During her budget 2019-20 speech in July 2019, Union finance minister, Nirmala Sitaraman highlighted the government thrust on Zero based natural farming as one of the possible solution for doubling farmer’s income. Later, Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot also announced that State Budget 2019-20 will encourage ‘natural farming’. Consequently it has been decided that Zero Budget Natural Farming will be taken up in 36 Gram Panchayat of Banswara, Tonk and Sirohi at the cost of `10 crore, benefiting 20 thousand farmers.
What is Zero Budget Natural Farming ?
Subhash Palekar, an agriculturalist from Belora village of Amravati district in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region is the creator of the ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ model in India. The word ‘budget’ refers to credit and expenses, thus the phrase ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with Nature and without chemicals.
Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is a method of chemical free agriculture based out of traditional Indian practices. It has attained wide success in southern India, especially the southern Indian state of Karnataka where it first evolved. Additionally, in this method of farming, the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero. This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides from market to ensure the healthy growth of crops.
The Four Pillars of ZBNF
1. Jivamrita/jeevamrutha: ZBNF promotes the application of jeevamrutha — a mixture of fresh desi cow dung and aged desi cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil — on farmland. This is a fermented microbial culture that adds nutrients to the soil, and acts as a catalytic agent to promote the activity of microorganisms and earthworms in the soil.
2. Bijamrita/beejamrutha: 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. It is used for treatment of seeds, seedlings or any planting material.
3. Acchadana – Mulching: According to Palekar, there are three types of 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). Palekar’s approach to soil fertility is very simple – provide dry organic material which will decompose and form humus through the activity of the soil biota which is activated by microbial cultures.
- 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 of 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: Palekar challenges the idea that plant roots need a lot of water, thus countering the over reliance on irrigation in green revolution farming. According to him, what roots need is water vapor. Whapasa is the condition where there are both air molecules and water molecules present in the soil, and he encourages reducing irrigation, irrigating only at noon, in alternate furrows ZBNF farmers report a significant decline in need for irrigation in ZBNF.
Besides above, The ZBNF method also promotes intercropping, contours and bunds, revival of local species of earthworms and usage of cow dung and discourages intensive irrigation and deep ploughing.