Zero budgeting agriculture

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman thrust zero budget farming into the spotlight in the first Budget speech of the 17th Lok Sabha earlier this month, calling for a “back to the basics” approach. She said, “We need to replicate this innovative model through which in a few States, farmers are already being trained in this practice. Steps such as this can help in doubling our farmers’ income in time for our 75th year of Independence.” Several States, including Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, have been aggressively driving a shift towards this model.

Intercropping is a scientifically proven practice and has got several advantages and extends economic benefits for the farmers particularly under adverse weather conditions.  It is largely practiced in dry-land areas as an insurance against failure of main crop. Under All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) on Integrated Farming Systems, intercropping systems have been studied for many States and found profitable for farmers. Intercrops act as live mulch thereby reducing the weeds, water requirement and also providing additional returns to the farmers. Intercropping with leguminous crops is one of the components of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) and it improves the crop productivity and soil fertility by way of fixing the atmospheric nitrogen. Further, the cow dung, urine based formulations and botanical extracts used in ZBNF help farmers in reducing the input cost.

What is Zero Budget Natural Farming?

Zero Budget Natural Farming, as the name implies, is a method of farming where the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero. This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides in order to ensure the healthy growth of crops. It is, basically, a natural farming technique that uses biological pesticides instead of chemical-based fertilizers. Farmers use earthworms, cow dung, urine, plants, human excreta and such biological fertilizers for crop protection. It reduces farmers’ investment. It also protects the soil from degradation.

Benefits of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The drought-prone regions in India is reportedly seeing promising changes already in farms with the ZBNF.

 How is ZBNF better than organic farming?

  • Organic agriculture often involves addition of materials required in bulk and have to be purchased.
  • These are large amounts of manure, vermicompost and other materials.
  • These turn out to be expensive for most small farm holders.

What is the Andhra Pradesh model?

  • Initiatives – Successful pilot programmes were initiated in 2015 and partnerships for gaining inputs were taken up. With this, Andhra Pradesh has become the first State to implement a ZBNF policy.
  • Coverage – This year, 5 lakh farmers will be covered, with at least one panchayat in each of themandals shifting to this new method. By 2021-22, the programme is to be implemented in every panchayat, with full coverage by 2024.
  • Strategies – Tenant farmers and day labourers are being trained. This ensures that through the ZBNF, livelihoods for the rural poor are being enhanced. Farmer-to-farmer connections are vital to the success of the programme. Establishment of farmer’s collectives such as Farmer Producer Organisations are encouraged.
  • Funding – The Government of India provides funding through the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana. Additional resources have been made available through various philanthropic organisations.
  • Participation – Andhra Pradesh has supported and learned from its many effective civil society organizations. This include Watershed Support Services and Activities Network, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Deccan Development Society. The scaling up relies primarily on farmers and local groups; in all, very much a bottom-up process. Open-minded enlightened political leaders and administrators have been fundamental in this process.
  • Geography – Andhra Pradesh has a combination of delta regions, arid and hilly tribal areas. Thus the districts in Andhra Pradesh are similar to those in other parts of the country. It could therefore serve as a workable model for replication. The drought-prone Rayalaseema region (Andhra Pradesh) is reportedly seeing promising changes in farms with the ZBNF.

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”.

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.

Way a head

  • The program can have a positive effect on many of the sustainable development goals.
  • As ZBNF is applied in India’s various agro-ecological zones, making farmers the innovators is essential. 
  • Agricultural scientists in India have to rework their 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