ZBNF- Zero Budget Natural Farming

  • Intercropping is a scientifically proven practice and has got several advantages and extends economic benefits for the farmers, particularly under adverse weather conditions. It is largely practised in dry-land areas as insurance against failure of the main crop.
  • Intercrops act as live mulch thereby reducing the weeds, water requirement and also providing additional returns to the farmers. Intercropping with leguminous crops is one of the components of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) and it improves crop productivity and soil fertility by way of fixing the atmospheric nitrogen.
  • Further, the cow dung, urine-based formulations and botanical extracts used in ZBNF help farmers in reducing the input cost.

What is zero budget natural farming?

  • Zero budget natural farming or ZBNF is a method of chemically-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.
  • It was originally promoted by Maharashtrian agriculturist and Padma Shri recipient Subhash Palekar, who developed it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution’s methods driven by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and intensive irrigation.

The four pillars of ZNBF

  1. Jivamrita/jeevamrutha is a fermented microbial culture. It provides nutrients, but most importantly, acts as a catalytic agent that promotes the activity of microorganisms in the soil, as well as increases earthworm activity.
  2. Bijamrita/beejamrutha is a treatment used for seeds, seedlings or any planting material. Bijamrita is effective in protecting young roots from fungus as well as from soil-borne and seed-borne diseases that commonly affect plants after the monsoon period. It is composed of similar ingredients as jeevamrutha - local cow dung, a powerful natural fungicide, and cow urine, a strong anti-bacterial liquid, lime, soil.
  3. Acchadana - Mulching:
    • Soil Mulch: This protects topsoil during cultivation and does not destroy it by tilling. It promotes aeration and water retention in the soil. Palekar suggests avoiding deep ploughing.
    • Straw Mulch: Straw material usually refers to the dried biomass waste of previous crops, but as Palekar suggests, it can be composed of the dead material of any living being (plants, animals, etc).
    • Live Mulch (symbiotic intercrops and mixed crops): According to Palekar, it is essential to develop multiple cropping patterns of monocotyledons (monocots; Monocotyledons seedlings have one seed leaf) and dicotyledons (dicots; Dicotyledons seedlings have two seed leaves) grown in the same field, to supply all essential elements to the soil and crops. For instance, legumes are off the dicot group and are nitrogen-fixing plants. Monocots such as rice and wheat supply other elements like potash, phosphate and sulphur.
  4. Whapasa - moisture: Whapasa is the condition where there are both air molecules and water molecules present in the soil.

Importance of zero budget natural farming

  • According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, almost 70% of agricultural households spend more than they earn and more than half of all farmers are in debt.
  • In order to achieve the central government’s promise to double farmers' income by 2022, one aspect being considered is natural farming methods such as the ZBNF which reduce farmers’ dependence on loans to purchase inputs they cannot afford.
  • It reduces farming costs by reducing dependency on external inputs like seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, etc., which is a leading cause of indebtedness and suicide among farmers.
  • The farmer can exercise the ZBNF without spending money on these inputs. So, the cost of production could be reduced and farming made into a "zero budget" exercise.
  • ZBNF is helpful to fight against the impact of chemicals on the environment and on long-term fertility.
  • ZBNF is for the elimination of using chemical pesticides and the promotion of good agronomic practices. It improves soil conservation, seed diversity and quality of produce.

Criticism of ZBNF

  • India needed the Green Revolution in order to become self-sufficient and ensure food security. They warn against a wholesale move away from that model without sufficient proof that yields will not be affected.
  • Sikkim, which has seen some decline in yields following conversion to organic farming, is used as a cautionary tale regarding the pitfalls of abandoning chemical fertilizers.

The government initiatives

Government of India has been promoting organic farming in the country through the dedicated schemes of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) since 2015-16 and also through Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY).

In the revised guidelines of the PKVY scheme during the year 2018, various organic farming models like Natural Farming, Rishi Farming, Vedic Farming, Cow Farming, Homa Farming, Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) etc. have been included wherein flexibility is given to states to adopt any model of Organic Farming including ZBNF depending on farmer’s choice.

The finance minister announced in the budget to promote Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) to reduce the cost of production of farmers and thereby double their income.

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