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Modi govt backs cow dung-based farming. Now its own officials call it a ‘myth’

Over 60 serving and ex-govt officials, a NITI Aayog member & scientists have published a paper warning that ZBNF method could threaten national food security.

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New Delhi: Top serving and retired government officials, agriculture scientists and policymakers have warned that the zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) method, actively promoted by the Modi government, could lead to severe food shortage in the country. 

The ZBNF is a low-cost farming method propounded by the 2016 Padma Shri awardee Subhash Palekar. It involves the application of a mixture of fresh indigenous cow dung and urine along with jaggery, pulses and flour on the soil to be cultivated. 

But a policy paper published by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), a government-funded science agency, in the first week of December has warned that the ZBNF method, if adopted widely, is likely to result in a significant drop of national food grain production over the years.

“Even a drop below the half mark, with increasing pressures of climate change could lead India to severe food shortages,” states the the paper titled Zero Budget Natural Farming — A myth or reality. 

The paper, which has contributions from Trilochan Mahapatra, secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education, Ministry of Agriculture; and Ramesh Chand, NITI Aayog member, describes ZBNF as a “myth” that is not supported by science.

It further states that the ZBNF method had been practiced in the pre-Independence period, and had led to multiple famines then.

The paper points out that one-fourth of the world’s hungry and 40 per cent of the world’s undernourished, stunted, and wasted children live in India. On the other hand, increasing income, especially of 80 per cent of small and marginal and resource-poor farmers is also a big challenge. 

In such a scenario, the paper states that if all the production zones of the country adopted ZBNF, it would lead to “massive damage to the hard-earned knowledge and benefits of agricultural R&D earned over the last 70 years”.   

The paper has been prepared with contributions from 62 serving and former government officials, agriculture scientists and academics from the sector.

It comes on the back of the Modi government actively promoting the ZBNF method. In her Budget speech on 5 July, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman referred to the ZBNF and said such steps can help in “doubling our farmers’ income in time for our 75th year of Independence”. 

Also read: This is how India can make sure onions are available throughout the year and at good price 

‘ZBNF will result in drastic decrease in yield’ 

According to the paper, field tests conducted by the government to assess the viability of ZBNF have resulted in a sharp decline in production.

Tests conducted by the ICAR-Indian Institute of Farming System Research (IIFSR), Modipuram, have shown drastic reduction in yield levels of rice-wheat cropping system that is crucial to national food security, the paper states. There was a 59 per cent production decline in wheat and 32 per cent in basmati.

The University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, also experimenting on the yield returns of ZBNF in the last three years, has found a 30 per cent decline in soybean-wheat, groundnut-sorghum and maize-chickpea production. There was also a 17 per cent production decline in the cotton-groundnut intercropping system. As a result, the paper infers that the country’s food security will be seriously challenged along with the farmers’ income if ZBNF is adopted.

NAAS fellow, Dr R.S. Paroda, who has served as the director general of the  Indian Council of Agricultural Research and as a secretary in the agriculture ministry, told ThePrint that ZBNF is not viable with the country’s increasing population.

“The current wheat production of India requires five times more land if it has to happen through ZBNF,” he said.   

He also cited the exorbitant price of agriculture products charged in the name of organic and natural farming.

“We aim to impart food security to 67 per cent of Indian population, which means providing them cereal and pulses at Rs 1-3/kg. This is impossible to achieve through ZBNF yields,” Paroda added.  

Also read: To feed the world by 2050, we will have to build the plants that evolution didn’t

‘Will not fulfil nutrient demand’

The paper states that due to the intensive nature of agriculture in India, the continuous raising of crops exhausts soil nutrients that have to be replenished. These deficiencies become a yield-limiting factor, it adds. 

According to the paper, in the rice-wheat system the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) requirement cannot be fulfilled for higher productivity levels without the application of chemical fertilisers. Fertilisers, however, are prohibited in the ZBNF method. 

The paper also sets out to debunk the ZBNF claims that dung and urine from one indigenous cow can support 30 acres (12 ha) of land. For one, the paper says, the cow has to be indigenous Kapila cow and not other cattle like exotic or crossbred cows, bulls or buffaloes. 

The scientists and officials write that on an average, a cow yields around 5,000 kg dung in a year that supplies 12 kg Nitrogen. Keeping in mind the fertiliser requirement for a hectare, it’s difficult to support the cultivation of 12 hectares of agricultural land by ZBNF, the paper states.   

It further points out that India will soon become the most populous country in the world with an anticipated population of nearly 1.7 billion by 2050. “If India is to attain and maintain a GDP growth rate of 8.0%, then we need to produce 457 million tonnes (MT) of food grains (including 50.3 Mt of pulses) by 2050,” it states.

“Similar increase in production level of other food items like edible oils (45.2 MT), vegetables (438.6 MT), fruits (183.4 MT), milk (483.6 MT), sugar (58.2 MT), meat (18.1 MT), eggs (202.5 billions) and fish (27.0 MT) is also required.” 

This, the paper adds, would require four times increase in land productivity, a three-time increase in water productivity, doubling of energy use efficiency along with a six-fold increase in labour productivity. 

So even if half of the small and marginal farmers, who constitute 86 per cent of the total farmers in the country, adopt ZBNF, it could have a devastating impact on national food security.

The paper concludes that the writers are of the opinion that there is no scope for an incremental value gained by the farmer or the consumer through ZBNF.

“Therefore, it is recommended that the Government of India should invest capital, efforts, time and human resources towards developing a strong research base and technologies to produce ‘more from less for more’ instead of promoting a technology like ZBNF,” the paper states.  

