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Zero Budget Natural Farming: The other dimension

Zero Budget Natural Farming: The other dimension

This blog discusses the often overlooked economic and social aspects of sustainable farming and to what extent Zero Budget Natural Farming addresses them.

What is zero budget natural farming

Zero budget natural farming or ZBNF as it is popularly known as, is a new type of agro-ecological farming aimed at minimizing external inputs on the farm, bringing farmers out of the debt cycle by reducing monetary investment and producing crops using only ecologically sound and sustainable methods and processes.[1] Pioneered by Subhash Palekar, ZBNF has gained traction among Indian farmers especially after the state of Andhra Pradesh announced its aspiring mission to bring all of its cultivable land under ZBNF programme by 2024.[2] While the programme is estimated to cost USD 2.3 billion, there are concerns brewing among many how ZBNF programme will actually affect the farmers of Andhra Pradesh and, as a popularizing model of agro-ecological farming, the Indian farmers.[3]

Before assessing ZBNF as a sustainable agro-ecological farming model, it is necessary to first understand what all aspects are included in the term “sustainable farming”. Sustainable farming means to produce crops using methods and processes that do not cause any environmental harm, do not degrade any natural resources, use renewable energy sources and to build an ecological system on the farm that is self-sustaining for a long period of time. Also, for any sustainable farming method to succeed, it must address not only the biophysical aspects of farming but also the aspects of economic viability and social equity.[4] Especially in the context of India where 70 percent of its rural households primarily depend on agriculture for their livelihood, any sustainable farming model must address persistent inequalities in terms of class, caste and gender within rural communities.[5]

The majority of literature on ZBNF model only focuses on the biophysical aspects of farming and does not address the economic and social aspects. On the evaluation of the biophysical aspects, in terms of sustainability, ZBNF seems promising. The ZBNF model is based on using everything “desi” from the breed of the cow to the variety of the seeds. This is one of the main attractions and strengths of the model (despite questions of effectiveness of processes used), as it promises to eliminate the use of all external inputs and thereby reducing the cost of farming drastically.

However, these processes mainly depend on the availability and ownership of at least one cow of the native breed with the farmer. According to a 2012 survey, around 68 percent of ZBNF farmers owned at least one cow.[1] According to the same survey, 71.1 percent of the ZBNF farmers owned more than 2 hectares of land.[2] While in India, 86.2 percent of all farmers are small or marginal farmers with less than 2 hectares of land.[3] This clearly indicates that the majority of farmers reaping the benefit of ZBNF are farmers with semi-medium to large landholdings those who have the land to integrate livestock in their agriculture. According to R. Vasavi, the same strata of farmers were the ones who were benefited from the green revolution movement in the 1960’s.[4] Vasavi argues that these medium to large farmers that benefited from the green revolution were those who belonged to upper dominant castes which helped them consolidate their economic and social status. These farmers, who are also troubled by the rising costs of external inputs, are most likely to adopt ZBNF because of the availability of land to experiment and their better economic status compared to farmers with very small to small land holdings. To conclude, the possibility of ZBNF movement not addressing the social equity but catering to the same caste structure that the green revolution movement catered to is very high.

Other major drawback of the ZBNF on the economic front is its adaptability for small and marginal farmers in the transition period. Action Research report on ZBNF states that the results will not be encouraging during the period of transition and the results will only appear after adequate mulching and restoration of biological activity in the soil and the report

advises the farmers to maintain patience and perseverance.[1] But the question here is whether the Indian farmers, especially the small and marginal scale, have the economic viability to survive during the transition period. The length of the transition period and the question of survivability are dependent on the path dependency. The transition period may be longer and shorter based on several aspects like how extensively chemical agriculture was practiced on the land previously, how degraded the soil is, existence of microbial activity in the soil etc. Therefore, the farmer making the transition to ZBNF must have the economic viability to survive through the transition period. In the current scenario, amidst the worsening agrarian crisis in the country, while 76 percent farmers of the 5000 household surveyed by CSDS (Center for Study of Developing society) want to give up farming because of extensive losses caused due to factors like unseasonal rains, pest attack, droughts etc., transitioning to ZBNF seems like a mammoth of a challenge.[2] [3]

Overall, the ZBNF as an agro-ecological model seems promising but for it to be sustainable, it must addresses the social and economic dimension. The government’s support in terms of subsidies and minimum support prices might help.

