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.
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.