Like many in the newsrooms, farmers in western Uttar Pradesh are also trying to make sense of “zero budget” farming that was mentioned by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman while presenting the Union Budget on Friday.
Rakesh Kumar of Behda Sadat village in Muzaffarnagar said that he had attended workshops of Subhash Palekar, the proponent of “zero budget” farming from Vidarbha, who was awarded the Padma Shri by the BJP government in 2016.
“What I understood was that if you practise mixed cropping, the cost of your main crop is recovered by the sale of cash crops that you sow alongside. Also, it is about using organic manure,” said Mr. Kumar, who has been practising it for the last two years. “It takes time but ultimately yields positive results. One should start by devoting small portion of land to organic farming as in the first couple of seasons the yield is low in comparison to the one sprinkled with chemical fertilisers.”
Mr. Kumar admitted it was hard to explain it to fellow farmers and he had to “face taunts” as there was no guidance and market for organic produce in rural areas. “It is where the government should step in and reduce dependence on middle men,” added Mr. Kumar, who retired from agriculture department of Uttar Pradesh government.
Not everybody is looking at long-term goals, though. Yogesh Solanki, a farmer in Pilakhwa, said that he didn’t know what “zero budget” farming stood for but he did know that the diesel prices were all set to rise. “It is going to affect my budget as I use tractor and diesel pump set.”
In Dankaur, Ravi Kumar, a sugarcane farmer, said he heard that it was about returning to methods that his grandfather used to practise. “If that is the case, I think it is just a piece of advice as we have come too far down the road. I don’t think it is practically possible to do without chemical fertilisers now. The soil has become used to it and the hybrid seeds require it as well.”
Dr. Moj Pal Singh, retired professor of Agriculture from Janta Vedic College, Baraut, said that it was more of a jumla (gimmick). “Like the promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, it has been made without checking the ground realities. The average landholding of farmers in western Uttar Pradesh is too small to practise it.”
‘Pay input costs’
Dr. Singh said that agriculture is the only field where the stakeholders were not involved in making policies. “For me, ‘zero budget’ farming would work when government will pay for the input costs of farmer. There could be another scheme like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Right now, in many areas, farm labour is doing better than farmers.”
Naresh Solanki, national vice-president of BJP Kisan Morcha, described such farming as a “progressive step”. “What we are seeing today are the ill-effects of Green Revolution, which emphasised on mono-cropping and use of chemical fertilisers. It worked for us in the ’70s and ’80s but now it is affecting not only the health of the soil but also of the farmers. I am not criticising previous governments as it was the demand of those times but as we have become self-sufficient in food production, it is desirable to return to indigenous methods of farming. It is the lobby of chemical fertilisers that prevent it from being implemented on a large scale,” said Mr. Solanki.
Meanwhile, the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) has threatened to start a protest from July 9 against the anti-farmer policies of the government.
President Bhanu Pratap Singh said the farmers supported the BJP during the Lok Sabha election but the party has not reciprocated. “Among other things, we demand the formation of a Kisan Aayog (Farmer Commission) which should decide the price of crops.”