 

Harish K Chandran

Management Trainee

Dr. Reddy’s Foundation

 

 


[1] Babu, R. Yogananda, “ACTION RESEARCH REPORT ON SUBHASH PALEKAR’S ZERO BUDGET NATURAL FARMING”, Action Research, Pg-4, Accessed April 29, 2019. http://www.atimysore.gov.in/PDF/action_research1.pdf
[2] Sood Jyotica, “India’s deepening farm crisis: 76% farmers want to give up farming, shows study”, Down to Earth, Published on March 12, 2018. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/indias-deepening-farm-crisis-76-farmers-want-to-give-up-farming-shows-study-43728
[3] Mahapatra, Richard, “India heads to an unprecedented rural economic crisis”, Down to Earth, Published on April 10, 2019. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/agriculture/india-heads-to-an-unprecedented-rural-economic-crisis-63923
[1] Khadse, Ashlesha, “Taking agroecology to scale: the Zero Budget Natural Farming peasant movement in Karnataka, India”, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Published on February 14, 2017, Pg-200, Table 3.  https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2016.1276450
[2] Khadse, Ashlesha, “Taking agroecology to scale: the Zero Budget Natural Farming peasant movement in Karnataka, India”, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Published on February 14, 2017, Pg-200, Table 3.  https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2016.1276450
[3] Bera, Sayantan, “Small and marginal farmers own just 47.3% of crop area, shows farm census”, Live mint, Published on October 1, 2018. https://www.livemint.com/Politics/k90ox8AsPMdyPDuykv1eWL/Small-and-marginal-farmers-own-just-473-of-crop-area-show.html
[4] Vasavi, A.R.,”Shadow Space: Suicides and Predicament of Rural India”, Three Essays Collective, Published in January, 2012, Pg-48.
[1] Babu, R. Yogananda, “ACTION RESEARCH REPORT ON SUBHASH PALEKAR’S ZERO BUDGET NATURAL FARMING”, Action Research, Pg-4, Accessed April 29, 2019. http://www.atimysore.gov.in/PDF/action_research1.pdf
[2] Bhattacharya, Aritra, “Farmers or corporates: Who benefits from Andhra Pradesh’s natural farming project?”, Scroll.in, Published on February 14, 2019. https://scroll.in/article/909759/farmers-or-corporates-who-benefits-from-andhra-pradeshs-natural-farming-project
[3]  Bhattacharya, Aritra, “Farmers or corporates: Who benefits from Andhra Pradesh’s natural farming project?”, Scroll.in, Published on February 14, 2019. https://scroll.in/article/909759/farmers-or-corporates-who-benefits-from-andhra-pradeshs-natural-farming-project
[4] Molina Manuel, Casado Gloria, “Agroecology and Ecological Intensification.
A Discussion from a Metabolic Point of View”, MDPI Switzerland, Published on January 10, 2017. Pg-3.
[5] “India at a glance”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Accessed April 30, 2019. http://www.fao.org/india/fao-in-india/india-at-a-glance/en/
[1] Khadse, Ashlesha, “Taking agroecology to scale: the Zero Budget Natural Farming peasant movement in Karnataka, India”, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Published on February 14, 2017, Pg-200, Table 3.  https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2016.1276450
[1] Khadse, Ashlesha, “Taking agroecology to scale: the Zero Budget Natural Farming peasant movement in Karnataka, India”, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Published on February 14, 2017, Pg-200, Table 3.  https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2016.1276450
[1] Bera, Sayantan, “Small and marginal farmers own just 47.3% of crop area, shows farm census”, Live mint, Published on October 1, 2018. https://www.livemint.com/Politics/k90ox8AsPMdyPDuykv1eWL/Small-and-marginal-farmers-own-just-473-of-crop-area-show.html
[1] Vasavi, A.R.,”Shadow Space: Suicides and Predicament of Rural India”, Three Essays Collective, Published in January, 2012, Pg-48.

 



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