Zero Budget Natural Farming is a method which intends chemical-free agricultural activity, viz. farming without using of Fertilizers, Agrochemicals/Pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides etc).
The Government of India has contemplated to promote this approach in large-scale very recently.
However, Pesticides Manufacturers & Formulators Assocoation of India(PMFAI), is not optimistic about success of ZBNF in current Indian farming, particularly in high land farming.
• The government is promoting Zero Budget Natural Farming. What are your views on the same?
First of all, though it is called as Zero Budget Farming, in reality ZBNF is not at all Zero Budget Farming as major expenses are incurred on Water, Electricity, Pumps, Seeds, Manpower etc. Even organic inputs like Cow dung, cow urine and Composts etc. comes at a cost, as majority of the farmers do not have their own cows, particularly the marginal farmers with small land holding. Vermicompost which is used in organic farming is very expensive input. Moreover, natural farming or organic farming is always labour intensive which pushes the production cost further. There are also indirect costs involved in terms of feeding the cattle, labour etc to produce cow dung, cow urine. For farming in higher land area of about more than 4 acres or so, practically ZBNF method of farming will be very difficult considering high quantity requirement of organic inputs.
Till 1950s Indian Agriculture was organic with nil use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. During those years the nation was facing poverty due to acute shortage of agricultural production and was depending on grain imports from global agricultural nations.
India’s agricultural growth only happened with use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides after the 1960s. The Green Revolution of India which commenced 1960s lead to increase in food productivity with use of technologies including quality fertilizers, pesticides and seeds. Accelerated growth in India’s agricultural output taken since 2000. While growth between 1970 to 2000 was to the tune of $76 bn; growth between 2000 to 2014 was to the tune of $ 266 bn. Currently India ranks second largest country in the world, surpassing the USA, Brazil etc with agricultural production to a value of $367 bn and eighth largest in agricultural exports with a value of $35 bn.
The World Bank in May 2014 mentioned – “India has brought about a landmark agricultural revolution that has transformed the nation from chronic dependence on grain imports into a global agricultural powerhouse that is now a net exporter of food”.
In India at present per hectare consumption of pesticides is one of the lowest in the world and stands at 0.6 kg/ha against the global average consumption of 3 kg/ha and 17 kg/ha consumption in China, 12.5 kg/ha consumption in Japan; 4.5 kg/ha consumption by USA, 3.7 kg/ha consumption in Germany & France and 2.8 kg/ha consumption in UK.
India is losing nearly one fifth of our crops to insect pests, diseases and weeds every year and the value of the crops lost is estimated to be a staggering over Rs.90,000 crores (in 2009) as per Government’s own statistics. While our population at present stands at 130 crores, it is expected to reach 150 crores by 2030. Pacing our agricultural production to that extend is very key, particularly in an era of climate change and ever reducing farmland due to urbanization and housing needs, which forces conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural usages.
Under such a situation, coming times will say, how Zero Budget Natural Farming without using technologies, is going to help or support achieving food security of the nation.
• What will be the effect on the Agro-chemicals (insecticides, pesticides, fertilisers etc) in the market? Do you see a decline in sales in the near future?
In the near future, I do not foresee any reduction from the current level of use of agrochemicals, as Farmers are unlikely to switch over to ZBNF model of farming in large-scale, as ZNBF method of farming have un-predictable agricultural produce output. Secondly, as mentioned above, already the country has one of the lowest consumption of pesticides and only 25% to 30% of cultivated area is coming under crop protection umbrella.
• In what ways can agro-chemicals be made soil and plant friendly reducing the chemical impact in farming?
Technology is always improving. Low dose molecules are entering the market. Modern chemical crop protection products have unique modes of action, based on the latest advances in sciences, and are designed to target noxious pests and weeds with minimal or no adverse effects on human health or non-target species.
• What are the challenges in ZBNF process?
Countering any major incidence of pest attacks and meeting the required plant nutrients for achieving desired productivity output will be key challenges. If the method fails in this front, farmers stands to lose their investment and mainly small land holding farmers (who are in majority) can’t afford to bear the losses.
Further, the seeds sowed in natural farming without treatments tends to affect the soil. The seeds can suffer mechanical injury during processing and these damaged seeds pave way for fungal spores to seed contamination. There could be fungal attack on damaged seeds which can make way for soil borne seed diseases.
Though there are high claims of large number of Farmers adopting the method of ZBNF, the reports are there even in media that only handful of farmers practising ZBNF in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. The reports in media mentions that Nagpur, Wardha and Amravati districts (Maharashtra) only few farmers involved in this method of farming. Similar situation in South ZBNF method is very limited to few areas of Palakkad, Thrissur, Wayanad and Ernakulam districts of Kerala. In Punjab also, hardly 1000 out of 1 Crore Acres of sowing area is utilized for natural farming.
Sikkim, the state which practice Organic Farming is heavily dependent on other states to feed its people. The organic farms are not found sustainable model due to low productivity and large requirement of organic manures. At the end organic farmers are compelled to sell the produce at premium price.
• Do you feel ZBNF can be a success in Indian farming improving the health of crops?
It has not scientifically proven that ZBNF method of farming improves the health of crops. Research institutions and Agricultural Universities are still studying on this aspect and also experimenting the method on various crops.
As we look back, pre-1960 experience is not encouraging. The claim of new method of ZNBF has not yet proven the capacity to even maintain the agricultural productivity though the need of the hour is increasing the productivity in pace with growing population. As I understand scientific research institutions like Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is still studying the ZBNF methods practised on basmati and wheat etc, evaluating the impact on productivity, economics and soil health including soil organic carbon and soil fertility. Reports from markets of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra says farmers have reverted to conventional farming after seeing their ZBNF returns drops.
The scientific community in India is unsure about the impact of Zero Budget Natural Farming because of lack of scientific analysis and also anonymity.
Considering the above situation, I am not optimistic about success of ZBNF in Indian farming, particularly in high land farming. Looking at the scenario and the needs, it is high time the country aims at increasing the agricultural productivity by adopting proven methods, as reverses can hit the economy very hard. Feeding the ever-growing population will be greatest challenge before the nation and the government.