Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a set of farming methods, and also a grassroots peasant movement, which has spread to various states in India.
It has attained wide success in southern India, especially the southern Indian state of Karnataka where it first evolved. The movement in Karnataka state was born out of collaboration between Mr Subhash Palekar, who put together the ZBNF practices, and the state farmers association Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS).
Importance of ZBNF highlighted in Economic Survey 2018-19:
The Economic Survey mentioned Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) along with Vedic Farming, Homa Farming and Cow Farming and how these “climate friendly” agricultural practices can enable “elimination of chemical pesticides” and restoration of soil organic matter and fertility.
But an even bigger push for ZBNF and in the Union Budget speech of Finance Minister, where she talked of the need to “go back to basics” and “replicate this innovative model (that) can help in doubling our farmers’ income in time for our 75th year of Independence”.
Four wheels of ZBNF to be implemented in practically:
The “four wheels” of ZBNF are ‘Jiwamrita’, ‘Bijamrita’, ‘Mulching’ and ‘Waaphasa’, says Palekar, a Padma Shri awardee.
Jiwamrita is a fermented mixture of cow dung and urine (of desi breeds), jaggery, pulses flour, water and soil from the farm bund. This isn’t a fertiliser, but just a source of some 500 crore micro-organisms that can convert all the necessary “non-available” nutrients into “available” form.
Bijamrita is a mix of desi cow dung and urine, water, bund soil and lime that is used as a seed treatment solution prior to sowing.
Mulching, or covering the plants with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves, is meant to conserve soil moisture and keep the temperature around the roots at 25-32 degrees Celsius, which allows the microorganisms to do their job.
Waaphasa, or providing water to maintain the required moisture-air balance, also achieves the same objective.
Palekar also advocates the use of special ‘Agniastra’, ‘Bramhastra’ and ‘Neemastra’ concoctions again based on desi cow urine and dung, plus pulp from leaves of neem, white datura, papaya, guava and pomegranates for controlling pest and disease attacks.
ZBNF success in Southern states:
In Andhra Pradesh: With its 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 approach taken to monitor the improvements is vital to understanding the outcomes of large-scale changes that are under way; this is critical to expanding the ZBNF to other States. As ZBNF is applied in India’s various agro-ecological zones, making farmers the innovators is essential.
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 Rayalaseema region (Andhra Pradesh) is reportedly seeing promising changes already in farms with the ZBNF.
Mixed cropping is the key to recover the cost of production:
The farmer’s have to practise mixed cropping, the cost of main crop is recovered by the sale of cash cropsthat you sow alongside.
Also, it is about using organic manure,” It takes time but ultimately yields positive results.
One should start by devoting 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.
Issues that need to be addressed in ZBNF:
However, not all farmers are convinced about ZBNF.
The important concern is “what about the cost of labour for collection of dung and urine, apart from the other inputs used in preparation of Jiwamrita, Neemastra or Bramhastra”?
Keeping cows is also a cost that has to be accounted for. How many farmers can afford to keep desi cows that yield very little milk.
It is hard to explain it to fellow farmers and had to “face taunts” as there was no guidance and market for organic produce in rural areas.
It points out that 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.
It is where the government should step in and reduce dependence on middle men.
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.
The world is at critical junctures on many planetary boundaries, and establishing a system that shows promise in improving them while supporting people sustainably is surely one worth pursuing.