“As per an United Nations estimate, the population of the world by 2050 will stand at 9.7 billion and the arable area will come down by one-third.”
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.
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.
What is Zero Budget Natural Farming?
Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a farming practice that believes in natural growth of crops without adding any fertilizers and pesticides or any other foriegn elements. The word Zero Budget refers to the zero net cost of production of all crops (inter crops, border crops, multi crops). The inputs used for seed treatments and other inocluations are locally available in the form of cowdung and cow urine.
Aspects of ZBNF
Mr. Subhash Palekar, considered the father of ZBNF, identified four aspects that are now integral to his process and which require locally available materials: seeds treated with cow dung and urine; soil rejuvenated with cow dung, cow urine and other local materials to increase microbes; cover crops, straw and other organic matter to retain soil moisture and build humus; and soil aeration for favourable soil conditions. These methods are combined with natural insect management methods when required.
Advantages of ZBNF
- Higher Yields – In ZBNF, yields of various cash and food crops have been found to be significantly higher when compared with chemical farming. As per NITI Aayog, the ZBNF technique has resulted in an increase in the yields of crops like cotton by 11 per cent, paddy by 12 per cent, groundnut 23 per cent, and chilli 34 per cent at less than half the cost of cultivation.
- Increased income of farmers – A ZBNF practicisng farmer has lower cost of inputs (near zero) and thus has better capacity to increase the incomes.
- Maintaining soil fertility – ZBNF crops helps in retaining soil fertility unlike the crops grown using chemical pesticides which drain the important nutrients of the soil.
- Climate change resilient farming – Model ZBNF farms were able to withstand drought and flooding, which are big concerns with regard to climate change. 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. To feed the global population of 9.6 billion by 2050, as projected by a UN report, scaling up food production is important.
- Positive impact on sustainable development goals – ZBNF 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.
- Reduced use of water and electricity.
- Elimination of chemical pesticides.
- Promotion of good agronomic practices.
ZBNF vs. Organic Farming – Organic agriculture often involves addition of large amounts of manure, vermicompost and other materials that are required in bulk and need to be purchased. These turn out to be expensive for most small farm holders. On the other hand, the farming inputs are locally sourced.
Application of technology in Agriculture – There is a need for the continued involvement of farmers in the areas of technological innovations. Technology is simply the systematic application of knowledge for practical purposes. There is a need to listen to scientists and farmers both. 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.
- Scientific validation of ZBNF technology should be undertaken through multi-locational on-the-field trials with farmers.
- Farmer’s collectives such as Farmer Producer Organisations need to be established and these would be critical to sustaining the programme.
- There is a need for continued support/assurances from the government as the new farmers, apprehensive of a new method of farming, may not take up ZBNF.
- There is a need to divert existing subsidies away from chemical fertilisers and other inputs to strengthen the existing Krishi Vigyan Kendra network.
- There is a need to neutralise the political-economy of green revolution (fertliser, pesticide and seed industry) in favour of an evergreen revolution.