What is Zero Budget Natural Farming?
Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a chemical-free farming method. The entire cost of producing and harvesting plants is zero (considering the costs incurred by the farmer recover through inter-cropping). Sounds incorrect? Right! Let’s first understand its concept and principles and how it actually works.
ZBNF is an adaptation of ancient methods, not an avant-garde concept. This agricultural method promotes farmers to employ low-cost, locally obtained natural inputs. It includes cow dung, urine, and dried plant debris) rather than inorganic inputs.
ZBNF helps farmers practice sustainable farming. It helps to maintain soil fertility, ensuring chemical-free agriculture and low production costs (zero-cost).The term ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ gained popularity when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced it in her 2019 budget address as a way to double farmers’ income.
Subhash Palekar, a Padma Shri laureate, and Indian agriculturist from Maharashtra, India, pioneered it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution’s tactics of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and intense irrigation. He believed that the growing expense of these external inputs was the primary cause of farmer indebtedness and suicide.
At the same time, the impact of chemicals on the environment and long-term fertility was terrible. Without the need to spend money on these inputs — or take out loans to acquire them — the production cost might decrease, and farming could be turned into a “zero budget” activity, ending the debt cycle for many small farmers.
As a consequence of a partnership between agriculturist Subhash Palekar and the state farmers group Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, zero budget natural farming grew as a farming movement in Karnataka, India. After achieving significant success in Karnataka, farmers consequently duplicated the approach in many other Indian states, notably in South India.
Principles of Zero Budget Natural Farming
- No external inputs.
- Local seeds (use of local varieties)
- Microbial Seed treatment.
- Microbial inoculants for soil health.
- Cover crops for biomass mulching and bio-mass incorporation. It creates a suitable micro-climate for maximum beneficial microbial activity.
- Mixed cropping
- Integration of trees into the farm.
- Integration of livestock, especially of native breed for cow dung and cow urine, is an essential input for several practices.
- Water and moisture conservation.
Four Major Elements of Zero Budget Natural Farming
- It involves the Seed Treatment with local cow dung and urine. Farmers need to treat seeds with formulations made from indigenous cow dung and urine since they are more adaptable to our local climatic conditions and easier to manage by small and marginal farmers.
- In order to control insects and pests, farmers treat seeds with Bijamrita while using neem leaf and pulp extracts, tobacco, and green chilies.
- Farmers prepared it from 5kg cow dung tied in cloth and dipped in a container with 50 liters of water overnight. Five liters of cow urine, a handful of soil and 50g of calcium chloride are added to this extract.
Fungus and other seed-borne/soilborne diseases can harm seeds sowed in the field. Bijamrita helps to protect the seeds from different diseases in zero budget natural farming.
- Farmers need to use cow dung and urine to make Jiwamrita for use as a fertilizer for plants in zero-budget natural farming.Farmers use Cow dung, urine, jaggery, pulse flour, and uncontaminated soil to prepare this fermented microbial culture.
- When applied to soil, this fermented microbial culture contributes nutrients while also functioning as a catalytic agent to enhance the activity of microorganisms and earthworms. In zero budget natural farming
- Consequently, Farmers should spray Approximately 500 liters of jeevamrutha twice a month per hectare of land; the system should become self-sustaining after three years. For 30 acres of land, one indigenous cow is adequate.
Instead of artificial fertilizers, Farmers will put this culture into the soil. This microbial culture in zero budget natural farming boosts microbial activity in the soil, which improves nutrient availability for plants, protects crops from soil diseases, and raises soil carbon content.
Importance of Cow Dung
Cow dung is a natural resource for restoring soil fertility and nutritional value. Cow dung contains between 300 and 500 billion helpful microorganisms per gram. These microorganisms aid in decomposing biomass in the soil and converting available/ready-to-use nutrients for crop production.
- Mulching is the practice of covering the topsoil with agricultural residues, organic waste, or cover crops.
- Mulching materials degrade and generate humus, which conserves topsoil, boosts the soil’s water retention capacity, reduces evaporation loss, supports soil fauna, improves soil nutritional status, and reduces weed development.
