In her first Union Budget speech on Friday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke of "Zero Budget Farming" and how the nation needs to go back to the basics of farming while "doubling farmers' income." She also said that this method is being practiced in many states in India.
What is zero budget farming?
According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, zero budget natural farming is a 'set of farming methods that involve zero credit for agriculture and uses no chemical fertilisers'.
This was started as part of a farming movement in Karnataka by agriculturist Subhash Palekar and the farmers' association in the state to pull farmers out of the debt trap that was seen post liberalisation. The method helped in reducing a farmer's debt by encouraging self dependance in terms of seeds and fertilizers.
In it, farmers use their own seeds and natural fertilizers rather then increasing costs through privatised seeds, other farm inputs and incessible markets.
Its methods also allow preservation of rain water and local micro-oraganisms, thus conserving the natural ecosystem.
In 2018, Andhra Pradesh launched a scale-out plan to transition six million farmers/farms to cultivate 8 million hectares of land by 2024, with a goal to make it India's first 100 percent natural farming state.
The concept stands on 4 pillars:
- Jeevamrutha- ways to increase activity of microorganisms and earthworms in the soil
- Beejamrutha- to protect seeds and seedling
- Acchadana- involves three types of mulching to protect soil's fertility
- Whapasa- methods to retain water in the soil to avoid over reliance on irrigation
How will it help rural distress?
A major concern for the central and state governments has been farm loans. If implemented rightly, zero budget farming will help cut down farmers' input costs and also help in practicing sustainable agriculture.
Sitharaman in her budget speech claimed that it can help double farmers' income in time for the 75th Independence Day celebrations. While farmers in some states are already being trained to follow this practice, the government hopes to form 10,000 new farmer producer organizations, to ensure economies of scale over the next five years.
NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) chairman HK Bhanwala in his statement to PTI said that it has been propagating collectivisation of farmers through farmer producer organizations as it allows them to get collective bargaining power in buying inputs and selling their produce.
"The proposal to revive zero budget farming is a well-thought-out plan as it can help millions of famers bring down their input cost and follow sustainable farming. This initiative will help mitigate the rural distress to a great extent," he said.