Experts, including those at Niti Aayog, say ZBNF method doesn’t provide vital nutrients, may not stand up to pest attack.
New Delhi: Experts have questioned the scientific validity of the Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) technique that Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar has described as the “most potent” way of doubling farmers’ income and sustaining soil quality.
The ZBNF primarily relies on cow dung and cow urine for plant nutrition. It also advocates natural methods of farming, free of fertilisers and pesticides.
The experts, including from within the Niti Aayog, say the method may not be scientifically sound. “There are scientific reservations about ZBNF right now,” said a Niti Aayog official who did not wish to be named.
‘Trials under way’
On 9 July, Niti Aayog held a meeting with the principal secretaries (agriculture) of states and other stakeholders to discuss ZBNF. It was then decided that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research would conduct on-field trials to determine the scientific validity of the farming technique.
At a press conference that followed the meeting, Kumar noted that a “paradigm shift” was required in agriculture and vouched for ZNBF, invented by agriculture expert Subhash Palekar, which he said seemed like the most potent way of doubling farmers’ income.
He further said that most states had agreed to adopt ZBNF, with some, such as Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, having already begun pushing for the farming method.
“In the meeting, states were told that if they were comfortable and convinced by the technology they could pilot it,” said the Niti Aayog official.
‘Soil sustainability, productivity will decline’
While ZBNF closely mirrors organic farming, there are some vital differences, experts say. “What is different between organic farming and zero budget natural farming is that in organic farming, you are only replacing the source of the nutrient whereas, in ZBNF, you are replacing the source as well as the number of nutrients,” the Niti Aayog official said.
The primary problem with ZNBF, experts say, is that it is unclear what would happen to the soil after it has been used for a couple of years.
“Once you start from virgin soil, in the initial period you need not apply anything. But after that, the soil has to be supplemented,” the official said. Without supplements, he added, productivity will dip.
Agri-business expert Vijay Sardana too says that productivity will decline in the long run. As ZBNF relies on cow dung and cow urine for plant nutrition, Sardana said plants may miss out on some vital nutrients. Plants also need nutrients such as zinc, boron, phosphate and iron that are not present in cow dung, he added.
Further ZBNF may not be appropriate for all types of produce.
“Wheat and rice do not have a biological system that could fix nitrogen, the way it exists in pulses. So there is no system to assimilate nitrogen, that is why you need to supplement the soil. In ZBNF, there is no provision for supplements. So these are the challenges,” said the Niti Aayog official.
‘May not hold up against pest attack’
Experts are also sceptical about what would happen in the case of a pest attack.
Sardana said this uncertainty makes ZNBF dangerous for commercial farming. “In India, 30-50 per cent of produce is lost to diseases. What is the method for ensuring the health and plant growth? This is how we used to function in the pre-Green Revolution era. Why was Green Revolution adopted if everything was perfect with the older methods,” he asked.
According to Aruna Urs, a farmer in Mysuru, the method provides no mechanism to deal with a pest attack. He also said the ‘nomenclature’ of ZBNF was problematic as farming cannot be free of cost. Buying a cow, for cow dung and urine is cost as well, he said.
“Positioning it as the panacea for everything and as the next big thing is very problematic. In India we need a holistic approach that is organic but uses chemical improvements for soil health,” Aruna added.