Subhash Palekar, Maharashtra based agriculturist and Padma Shri recipient, popularised zero-budget natural farming (ZBNF), which refers to the process of growing crops without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or any other external materials. Farmers instead use low-cost locally sourced natural concoctions, inoculums, and decoctions made from cow dung, urine, jaggery, lilac, green chilies, and a variety of other natural ingredients.
The term 'Zero Budget' refers to the production of all crops at no cost. ZBNF assists farmers in practising sustainable farming, which aids in soil fertility retention, chemical-free agriculture, and low production costs (zero-cost).
This climate-resilient agricultural method, which differs from organic farming, aims to promote agroecology and low-cost agriculture practises in which all critical inputs are gathered from the field and nothing from the outside is introduced. In contrast to traditional farming techniques, ZBNF does not use fertiliser or pesticides, and only 10% of water is to be used for irrigation.
Jeevamrutha: On farmland, a mixture of cow dung and urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water, and soil is applied. Used for enhancing soil fertility.
Bijamrita: It is a mixture of neem leaves and pulp, tobacco, and green chillies that has been prepared for insect and pest control and can be used to treat seeds.
Acchadana (Mulching): It protects topsoil during cultivation rather than destroying it through tilling.
Whapasa: It is the condition in which the soil contains both air molecules and water molecules. As a result, water is provided to maintain the required moisture-air balance.
The rising cost of external inputs (fertilisers and pesticides) is the leading cause of farm indebtedness and suicide. According to data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), nearly 70% of agricultural households spend more than they earn, and more than half of all farmers are in debt. As there is no need to spend money or take loans for external inputs in ZBNF, the cost of production could be reduced and farming could be turned into a "zero budget" exercise. This would break the debt cycle for many small farmers and contribute to the goal of doubling farmer income by 2022.
Need to Proceed with caution
NITI Aayog has been a fervent supporter of Mr. Palekar and the ZBNF method. However, its experts have cautioned that multi-location studies are required to scientifically validate the model's long-term impact and viability before it can be scaled up and promoted nationally.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research is investigating the ZBNF methods used by basmati and wheat farmers in Modipuram (Uttar Pradesh), Ludhiana (Punjab), Pantnagar (Uttarakhand), and Kurukshetra (Haryana), with the goal of determining the impact on productivity, economics, and soil health, including soil organic carbon and soil fertility.
If the technology is found to be successful, an enabling institutional mechanism could be established to promote it.