Farmers in western U.P. grapple with ‘zero budget’ farming

In News:
  • Farmers in western Uttar Pradesh are also trying to get into “zero budget” farming.
  • The practice was also mentioned by Finance Minister while presenting the Union Budget.
  • The Economic Survey noted that, “Fertilizer response ratio has been declining over time. Organic and natural farming techniques including Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) can improve both water use efficiency and soil fertility.”
News Summary:
  • The main aim of the ‘zero budget natural farming’ (ZBNF) is to eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides and promote good agronomic practices that use resources readily available on the farm and are less water consuming.
  • The practice is being encouraged to the counter the ill-effects of Green Revolution, which emphasised on mono-cropping and use of chemical fertilisers.
  • The Economic Survey underlined the efforts of some of the states – Karnataka, Himacha Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh – in taking lead in ZBNF.
  • Subhash Palekar, the proponent of “zero budget” farming from Vidarbha, was awarded the Padma Shri by the BJP government in 2016. He has been conducting workshops for farmers to encourage this practice.
Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)
  • ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with Nature and without chemicals.
  • The basic “toolkit” of ZBNF methods was put together by Subhash Palekar, who developed the practice after his own efforts at chemical farming failed.
  • He identified four aspects that are integral to the process and which require locally available materials:
    • Jiwamrita – Soil rejuvenated with cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, pulses flour and other local materials to increase microbes that can convert all the necessary “non-available” nutrients into “available” form.
    • Bijamrita – Seeds treated with cow dung and urine, bund soil and lime
    • Acchadana – Cover crops, straw and other organic matter to retain soil moisture and build humus
    • Whapasa – Providing water to maintain the required moisture-air balance
  • These methods are combined with natural insect management methods when required.
  • Profits in most areas under ZBNF were from higher yield and lower inputs.
  • Input costs are near zero as no fertilizers and pesticides are used.
  • Yields of various cash and food crops have been found to be significantly higher when compared with chemical farming.
    • For example, yields from ZBNF plots in the (kharif) 2017 pilot phase were found on average to be 11% higher for cotton than in non-ZBNF plots. The yield for Guli ragi (ZBNF) was 40% higher than non-ZBNF.
  • Model ZBNF farms were able to withstand drought and flooding, which are big concerns with regard to climate change.
  • The planting of multiple crops and border crops on the same field has provided varied income and nutrient sources.
  • As a result of these changes, there is reduced use of water and electricity, improved health of farmers, flourishing of local ecosystems and biodiversity and no toxic chemical residues in the environment.
Various farmers and farmer organisation have highlighted the limitations of ZBNF:
  • The practice is technically not “zero-budget” as it involves the cost of labour for collection of dung and urine, apart from the other inputs. Keeping cows is also a cost that has not been accounted for.
  • Productivity goes down in the initial 2-3 years. So the idea can only suit hobby farmers or those who have a major alternate source of income.
  • The average landholding of most farmers is too small to practise it.
  • It is practically not possible to do agriculture without chemical fertilisers now, as the soil has become used to it and the hybrid seeds require it as well. It was impossible to sustain farming purely on the basis of natural resources and get a commercially viable yield.
  • There was no guidance and market for organic produce in rural areas.
Way to overcome limitations:
  • The practices has to be strictly followed to reap gains. There has to be a gradual shift to natural farming as sudden conversion can only lead to losses.
  • It takes time but ultimately yields positive results.
  • The method should be scaled up nationally only after it has been scientifically proven to be effective.

Image result for zero budget farming

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