-borne and seedborne diseases.
- It is composed of similar ingredients as jeevamrutha – local cow dung, a powerful natural fungicide, and cow urine, a strong anti-bacterial liquid.
Acchadana – Mulching:
There are three types of mulching:
- It protects topsoil during cultivation and promotes aeration and water retention in the soil.
- Straw material usually refers to the dried biomass waste of previous crops. It can be composed of the dead material of any living being (plants, animals, etc.) as well.
Live Mulch (symbiotic intercrops and mixed crops)
- It is essential to develop multiple cropping patterns of monocotyledons (Monocotyledons seedlings have one seed leaf) and dicotyledons (Dicotyledons seedlings have two seed leaves) grown in the same field to supply all essential elements to the soil and crops.
- For instance, Monocots such as rice and wheat supply other elements like potash, phosphate and sulphur.
Whapasa – moisture:
- In this method water vapour has given more importance than water. Whapasa is the condition where there are both air molecules and water molecules present in the soil. However, ZBNF farmers report a significant decline in need for irrigation in via this method.
Other important principles of ZBNF
- Intercropping –Any costs incurred in ZBNF is compensated by income from intercrops, making farming a close to zero budget activity.
- Contours and bunds – To preserve rain water, contours and bunds helps in attaining maximum efficacy for different crops.
- Local species of earthworms. Promotes revival of local deep soil earthworms through increased organic matter.
- Cow dung– The entire ZBNF method is centred on the Indian cow and believes that dung from the Bos indicus (humped cow) has the highest concentrations of micro-organisms as compared to European cow breeds such as Holstein.
Advantages of Zero-budget farming
- Lower cost of inputs and better capacity to increase the incomes.
- Helps in retaining soil fertility and is climate change resilient.
- More than 98% nutrients are taken from sun, air etc. making this method less costly.
- It also improves the soil aeration and water holding capacity by making micro and macro pores in the soil.
- Pest management method used in this method helps to get rid from pest damage as well as protect from the food poison.
- Unlike, chemical fertilizers, it does not cause soil and water pollution and their erosion.
- Crop rotation and intercropping protect the soil from exhaustion of moisture and nutrients.
- Mulching in this method slowdown the evaporation and maintains adequate moisture in the soil.
Criticism of ZBNF
- ZBNF is not a zero budget as wages of hired labour, imputed value of family labour, imputed rent over owned land, costs of maintaining cows and paid-out costs on electricity and pump sets are all costs that ZBNF ignores.
- 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 content. In some regions, soils are saline and some are acidic due to nutrient deficiencies or aluminum, manganese and iron toxicities. In certain other regions, soils are toxic due to heavy metal pollution from industrial and municipal wastes or excessive application of fertilizers and pesticides. Hence, Agricultural scientists recommend location-specific solutions to nurture soil health. However, ZBNF practitioners do not count the soil testing in their farming method.
- According to ZBNF method, 98.5% of the nutrients that plants need is obtained from air, water and sunlight; only 1.5% is from the soil. For example, Jivamrit, a method of ZBNF in which 10 kg of cow dung and 10 liters of cow urine per acre per month is applied, does not produces enough nitrogen requirements of Indian soils.
- There is also a claim that ZBNF practitioners will stop drinking, gambling, lying, eating non-vegetarian food and wasting resources due to closeness of ZBNF with nature. This claim is baseless without any proof.
- Undoubtedly, improvement of soil health should be a priority agenda in India’s agricultural policy. Also, India need innovative technologies to minimise physical degradation of soils due to waterlogging, flooding and crusting.
- However, such a comprehensive approach requires a strong embrace of scientific temper and a firm rejection of anti-science postures.