Also read: High time Indian farmers are freed from shackles imposed by 1960s’ food-shortage mindset


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  1. Performing alternative agriculture: Critique and recuperation in Zero Budget Natural Farming, South India


    Please send this to the Indian Scientist forum – this is what they should be doing. Point out the illogical parts and show the parts that helps the farmers rather than taking a political stand.

  2. It is not a myth or without scientific basis. ZBNF is a regenerative agriculture paradigm tailored for India. Even chemical agricultural scientist would agree that in forest soils with trees with deep roots, you don’t need any chemicals for cultivation. ZBNF is in fact a bio-mimicry technique to emulate a forest environment with the multi layer plants and trees with the application of a bio fertilizer (jeevamrutham).

    And there is science behind it as well with several published papers on regenerative agriculture. The landmark paper on how things work in the soil is the one below. There are more – the scientists should know how to search those. Please forward it to the “scientists” who are making crying hoax over ZBNF. They should go research about it and help our farmers get out of chemical farming.

    Interactions of Bacteria, Fungi, and their Nematode Grazers: Effects on Nutrient Cycling and Plant Growth
    Russell E. Ingham J. A. Trofymow Elaine R. Ingham David C. Coleman


  3. Ultimate solution for food production is only ZBNF method ! Chemical fertilizers and pesticides increases productivity initially and gradually productivity starts diminishing because soil loses its own nutritional quality because of external application continuously used specially on hybrid Crips . See Nature works in a sustainable way each leaf in a plant produces 4.5 grams of sugar, in that 25℅is given back to soil for soil microbes, remaining sugar is used by plant for its own growth, fruits and storing left over in its branches . But when hybrid crops are sowed even that 25℅ of sugar which is for soil microbes is taken and given to plant for more fruit and grain production in that way depriving microbes of their share . When this starts happening all this soil micro organisms deprived of sugar will go deeper into soil and will be in hibernation, then soil looses its fertility gradually, for that you have to go on increasing fertilisers to balance it which gradually goes on increasing chemicals on soil surface and makes them un cultivable and unproductive land. In India the food we are consuming is more chemicals than Nutrition. Only Sustainable and Nature Friendly Farming can support this vast requirements of grains, which supports Soil microbes there by land which is arid and un cultivable will become more Fertile .

  4. Cowdung or any dung is the best fertiliser. Dead bodies, practically of dead animals are also best fertilisers. Jaggery, besan flour is unnatural and by common sense, unnatural idea. Dont go by individiual experiments. Reaso prevails over non sense. Something edible like jaggery and basan floor, better used humans or animals.

  5. They are worried about kickbacks from fertilizer companies. If everyone goes with ZBNF. Got used for so long. They can’t digest govt going with ZBNF

  6. Why we should bother. Agricultural economy is not required. We can import agricultural products fro. Other countries. Build smart cities for which rich tycoons are ready. Poor people will die and reduce population. Jai Hind.

  7. We bhartiya needs to U turn to original vedic farming with Gov mata and joint family base farming. This will bring us back to vedic culture and eco system and we will become real freedom bhartiya.

  8. What is the Solution?? Should we continue the same Chemical Farming which benefits Corporates, Businessman and Politicians by killing whoever consumes the food cultivated via Chemical Farming??

  9. Where are we heading? Are the same 67 group of former officials and scientists who oppose ZBNF, are prepared to say the use of fertilisers and pesticides by the farmers are beneficial for them? . Even with the use of fertilisers, where is the yield? So if the yields are poor with cow dung and urine, be it so. At least diseases will not affect the consumers.

  10. Natural Farming is the best and yields also be good if properly researched in the subject. How much spent on research? Simple we can’t refuse the great Indian system of farming and it’s benefits.

  11. हे कृषि तज्ञ बिकाऊ ।
    हे गौ संगोपन वाढवित नाहीत ।
    पन जैविक शेती वर आक्रमण।
    जात्ति वादा च्या भांडण त पड़त नाहीत।

  12. Fully agree with Sandeep – organic farming is much more sustainable and works in the long-run! We need good quality food, but not more food which leads to obesity and all sort of diseases.
    The paper of the honorable retired officials seems also ( a bit..) biased and claims wrong numbers of very low nitrogen content – just wonder who financed this study?

  13. It is most amazing to see that 62 serving and former government officials, agriculture scientists and academics from the sector coming together to rubbish a method of cultivation. Indian agriculture would have become better if they had done the same with so-called Green Revolution technologies. These 62 have not come together before, and how they came together now and what motivated them to come together. Their credibility would increase if they evaluate other methods that are thrust on the marginal farmers of India. Will they do?

    • Sure !!! Always question their intent when you cannot answer their arguments. The fact is – we desperately need to modernise our agriculture to increase productivity. One can only do it through proper research and development, and not through myths and half-baked techniques which would be disastrous.

      • The scientists have told half baked results here.

        The fact of using jeevamruta innoculation / ghanajeevamruta is not for fixing nitrogen. If they have not understood this basic difference then all their test results are failure.

        They need to visit the farmers to identify the right results.

        And R&D has landed us to this mass production soup where every day you and I are have more pills than food.

        With all the first hand experience I can proudly say that “the environmental economics” has increased and also the earth worm population.

  14. It’s better to move towards organic farming rather than continue with present use of chemical fertilizer which has contaminated the water table & has increased Cancer disease across the length & breadth of India.cancer was a rare disease 50 years back but now in every family there is one death from cancer.

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