Zero budget agriculture arrives from India

Zero budget agriculture arrives from India

February 27, 2020

Zero budget agriculture arrives from India

Devised primarily as a response to the economic difficulties faced by small Indian farmers, natural zero budget agriculture is catching on in various regions of India, but not everyone is convinced

Making a virtue of necessity

The full name is Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) and, as FAO experts explain, it refers to cultivation methods which have been very successful especially in southern India in the state of Karnataka, where they originated. The term “zero budget” refers to credits and expenses, underlining that people who dedicate themselves to this way of cultivating do it without using credits or spending money on initial inputs. Furthermore, as evidenced by the name itself, these methods are also “natural”, i.e. all cultivation practices take place without the use of pesticides or other chemical substances. In the pages it dedicates to Zero Budget Natural Farming, FAO explains that the birth and spread of these practices are essentially linked to the profound agricultural crisis experienced in India since the liberalization, which led to major privatizations in agriculture with enormous difficulties in accessing credit, above all for small farmers. High production costs, high credit interest rates and volatile market prices for harvests are just some of the causes of difficulties faced by Indian farmers for whom, as FAO explains, “zero-budget agriculture represents the promise to free themselves from loans and drastically reduce costs, interrupting the vicious cycle of debt for many desperate farmers.


No debts, no chemicals

Zero Budget Natural Farming is one of the many practices identified by FAO as part of so-called agroecology, based on the application of ecological concepts and principles to make the best of the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment. The “Zero Budget Natural Farming for the Sustainable Development Goals” report report describes the four pillars of this approach to agriculture, conceived in Japan by the scientist and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka as natural agriculture and subsequently promoted and popularized by the agriculture expert Subhash Palekar in its Indian version. These are the fundamental aspects of Zero Budget Natural Farming: the first involves covering the seeds with microorganisms obtained from particular formulations of cow dung and urine, the second involves applying a bioinoculum containing water and soil, among other ingredients, in order to multiply the microbes present in the ground. The practice also involves applying a layer of organic material on the ground to prevent evaporation and increase the production of humus and finally to ensure the aeration of the soil


Does it really work?

One of the criticisms leveled at this cultivation method is that, due to the poor input of nutrients from the outside, yields could be low and consequently unable to feed the whole population in a context like India (as well as being unsustainable), although a study recently published in Nature Sustainability suggests that Zero Budget Natural Farming could reduce soil degradation and bring yield benefits to many farmers. This is also highlighted in the aforementioned report, which shows that the practice improves the quality of the soil and its ability to retain water, reducing dependence on electricity and irrigation, lowering the cost of buying fertilizers and pesticides, thus also reducing the economic risks for people applying for loans. In addition to increasing resilience to climate change, these effects make Zero Budget Natural Farming a useful practice for helping India achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals


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