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What is Zero-budget farming – Nirmala Sitharaman’s fix to double farm income

Zero-budget farming popular in South India. In her Budget speech, Sitharaman said the natural farming method should be adopted across the country.

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New Delhi: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in her Budget speech that the government would be promoting and encouraging the use of “zero-budget farming”, which she referred to as “going back to the roots”.

According to her, it will help double farmers’ income.

Sitharaman talked about how zero-budget natural farming was already being practised in some states, and said there was a need to replicate the model across the country. Some states, she added, had already taken a lead on this and are training farmers in the method.

ThePrint looks at what “zero-budget natural farming” is all about and the results achieved so far.

Zero chemicals, zero input costs

There are chiefly two thrusts behind zero-budget natural farming.

“The word ‘budget’ refers to credit and expenses, thus the phrase ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs,” notes a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

“’Natural farming’ means farming with nature and without chemicals,” it adds.

Zero-budget farming is as much a method as a social movement, introduced in India by farmer and agriculturalist Subhash Palekar.

Reacting to what he saw as the ills of the ‘Green Revolution’, Palekar launched this method as a solution to India’s agrarian crises.

It has gained popularity in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and other South Indian states.

Also read: Why 116 Dalit farmers in Gujarat want police protection from upper caste ‘encroachers’


Not really zero budget

Palekar’s critics argue that the term ‘zero budget’ is misleading, saying that modern agriculture requires a whole set of expensive external inputs, apart from sizeable capital investments initially.

After facing a lot of public criticism in this regard, Palekar was forced to publicly acknowledge that the term was misleading.

In a statement issued on Facebook on 16 October 2018, Palekar said the farming method should instead be renamed “Subhash Palekar Natural Farming”.

Does it work?

Retired civil servant Vijay Kumar, one of the proponents of this farming method, told the Niti Aayog that zero-budget farming “is promoted to reduce cost of cultivation, reduce risks, enhance soil fertility, and protect from uncertainties of climate change”.

A host of international organisations such as the UN Environment Program and philanthropists such as Azim Premji have backed this farming method.

An October 2018 assessment of “zero-budget natural farming” conducted in Andhra Pradesh by the not-for-profit Environment Support Group suggested that evidence regarding its success was still mixed.

Also read: Beyond MSPs & loan waivers, Modi govt must make agricultural market reforms its top priority


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  1. I have an organic farm with about 30 labour. Each of them have their own agricultural lands, ranging from 1/2 acre to about 2 acres maximum. Wnen they work in my Farm a husband and wife team earn about 600 Rs. a day, Sundays off, Lunch at the Farm and an annual bonus. this wage is probably the minimum that anyone can pay a Farm Worker, that amounts to about 2 lakhs a year for a Team of two people. Can ZBNF guarantee this wage if they work on their Farms themselves ?? I don’t think so. The data is misleading and not at all verified with practical trials. The only thing ZBNF will do is to improve the ecology, support the environment, and increase soil fertility over a period of time. Barren lands with no infrastructure will take years to become productive with ZBNF, and who will support the Farmers till then?? Even when it becomes productive the input costs are still there and NEVER ZERO

    This is going to be the next big hoax, to be perpetrated on all our innocent and gullible farmers. It also shows that Madam Sitharaman has no clue about farming, let alone doubling their incomes.

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