India’s premier academic body of agricultural scientists has hit out at Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), terming it as an “unproven” technology bringing no incremental value gain to either farmers or consumers. The government should not needlessly invest capital and human resources towards promoting ZBNF. We have given our recommendations in writing to the Prime Minister and it reflects the view held by the scientific community.
  1. This comes even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the 14th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, mentioned that “we are focusing on ZBNF”. 
  2. The New Delhi-based NAAS – a farm scientists’ think tank with over 650 fellows and 15 regional chapters across India – had organised a day-long “brainstorming session” on ZBNF last month. 
  3. It was attended, among others, by the Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Trilochan Mohapatra and NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand.
  4. In all, there were about 75 experts that included scientists, policymakers, progressive farmers, NGOs and fertiliser, seed and crop protection chemical industry representatives. 
  5. ZBNF’s basic concept is that over 98 per cent of the nutrients required by crops for photosynthesis – carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water and solar energy – are already supplied “free” from the air, rains and sun. 
  6. Only the remaining 1.5-2 per cent nutrients need to be taken from the soil and converted from “non-available” to “available” form (for intake by the roots) through the action of microorganisms.
  7. To enable the microorganisms do their jobs, farmers must apply ‘Jiwamrita’ (microbial culture) and ‘Bijamrita’ (seed treatment solution), besides ‘Mulching’ (covering plants with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves) and ‘Waaphasa’ (giving water outside the plant’s canopy) to maintain the right soil temperature-moisture-air balance. 
  8. For insect and pest management, ZBNF recommends use of ‘Agniastra’, ‘Brahmastra’ and ‘Neemastra’, which, like ‘Jiwamrita’ and ‘Bijamrita’, are concoctions based mainly on urine and dung from desi cows. Since these also do not have to be purchased, it makes farming practically “zero-budget”.
  9. Critics, however, note that plant growth and crop yields require nitrogen, which is also a major component of amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins
  10. 78 per cent of air is nitrogen, but it is not freely available to plants. Being non-reactive, atmospheric nitrogen has to be fixed into a plant-usable form such as ammonia or urea. 
  11. The committee, constituted in May, has had two meetings so far, while the five trial locations are Modipuram (Uttar Pradesh), Pantnagar (Uttarakhand), Kurukshetra (Haryana), Ludhiana (Punjab) and Palampur (Himachal Pradesh)
  12. At the Indian Institute of Farming Systems Research in Modipuram, ZBNF experiments have already been conducted for 2017-18 (wheat crop) and 2018-19 (paddy and wheat). 

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