Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

 
Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.
 
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.
 
He argued –
(i) the rising cost of these external inputs was a leading cause of indebtedness and suicide among farmers,
(ii) the impact of chemicals on the environment and on long-term fertility was devastating.
 
Without the need to spend money on these inputs — or take loans to buy them — the cost of production could be reduced and farming made into a “zero budget” exercise, breaking the debt cycle for many small farmers.
 

The four pillars of ZNBF

1. 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.
 
2. 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.
3. Acchadana - Mulching. According to Palekar, there are three types of mulching:
 
a. 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.
b. 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.
 
c. 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.
 
4. 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.
 
Other important principles of ZBNF
 
1. Intercropping – This is primarily how ZBNF gets its “Zero Budget” name. It doesn’t mean that the farmer is going to have no costs at all, but rather that any costs will be compensated for by income from intercrops, making farming a close to zero budget activity. Palekar explains in detail the crop and tree associations that work well for the south Asian context.
2. Contours and bunds – To preserve rain water, Palekar explains in detail how to make the contours and bunds, which promote maximum efficacy for different crops.
 
3. Local species of earthworms. Palekar opposes the use of vermicompost. He claims that the revival of local deep soil earthworms through increased organic matter is most recommended.
 
4. Cow dung- Accroding to Palekar, dung from the Bos indicus (humped cow) is most beneficial and has the highest concentrations of micro-organisms as compared to European cow breeds such as Holstein. The entire ZBNF method is centred on the Indian cow, which historically has been part of Indian rural life.


Mr. Palekar is against vermicomposting, which is the mainstay of typical organic farming, as it introduces the the most common composting worm, the European red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) to Indian soils. He claims these worms absorb toxic metals and poison groundwater and soil.
 
Budgetary Support
 
The Centre revised the norms for the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana- Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied sector Rejuvenation (RKVY-RAFTAAR), a flagship Green Revolution scheme with an allocation of ₹3,745 crore this year, and the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, which has an allocation of ₹325 crore and is meant to promote organic farming and soil health. Under the revised guidelines, both Centrally-sponsored schemes now allow States to use their funds to promote the ZBNF, vedic farming, natural farming, cow farming and a host of other traditional methods.
 
Way Forward
 
NITI Aayog has been among the foremost promoters of Mr. Palekar and the ZBNF method.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research is studying the ZBNF methods practised by basmati and wheat farmers in Modipuram (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 said.
 
Performance
 
According to the Economic Survey 2018-19, 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.
 
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.
 




Sunday, 28th Jul 2019, 05:23:00 PM

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