Standing in the shade of his banana plantation, Nallamothu Sambasiva Rao looks at the rich yield with oa sense of achievement. The popular variety of banana, "karpuram" cultivated by him, is known for its delicacy and preferred in the local market.
Though there are many farmers who cultivate this variety, Mr. Rao stands out because he has been cultivating banana through natural farming for over a decade, and is reaping the benefits of organic cultivation. Firstly, the cost of cultivation has come down, and though there is no drastic increase in yield, he is able to make profits as the cost of cultivation is almost negligible.
Mr. Rao belongs to a group of farmers, who have adopted the zero budget natural farming advocated by Subhash Palekar. In Andhra Pradesh alone, about 3 lakh farmers have taken up organic farming, and over the last decade, 8% of farmers have enrolled in the ZBNF programme taken up by the AP Rythu Pradhikaraka Sadhikara, headed by Chief Adviser T. Vijaya Kumar, a retired civil servant.
The progressive farmer from Guntur district represents a new generation of farmers willing to go the natural way. A group of enterprising farmers at Athota village near Tenali have begun producing seed banks of their own and cultivating paddy in natural farming. Sambi Reddy from Kunchanapalli has been cultivating a variety of vegetables for many years.
Zero budget natural farming is a principle borne out of an idea to do farming in harmony with nature and to bring about a transformational change in the way farming is done. The spirit of Green Revolution has held sway over Indian farmers for over four decades with its thrust on bountiful production. It has also opened windows for indiscriminate use of chemical and synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, thereby contaminating the food we eat. There was also yet another lurking danger, that is steady loss of soil organic matter but more potently, the carbon emissions from the pesticide laced plants is around 24 per cent of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.
In this backdrop of a serious climate "emergency",’ that natural farming known globally as "Agroecology", began to be taken up with vigour. Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka is one of its earliest proponents, followed by many others across the world. In India, Subhash Palekar from Maharashtra has been working with passion motivating lakhs of farmers to take up natural farming.
Natural farming is based on a scientific soil food web which has the atmosphere as the source of water and nitrogen. The plants and the organic matter are source of food for nematodes which in turn absorb nitrogen from air, thereby increasing the soil fertility.
The force behind
In Andhra Pradesh, ZBNF began about 20 years back with women SHG members as its prime movers. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has since then advocated ZBNF and the numbers are rising, thanks to support from NGOs across the world. Aziz Premji Foundation has contributed ₹100 crore in five years. The success story of ZBNF in Andhra Pradesh is reflected in numbers — from 40,656 farmers in 2016-17, the numbers have increased to 5.30 lakh, in 3,011 villages spread across 2 lakh hectares.
The four wheels of ZBNF, as propagated by Mr. Palekar — beejamrutham, jeevamrutham , achhadana and waaphasa — have captured the imagination of farmers in the State.
A series of independent assessments like the one by the Centre for Economic and Social Studies have revealed that cost of cultivation has reduced significantly and though there is no huge difference in yields between ZBNF and non-ZBNF farmers, ZBNF farmers reported better soil health, crop health, resilience, economic empowerment and dignity of labour.