At a time when farmers have turned to using GM crops, especially Bt Birnjal and Bt Cotton despite banned, speaks volumes about the desperation of the farmers. These chemically modified seeds give higher yields and thus more money; that’s all the farmer wants right now as the natural method does not seem to be working.
And in this atmosphere, the Finance Minister proposed adoption of the “Zero budget” farming. “Budget” here refers to the cost v/s expenses – thus using natural methods of farming, zero budget farming aims to get farmers out of the debt cycle. Privatized seeds, inputs, and markets are inaccessible and expensive for peasants. Indian farmers increasingly find themselves in a vicious cycle of debt, because of the high production costs, high interest rates for credit, the volatile market prices of crops, the rising costs of fossil fuel based inputs, and private seeds.
Zero Budget farming promises to end the reliance on loans and bring down production costs thus getting desperate farmers out of the debt cycle. “Zero” aims to bring about farming without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. 'Natural farming' means farming with Nature and without chemicals.
Under the current circumstances where farmers in Marathwada are exploring the option of artificial rain, this kind of farming seems merely Utopian and altruistic. Once again, like the entire Budget, the thought is very good but implementation looks impossible.
This method of farming was pioneered by Padmashri Subhash Palekar. Known as Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), six states - Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Karnataka, even before the Budget, had asked Palekar to train their farmers in ZBNF.
ZBNF has three tenets – jivamrita – which promotes microbial activity; Bijamrita – which promotes seed health and this is done using Acchadana, which is natural mulch, which in turn will protect the soil too.
From an environmental perspective, this is simply fantastic but how viable is ZBNF commercially viable? There is no data which shows that ZBNF promotes increased income or even sustainable income. Thus when this itself is at a nascent stage, how can this method of farming become the solution to end all farmer woes?
Our agriculture sector too vast for this and there are more than 1 billion people now dependent on this sector. How can ZBNF feed these billion mouths?
Actually we currently produce more than enough to be self-sufficient but farmers are in this dire straits due to lower yields, inefficiency, lack of information, outdated machines and technology, poor investments, very little R&D and access to markets.
So before we get to ZBNF, we need to first address these issues plaguing the sector. Work needs to be done on a war footing to set up more Agricultural Produce Market Committees or ‘APMC markets’ – currently we have only 6630 when the need is for 41,000.
Private and public sector collaboration, with huge investments in the sector is the only way ahead.
Zeru Budget farming is a very noble thought – that’s all it can be as of now.