While the government continues to lay stress on zero-budget-natural-farming, a group of top agriculture scientists have come out against ZBNF to say it simply doesn’t work.
While the government continues to lay stress on zero-budget-natural-farming (ZBNF)—the budget speech spoke of it, as did the prime minister, at the UN convention on fighting desertification—a group of top agriculture scientists have come out against ZBNF to say it simply doesn’t work; the budget had talked of how farmers were being trained in ZBNF, which can help “in doubling our farmers’ income in time for our 75th year of Independence”. The National Academy of Agriculture Sciences (NAAS) is headed by Panjab Singh, a former director of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and it has over 650 fellows across the country. Singh told The Indian Express that over 75 experts had focused on the benefits of ZBNF—essentially, traditional farming without the use of chemical-based fertilisers and pesticides—and its protocols, and concluded that there was no verifiable data to support the assertion that this was a better practice.
ZBNF’s basic principle is that, with most nutrients for crops already present in the air, there was little to be got from using chemical inputs. ZBNF involves using mixtures based on urine, and dung from desi cows; indeed, it is the black-coloured Kapila cow whose dung, and urine are said to work best. So, even if the yield falls a little, the argument goes, given the price of organic produce is higher than that of chemically-grown produce, and because there are no expenses on chemical fertlisers and pesticides, the profits for the farmers are higher.
What NAAS is arguing, however, is that there is no proof of this. Indeed, if yields from using chemical inputs are 30-50% higher as compared to organic farming, this means prices of the latter have to be at least 30-50% higher for the balance to tilt in its favour; costs of fertilisers and pesticides are typically 5-7% of the sale prices of most farm produce. The problem, however, is that it is not clear how India will feed its 1.2 billion people if output falls by such a large amount. Indeed, if the case for ZBNF was so obvious, it is not clear why farmers haven’t adopted it in large enough numbers; by way of example, when Bt cotton seeds were made available, it took just a couple of years for most of India to be covered with such seeds since farmers were quick to see its advantages. And, while it is certainly true that organic produce fetches higher prices, this is only in certain types of niche markets; getting a higher price, consistently, for large-scale organic farming is going to take several decades of consistent, and successful marketing. While the prime minister was probably too quick to back ZBNF, it is just as well that ICAR has now set up a committee to examine its viability. For starters, if the government is convinced about ZBNF’s viability, it should start dismantling the expensive fertiliser subsidy network.