While it strikes the right chord with new-age kisans and proponents of sustainable farming practices, TOI teams that fanned out to villages in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab found that while many farmers are eager to understand and implement the technique, the scheme is yet to get off the ground in most states where it is being piloted.
The natural farming technique pioneered by Subhash Palekar, a Maharashtra-based agriculturist and Padma Shri awardee, was earlier referred to as ‘zero budget’ since farmers can use natural ingredients and not spend any credit on buying inputs. It has since been renamed as Subhash Palekar Natural Farming but is still popular by its previous name. Palekar has developed a natural concoction called ‘Jeevaamrut’ that uses urine and dung from an indigenous cow breed and paste of green gram to rejuvenate soil, providing micro-nutrients to crops.
ZBNF is expected to play an integral role in PM Modi’s vision to boost farm income by 2022, but absence of a policy and lackadaisical approach of local governments has kept the initiative from taking root. In the past few years, Palekar has been asked by governments in states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Karnataka to train their farmers in these methods.
But TOI found only a handful of farmers in many of these states practising the technique. Even in Vidarbha region — Palekar’s home — after travelling 400 km in Nagpur, Wardha and Amravati districts, TOI found that those who had adopted the technique were few and far between. In Punjab, the hotbed of green revolution, only 1,000 out of 1 crore acres of sowing area is being used for natural farming.
But in parts of Andhra and Himachal, zero budget farming is popular, mainly because governments here have laid a thrust on natural farming. While about 2,669 farmers are practising ZBNF on 252 hectares in Himachal, 700 villages in Andhra’s Rayalaseema are following it. In Himachal, CM Jai Ram Thakur had earmarked Rs 25 crore for propagating natural farming last year. Farmers said a separate market for natural produce could incentivise it. Ganesh Upadhyay, member of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha in Uttarakhand, said that without a push for natural produce, regular training for farmers and infrastructure in markets, adoption of ZBNF would remain limited. Agriculture director, Uttarakhand, Gauri Shankar also agreed that absence of a solid policy to boost ZBNF has kept it from becoming popular.
Tajinder Singh Virk, president of Terai Kisan Mahasabha, said that without government aid, farmers cannot adopt natural farming. “For small farmers, even natural input like cow dung come at a cost. Many of them do not own cows.”
While eliminating farmers’ belief that only chemical fertilisers can yield bumper crop was a major hurdle in getting them to switch to ZBNF, newage farmers have been quick to embrace it.
Mahesh Mhaske, a management graduate, took up full-time farming five years ago and earns up to Rs 15 lakh annually. Harshala Kalambe, a microbiology graduate, moved from Gurgaon to Narkhed in Nagpur district after videos of Palekar on social media inspired her to take up farming. There are other such instances with all of them reporting lower input costs and increased profits. In Andhra Pradesh, farmers have recorded higher yields even in drought-hit areas.
The government is now mulling ZBNF outlets in some areas so that farmers may sell natural produce, Palekar told TOI.
With inputs from Shishir Arya (Nagpur), Syed Akbar (Andhra), Sudha Nambudiri (Kerala), Aakash Ahuja & Prashant Jha (Uttarakhand), Anand Bodh (Himachal), Neel Kamal (Punjab)