As the name suggests, it is a method of farming in which the net cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero. It means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides to ensure the healthy growth of crops. It is, basically, a natural farming technique where biological pesticides are used instead of conventional chemical-based fertilizers. Farmers use earthworms, cow dung, human excreta, urine, plants, and such biological fertilizers for crop protection. As a result, it reduces farmers’ investment; at the same time, it also protects the soil from degradation.
This concept was originally promoted by agriculturist Mr Subhash Palekar, who developed it during the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution’s methods that are driven by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and intensive irrigation.
It is a unique model that relies on Agro-ecology. It aims to bring down the cost of production to nearly zero and return to a pre-green revolution style of farming, very suitable to an agriculturally dependent country like India.
Case Study of Himachal Pradesh
In a recent case study in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, the application of this model appears to reap its fruits as expected. This has particularly helped the Women farmers in the state, which has not only provided them with a sustainable livelihood but also caused empowerment among them.
The Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Yojana (PKJY) was launched in Himachal Pradesh in the year 2018 based on the concept of Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF). During this period, 1.5 lakh farmers were trained in natural farming, which also consisted of a significant number of women farmers. What distinguishes this scheme from others, that after the farmers have completed their training, the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) staff keep in touch with the village farmers in order to inform them about the current changes taking place around the globe in this respect.
Apart from promoting the organic way of farming, this initiative has also been helpful in the upliftment and empowering women in this region to gain confidence in matters beyond, irrespective of their level of education. Through this scheme, the women have also been able to contribute positively towards increasing the family income.
Benefits of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)
- As both a social and environmental programme, it aims to ensure that farming –particularly smallholder farming –is economically viable by enhancing farm biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- It reduces farmers’ costs by eliminating external inputs and using in-situ resources to rejuvenate soils.
- Cow dung from local cows has proven to be a miraculous cure to revive the fertility and nutrient value of soil.
- Zero budget natural farming requires only 10% water and 10% electricity than what is required under chemical and organic farming.
Why is it so important?
In a country like India, where even today, the majority of the population is directly dependent upon agriculture to sustain their livelihood, and we often come across unfortunate news of farmers committing suicides due to their inability to repay the loan if the crop fails, which involves high cost of input, because they are forced to obtain loans at unusual rates of interest from the moneylenders to purchase chemical fertilizers.
Zero Budget Natural Farming is based on the following pillars:
- Jeevamrutha: Water vapour condensation for better soil moisture.
- Bijamrita: Seed treatment with cow dung and urine-based formulations.
- Acchadana (Mulching): It protects topsoil during cultivation and does not destroy it by tilling.
- Whapasa: Thereby helping in reducing irrigation requirements.
Therefore, in the wake of climate change, it is a sustainable and cost-effective method of agriculture that should be promoted and adopted in other parts of the country as well.