“We need a global transition to a more resilient and sustainable agriculture that is less dependent on agrochemicals and draws more on natural biological and ecosystem processes,” said William Murray, deputy director of plant production and protection division FAO

One such technique which is known to meet the above requirements is “Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)”. Propagated in India by Shri Subhash Palekar, ZBNF uses ingredients that can be easily found in nature and almost free of cost such as “Gaumutra” and “Cow Dung”. ZBNF uses tools such as Jeevamrutha, Bijamrita, Acchadana- Mulching and Whapasa- moisture, all of which can be prepared using natural ingredient (Refer http://www.fao.org/3/a-bl990e.pdf for a detailed description and method of preparation of these tools)

It has been observed that ZBNF has resulted in higher yields for farmers who have practiced this technique. Under this practice, a 136% higher yield has been observed in groundnuts. A farmer had reported an increase in yield from 3 quintals to 5 quintals of red gram when he shifted to ZBNF from non-ZBNF farming.

In Gosanipalli village, around 150 farmers are practicing ZBNF. Ramajaneyulu, a local farmer, who has 0.809371 hectares of land on which he has been practicing ZBNF for two years, has witnessed output growth to nine quintals of groundnut as compared to six or seven under non-ZBNF (Source: Down to Earth)

 

ZBNF in India

ZBNF was first launched as a pilot in September 2015 under the Centre’s Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana in 50 Villages and 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh. Later in June 2018, the state launched a full-fledged program to cover over 80 Lakhs hectares of land and 6 Mn farmers to become India’s first state to practice 100% natural Farming by 2024. Currently, more than 1,60,000 farmers are practicing ZBNF in 1000+ villages under the guidance of Shri Subash Palekar, according to Economic Survey.

The technique was first deployed in Karnataka as an outcome of a collaboration between State Farmers’ Association, the Karnataka Rajta Raitha Sangha (KRRS) and nation-renowned agriculturist, Shri Subhash Palekar. 

 

The Man Who Brought Back Chemical-free Farming to India

Thanks to Shri Palekar, various states such as Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand are actively willing to deploy ZBNF in their respective geographies and invited Shri Palekar to train their farmers. 

Shri Palekar maintains that 98 to 98.5% of nutrients that a crop needs are taken from the air, water, and solar energy. The Vidarbha based social activist organized training camps at the state level lasting up to 5 days, with about 8 hours of classes each day. With nominal or no fees, Shri Palekar ensured the housing, logistics and food requirements of those taking the classes throughout the camp. He put together the basic “toolkit” of ZBNF methods. He has published more than 60 books in various Indian languages in which he has elaborated on the ZBNF methods for mass benefit.

 

Need for ZBNF 

Small land holding farmers usually find themselves trapped in a debt web due to the unaffordability of agricultural inputs. ZBNF is an attempt to make small scale farming viable for farmers and pull them out of the debt trap. 

Approximately 70% of India’s agricultural households spend more than their earnings each month which is the primary reason for committing suicide in more than half such cases as per an analysis by IndiaSpend. An NCRB report also classifies the reasons behind farmer’s suicide under categories such as crop failure, heavy loans among others, most of which can be resolved by following ZBNF. 

In States such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the level of indebtedness is around 90%, where each household bears an average debt of ₹1 lakh as per an article in The Hindu. 1,513 farmers had committed suicide in the Andhra Pradesh from 2014 to 2019 as per a statement by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.

In addition to the above, Farmer’s income is expected to be impacted by 15-18% due to erratic weather patterns in Indian rain-fed agriculture, degrading soil quality, high cultivation cost, and other inefficient farming methods. 

Naturally (pun intended), ZBNF is being considered one of the alternatives to achieve the mission of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. 

As per NSSO data, nearly 85% of all the operational farms in India are smaller than 2 hectares in size. ZBNF not only reduces the expenses on farm inputs but also makes small farms operationally and financially viable.

 

ZBNF Vs. Organic Farming

ZBNF does not mean that farmers have to bear no cost at all. It rather means:

  1. Lower cost due to usage of natural inputs

  2. Any cost incurred by farmers will be compensated for in the form of increased income due to intercrop farming, increased yield, better soil quality et al.

These attributes make the technique almost a zero budget activity.

In contrast, Organic Farming involves the purchase of certain inputs in bulk like vermicompost and a large amount of fertilizers and pesticides which makes farming even more expensive.