Justify the need for Zero Budget Natural Farming in Indian agriculture. What impact will it have on its stakeholders?
- Zero Budget: ZBNF is considered ‘zero budget’ because costs of (raising) the main crop are offset by the income that farmers earn from intercrops during the agricultural season.
- Natural farming: Natural farming is “do nothing farming”, according to Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer who, in the 1970s, was a proponent of no-till, no chemical use in farming along with the dispersal of clay seed balls to propagate plants. He found it important to apply nature’s principles in farming and developed a deep-rooted philosophy around the process.
- Subhash Palekar developed the ZBNF after his own efforts at chemical farming failed. He 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.
Need for ZBNF
- Crop cutting experiments from 2016 and 2017 indicate that ZBNF farmers in AP have witnessed a sharp decline in input costs, and an improvement in yields. As a result, they earn better net incomes and can raisetheir disposable incomes.
- Farmers vulnerable to economic shocks have an important safety net against short-term shocks.
- Poor and vulnerable farmers, who do not ownlarge tracts of land and therefore cannot benefitfrom economies of scale, depend on the price premiums for chemical-free produce to boost net incomes.In contrast to farmers using prevailing practices, ZBNF farmers can earn a premium in domestic and international markets as their produce is primed to earn Fairtrade or other organic certifications.
- As a result of increased crop yields, ZBNF farmersmay be able to improve food and nutritionalsecurity for their families.
- Fertilisers and pesticides have been shown to have adverse impacts on farmers as well as consumers.
- Farmers are exposed to contaminants when applying chemical inputs to their crops. By replacing suchexternal inputs with locally made natural concoctions, inoculums, and decoctions, the project couldhelp in reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as acuteand chronic neurotoxicity, respiratory diseases and even cancer, which areassociated with the use and application of inorganic chemicals in agriculture. The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that exposure to pesticide compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), gammahexachlorocyclohexane (lindane) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) can be “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
- Many farmers experience mental distress and depression from the stress oflow incomes, and difficult credit repayment cycles. As ZBNF eliminates theneed for external chemical inputs, it reduces the need for credit for cultivationwhile enabling farmers to produce similar, if not better yields, with reducedinput cost. improved incomes might help farmers cope better with stress and bring down instances of farmer suicide.
- Gender equality:Yield from female-led agricultural plots has been lower than thatfrom male-led plots. But it is not well documented that this gap is primarilythe result of unequal access to appropriate, and necessary agricultural inputs.The lower yield of female-headed plots is not a function of their efficiency oragricultural acumen. If the gender gap in access to inputs were resolved, thenagricultural output in developing countries could increase by 2.5 - 4 per cent onaverage18. Gender equality must, therefore, be stressed in agricultural policy and programme planning.An important objective for the programme is to ensure equal number of malesand females at the cluster leadership level, which is the core unit of programmeimplementation. Ensuring that women are well represented at the leadershiplevel, and are seen as decision makers is important for providing equitable access to basic inputs. Thiscould encourage many women to become involved in agriculture full-time, and allow existing female farmers to improve their yield by reducing inequality in access to input resources.
- ZBNF alsoencourages women to become entrepreneurs in the non-farm sector by giving them incentives to set upvillage-level shops to sell natural fertiliser and biocide mixtures to farmers. They are also trained to filmand disseminate videos on ZBNF methods to induct other farmers into the programme. These positionshelp women to be seen as guides and leaders in the local community, improving their social status.
- The use of various mulching techniques by ZBNF farmers improves the fertility and moisture retention capacity of the soil. ZBNF stresses on the moisture or water vapour requirements of the plant roots.The soil must contain a sufficient mix of water and air molecules.This has been shown to reduce water input requirement, improve water efficiency in agriculture, and also make crops drought resilient withoutaffecting crop yields.
- ZBNF will promote the efficient use of resources and help make agriculture sustainable. By eliminating the use and corresponding production of fertilisers and other chemical inputs, ZBNF islikely to avoid CO2emissions at various stages of the agricultural value chain.
- At its core, ZBNF is about using resources efficiently to produce nutritious and sufficient food whileminimising the environmental impact of agriculture. By reducing the need for irrigation and eliminating external chemical inputs, ZBNF could reduce the material footprint per capita and material footprint per unit of value added in agriculture. Wide-scale adoption of ZBNF would help reduce the release of harmful chemicals to the air, water and soil. It will minimise the adverse impacts on farmer and consumer health, and on biodiversity. After adopting sustainable agricultural practices, several farmers have reported the return of certain bird and animal species to farmlands.
ZBNF brings together a range of actors – international agencies, state and localgovernments, banks, donors, research organisations and certification bodies – from across the public and private sectors and civil society. A diverse coalition helps mobilise and share knowledge from a variety of domains and create a comprehensive set of interventions that can be implemented practically.