Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is back on top of the Government’s agenda with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to highlight it at a national conclave in Gujarat later this week.
Despite the lack of scientific studies providing evidence of the impact of the method, which largely depends on replacing chemical pesticides and fertilizers with concoctions using the dung and urine of indigenous cows, the Centre has sanctioned support for converting four lakh hectares in eight States to ZBNF methods this year, Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agrawal told journalists on Monday. He said the committee to discuss minimum support price guarantees is also expected to take up ZBNF promotion, and would be set up “very soon”.
On mission mode
“The Prime Minister has announced this [committee]. It has to be taken up on mission mode and zero budget natural farming also. Very soon, in the near future, it will be set up,” he said, refusing to answer further queries on the composition, mandate or timeline of the committee.
The committee is part of the Government’s agreement made with farm unions under the banner of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, which called off their year-long agitation on the borders of Delhi last week. A legal guarantee for MSP was among their key demands.
The Ministry, however, is more focussed on the ZBNF aspect for now. A national summit on agro and food processing, with a focus on natural farming, will be held from December 14 to 16 in Anand, Gujarat, with the PM expected to address 5,000 farmers in the valedictory session.
No large-scale scientific study
Mr. Agrawal said though no large-scale scientific study has yet provided proof of ZBNF’s effectiveness, the increasing number of farmers adopting the method especially in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh indicated that they had experienced its benefits. “Because it is unproven does not mean it is not good. Scientific studies have not been completed, but in the field it is being proven. It is the farmers’ own practices which are showcasing this,” he said.
Of the eight States which have submitted proposals for support under the Centre’s Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana scheme, Andhra Pradesh has the biggest ambition to bring one lakh additional hectares of land under ZBNF, followed by Chhattisgarh and Gujarat.
The ZBNF method is meant to reduce input costs by eliminating the need for expensive fertilizers and pesticides, and also protect soil health and conserve water resources. However, some early adopters in Maharashtra complained about a drop in yields, productivity and income over time, and subsequently abandoned the experiment to return to conventional agricultural methods.
Senior agricultural scientists had also expressed concern about a wholesale shift to unproven methods. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research is conducting ongoing studies on the impact of ZBNF methods on productivity, economics and soil health at multiple locations in the grain basket States of north-western India, but has yet to release any results.