Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices. The Economic Survey 2018-19 highlighted that these “climate-friendly” agricultural practices can enable “elimination of chemical pesticides” and restoration of soil organic matter and fertility. Budget 2019-20 also aims to promote ZBNF.
Various benefits of Zero budget natural farming are as follow-
1. Low input cost- Agriculture in its prevailing form requires farmers to rely heavily on inorganic external chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Zero budget farming promises to end a reliance on loans and cut production costs, ending the debt cycle for desperate farmers.
2. Higher yield- Besides reduced input cost, farmers practicing ZBNF get higher yields. In Andhra Pradesh Yields of five crops (paddy, groundnut, black gram, maize, and chilies) have increased by 8-32% for ZBNF farmers.
3. Food and nutritional security- As a result of increased crop yields, it will be able to improve food and nutritional security at the national level. The practice of intercropping growing multiple crops in proximity to each other is encouraged under ZBNF as it ensures vulnerable communities access to a suite of nutritional sources and income-generating crops throughout the year.
4. Environmental benefits- It is free from health hazards, as no chemical or organic materials are used for farming. Prevailing agricultural practices such as mono-cropping decrease soil moisture content, causing tremendous stress on water resources. Wide-scale adoption of ZBNF would help reduce the release of harmful chemicals to the air, water, and soil.
5. Soil fertility- It utilizes only natural resources as inputs. Thus increases the fertility of the soil.
6. Water efficient-. It requires only 10% water and 10% of electricity than what is required under chemical and organic farming thereby reducing the over-extraction of groundwater.
7. Climate-resilient- ZBNF might help farmers build resilience against extreme climate events by improving the fertility and strength of the soil.
8. Reduce Ocean acidification- It would help reduce ocean acidification and marine pollution from land-based activities due to no use of hazardous chemical pollutants from pesticides that run-off into rivers and oceans.
Despite environmental benefits, experts doubt the efficacy of zero budget natural farming, call for nation-wide scientific studies-
Experts cast doubts over the efficacy of ZBNF in resolving agrarian distress in India as it is not tested on a wider scale and on all soil types
Experts say that the government should first address issues that resulted in agrarian crisis like rising input costs, better MSP to farmers and falling or stagnant prices
Even if ZBNF is adopted, challenges associated with modern agricultural farming like knowledge gap, availability of native seed banks, cold chain facilities, MSP, and marketing issues remain unresolved
ZBNF farmers want the government to play a more active role in terms of bridging the knowledge gap, establishing local markets and provision of inputs among others.
In order for agricultural systems to be sustainable, they must equally and simultaneously address social, economic and environmental dimensions. Neglecting any one area jeopardizes the attainment of sustainability in others.
Following are the various approaches to balance the need-
1. Promotion to micro-irrigation and drip irrigation.
2. Promotion to organic farming.
3. Crop rotation is one of the most powerful techniques of sustainable agriculture.
4. Integrated pest management (IPM)- This is an approach, which really relies on biological as opposed to chemical methods.
5. The use of cover crops also reduces the need for chemicals such as fertilizers.
6. Agro-ecology, a farming approach that mimics natural ecosystems, is an alternative method that can produce more food using fewer resources.
7. The government of India has launched the National Mission for Sustainable
Agriculture (NMSA) to promote sustainable agriculture and to ensure food security.