Insights into Editorial: The seeds of sustainability
In early June, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu announced that the State would fully embrace Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), a chemical-free method that would cover all farmers by 2024.
The Andhra Pradesh government’s unique initiative to improve farmers’ livelihood through zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is the right solution to fight climate change in the drought-prone Rayalaseema region.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in its 2016 report in fact recommended “revision of the existing fertiliser subsidy policy and promotion of organic fertilizers”.
Zero Budget Natural Farming:
- ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. The word Zero Budget refers to zero net cost of production of all crops. This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides in order.
- It is considered ‘zero budget’ because the costs of the main crop are offset by the income that farmers earn from intercrops during the agricultural season
Aim of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF):
The main aim of ZBNF is elimination of chemical pesticides and promotion of good agronomic practices. Many farmers, who were initially reluctant to take up ZBNF, have been practising it for two seasons now. There are some who switched over last year and has witnessed good results.
This year, 5 lakh farmers will be covered, and at least one panchayat in each of the mandals will be shifted to this new method, bringing the programme to a tipping point. By 2021-22, the programme is to be implemented in every panchayat, with full coverage by 2024.
It highlights the way to improve the welfare of farmers, reduce the cost of farm inputs, cut toxins in food, and improve soils. With successful pilot programmes that were initiated in 2015 and partners who brought experience in different aspects needed to carry out such a transformation, Andhra Pradesh has become the first State to implement a ZBNF policy.
Natural Farming proponent Subhash Palekar said all other practices like organic, chemical and vermi compost farming were “foreign practices” and not suitable for Indian conditions.
The common farming practices have proved to have destroyed fertility, caused global warming and are responsible for large-scale migration of farmers from rural hinterlands to urban areas.
Benefits of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF):
As both a social and environmental programme, it aims to ensure that farming – particularly smallholder farming – is economically viable by enhancing farm biodiversity and ecosystem services.
It reduces farmers’ costs through eliminating external inputs and using in-situ resources to rejuvenate soils, whilst simultaneously increasing incomes, and restoring ecosystem health through diverse, multi-layered cropping systems.
Cow dung from local cows has proven to be a miraculous cure to revive the fertility and nutrient value of soil. One gram of cow dung is believed to have anywhere between 300 to 500 crore beneficial micro-organisms. These micro-organisms decompose the dried biomass on the soil and convert it into ready-to-use nutrients for plants.
Resilient food systems are the need of the day given the variability of the monsoons due to global warming and declining groundwater in large parts of India. The drought-prone regions in India is reportedly seeing promising changes already in farms with the ZBNF.
Zero budget natural farming requires only 10 per cent water and 10 per cent electricity than what is required under chemical and organic farming. ZBNF may improve the potential of crops to adapt to and be produced for evolving climatic conditions.
The four-wheels of zero budget natural farming require locally available materials:
- water vapour condensation for better soil moisture
- Seed treatment with cow dung and urine based formulations
- Mulching and soil aeration for favourable soil conditions.
- Ensure soil fertility through cow dung and cow urine based concoctions
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.
Policy support needed in the following areas:
There are no incentive official policies to promote ZBNF.
A particular challenge is Marketing. Many farmers sell their natural produce as if were chemically grown, to private traders or at government wholesale yards, with no price differential. Other farmers rely on their own local marketing networks, such as to some organic shops and individual customers, but policy support in this area is crucial.
The agriculture ministry plans to offer cash incentives to farmers who take up ‘yogik’ farming, ‘gou mata kheti’ and ‘rishi krishi’is right step in promoting Zero budget natural farming in India.
As climate is changing, creating resilient food systems has become the need of the hour. Across the world, agriculture is facing multiple setbacks, be it in the form of extreme weather events like floods and droughts or factors such as soil degradation, soil salinity and water shortage.
The implementation of this ZBNF project at large scale will impact a multitude of stakeholders, and also help India progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations (UN) to facilitate the post-2015 development agenda.
To feed the global population of 9.6 billion by 2050, as projected by a United Nations report, scaling up food production is important. But ensuring food security, producing more with less resources and building the resilience of smallholder farmers are also important in creating a food-secure future.
Technology is simply the systematic application of knowledge for practical purposes. The ZBNF is a technology of the future with a traditional idiom.
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.