- Farmers practice various cropping patterns of monocotyledons and dicotyledons planted in the same field as a live mulch. It offers all essential elements to the soil and crops. For example Legume dicots fix nitrogen. Rice and wheat provide potash, phosphate, and sulphur.
Benefits: Using natural mulching in zero budget natural farming controls the growth of unwanted weeds in the field. It conserves the moisture for a more extended period, thus decreasing water requirement.
(4) Waaphasa (Soil Aeration)
- Plant Growth and development require enough aeration in the soil. The zero budget natural farming idea rejects the use of vermicompost because it brings the European Red Wiggler, the most frequent composting worm, to Indian soil, which absorbs harmful metals and harms groundwater and soil.
- Aeration loosens the soil, oxidises it, and helps the roots to absorb the vital nutrients and grow as vigorously as possible.
- Whapasa is the situation in which both air and water molecules are present in the soil, and he recommends limiting irrigation and just irrigating in alternate furrows during noon. Farmers in ZBNF report a significant reduction in the requirement for irrigation.
Benefits: Applying Jiwamrita and mulching enhances soil aeration, which improves humus content, water availability, water holding capacity, and soil structure. This is ideal for crop development, especially during droughts.
Cropping Model in Zero Budget Natural Farming
Farmers practice intercropping, which involves the plantation of short and long-duration crops together. The expense of raising the main crops gets compensated by the money generated by the short-duration crops, resulting in “zero” spending on the main crop. As a result, this farming technique is popular as “Zero Budget Natural Farming.”
Difference Between Organic Farming
Organic fertilizers and manures, such as compost, vermicompost, and cow dung manure, are utilized and applied to farmlands in organic farming. Natural farming does not use chemical or organic fertilizers on the soil. In reality, no additional nutrients are applied to the soil or given to the plants. Ploughing, tilting, mixing manure, weeding, and other fundamental agricultural operations are still required in organic farming. There is no ploughing, no soil tilting, no fertilizers, and no weeding in natural farming, precisely as it would be in natural ecosystems. However, Organic farming is still expensive due to the need for bulk manures. It has an environmental effect; nevertheless, zero budget natural farming is a low-cost agricultural system that fully integrates with local biodiversity.
Benefits of Zero Budget Natural Farming
- Farmers are becoming increasingly indebted and suicidal as the cost of external inputs (fertilizers and pesticides) rises. According to data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), about 70% of agricultural households spend more than they make, with more than half of all farmers in debt.
- Because ZBNF does not require spending money or taking out loans for external inputs, Farmers might minimize the cost of production, and farming could become a “zero budget” endeavor.
- A zero-cost, the ecologically friendly farming system is undoubtedly a relevant attempt at a time when chemical-intensive farming is causing soil and environmental deterioration.
- Moreover, ZBNF approach encourages soil aeration, limited watering, intercropping, bunds, and topsoil mulching, whereas excessive irrigation and deep ploughing are discouraged.
- Zero budget natural farming is suitable for all crops and agro-climatic zones.
- In June 2018, Andhra Pradesh announced an ambitious ambition to become India’s first state to practice 100 percent natural farming by 2024, citing the benefits of ZBNF.
- According to reports in “Life Cycle Assessment of ZBNF and Non-ZBNF in Andhra Pradesh,” ZBNF processes require 50–60 percent less water and less electricity (than non-ZBNF) for all the selected crops.
- Additionally, Zero budget natural farming reduces methane emissions significantly through multiple aerations. It also has the potential to avoid residue burning by practicing mulching.
Criticism of ZBNF
- After witnessing their ZBNF yields diminish after a few years, many farmers have resorted to traditional farming.
- While ZBNF has undoubtedly aided in preserving soil fertility, its contribution to increased production and farmer income has yet to be shown.
- The zero budget natural farming promotes the need for an Indian breed cow, whose numbers are rapidly dwindling.
ZBNF is a climate-resilient agricultural system distinct from organic farming. Moreover, it strives to promote agroecology and low-cost agriculture practices by gathering all vital resources from the field and introducing nothing from outside. It has been successful in quite a few states in India. But conclusive results regarding increasing production and farmers’ income are yet to come. However, this chemical-free approach to farming can be an excellent initiative for the people who love to grow their food and have a significant area of farmland as it doesn’t involve the use of high-cost harmful chemicals.