According to an expert committee set up by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) methods that exclude all synthetic chemical inputs and promote the use of on-farm biomass — would result in a ‘tremendous reduction’ in agricultural crop production, jeopardizing India’s food security.
The ICAR formed a committee in 2019 to empirically validate the results of the ZBNF, which was promoted by Maharashtra-based Subhash Palekar, and the farm practice was stated in two budget speeches by FM in 2019-20 and 2020-21, where she referred to it as an ‘innovative model for doubling farmers’ income. If ZBNF is adopted on a big scale, there will be enormous yield loss, which may jeopardize India’s food security,’ V Praveen Rao, vice-chancellor, Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, chairman of the ICAR-appointed member committee, told.
Rainfed not irrigated zones produce majority
The committee is expected to present its report soon. While emphasizing the importance of conducting long-term field trials on ZBNF, the 16-member committee comprised of agricultural scientists and farmers has proposed that future research on ZBNF be conducted only in rainfed regions rather than irrigated zones, which produce the majority of agricultural crops in the country.
According to agricultural scientists, India has emerged as one of the largest producers of several agricultural crops such as rice, wheat, pulses, and oilseeds as a result of the Green Revolution, which began in the early 1970s with the introduction of high yielding seeds, the application of chemical fertilizer, and guaranteed irrigation. However, during the last four decades or more, there has been a gradual deterioration in soil health due to the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
ICAR committee assessement
Instead of ZBNF, the ICAR committee recommends an integrated production system based on agricultural practices such as conservation agriculture using farmyard manure, intercropping, crop variety, and integrated nutrient management to improve soil health.
According to Rao, the ICAR team read more than 1,400 scholarly papers on various approaches to promoting sustainable agriculture, in addition to speaking with farmers in seven states who claimed to have embraced ZBNF.
The committee assessed all main crops, including rice, wheat, pulses, cotton, and oilseeds. Many ZBNF elements, such as Jeewamrit (soil-microbial enhancer), Beejamrit (seed-microbial coating), Acchadana (Mulching), and Waaphasa (soil-aeration), are presently used in conservation agriculture. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is implementing Bhartiya Prakritik Krishi Padhati (BPKP), a sub-scheme of the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), which focuses on fostering traditional indigenous methods such as ZBNF, since 2020-21.
The BPKP has covered an area of 4.09 lakh hectares. Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar recently stated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of reducing farmers’ reliance on purchased inputs through ZBNF, which lowers agricultural costs by relying on traditional field-based technologies and leads to improved soil health through natural farming, should be realized. Meanwhile, ICAR has agreed to design a curriculum in conjunction with agriculture institutions and subject specialists for the inclusion of ZBNF in undergraduate and postgraduate curricula.