Large scale adoption of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) — farm practices which exclude all synthetic chemical inputs and promote use of on-farm biomass — would result in ‘tremendous reduction’ in production of agricultural crops thus comprising India’s food security, an expert committee set up by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has stated.
ICAR had set up the committee in 2019 to empirically validate the results of ZBNF, which was promoted by Maharashtra-based Subhash Palekar and the farm practice was mentioned in two budget speeches of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in 2019-20 and 2020-21, where she referred to it as ‘innovative model for doubling farmers’ income’.“There would be tremendous yield loss if ZBNF is adopted on a large scale which may compromise India’s food security,” V Praveen Rao, vice-chancellor, Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, chairman of the ICAR-appointed member committee, told FE.
The committee is likely to submit its report soon.While stressing for need to conduct long-term field trials on ZBNF, the 16-member committee consisting of agricultural scientists and farmers has suggested that future research on ZBNF should be carried out only in rainfed regions instead of irrigated zones which produce the biggest chunk of agricultural crops production in the country.
Agricultural scientists say that because of the Green Revolution initiated in early 1970s through introduction of high yielding seeds, application of chemical fertiliser and assured irrigation, India has emerged as one of the biggest producers of several agricultural crops such as rice, wheat, pulses and oilseeds. However, in the last four decades or so there has been gradual degradation of soil health because of excessive use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides.
In place of ZBNF, the ICAR committee has recommended adoption of an integrated production system through usage of farm practices such as conservation agriculture through usage of farmyard manure, inter-cropping, crop diversification and integrated nutrient management for improving soil health.According to Rao, the ICAR committee went through more than 1,400 scientific journals on various methods of promotion of sustainable agriculture besides interacting with farmers who have claimed to have adopted ZBNF across seven states.
The committee covered all the major crops such as rice, wheat, pulses, cotton and oilseeds in their assessments.Many of the elements of ZBNF such as name of Beejamrit (seed-microbial coating), Jeewamrit (soil-microbial enhancer), Waaphasa (soil-aeration), and Acchadana (Mulching), etc, are currently practised under the conservation agriculture.At present, Bhartiya Prakritik Krishi Padhati (BPKP), a sub scheme of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), is being implemented by ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare since 2020-21, which focuses on promoting traditional indigenous practices including ZBNF.
Under BPKP, an area of 4.09 lakh hectares has been covered.Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar recently said that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to minimise the dependence of farmers on purchased inputs through ZBNF that reduces the cost of agriculture by relying on traditional field-based technologies which leads to improved soil health through natural farming should be fulfilled.Meanwhile, ICAR has decided to develop a curriculum in consultation with agriculture universities and subject experts for inclusion of ZBNF in the syllabus at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.