Adoption of zero budget natural farming could save Rs 2,100 crore in fertiliser subsidies for Andhra Pradesh: Study

M Somasekar | | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

Scaling up ZBNF could significantly alter the landscape of chemical inputs in agriculture, particularly fertilisers

Close on the heels of the Andhra Pradesh Government’s announcement of a scale-up of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) with a Rs 711-crore loan from KFW, Germany, comes a study that claims that AP could save big time in fertiliser subsidies.

The savings could be to the tune of nearly Rs 2,100 cr in fertiliser subsidies annually if it scaled up ZBNF to all six million farm families in the state by 2024, according to an independent study released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

Scaling up ZBNF could significantly alter the landscape of chemical inputs in agriculture, particularly fertilisers. The study found that 77 per cent of the farmers adopting ZBNF did not use any fertilisers, while the rest continued to use chemical inputs in smaller quantities, along with the adoption of a few critical natural farming practices.

Overall, the average ZBNF farmer in AP grew rice and maize using 99 per cent and 85 per cent less urea per acre respectively, than a conventional farmer.

Study by CEEW

The CEEW study, in association with the Sustainable India Finance Facility (SIFF) and supported by Vijayavahini Charitable Foundation, is based on a May 2019 survey covering more than 600 farmers in 60 villages across six districts in Andhra Pradesh. The surveyed districts include Anantapuram, Kadapa, Krishna, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, and West Godavari. In Andhra Pradesh, more than 500,000 farmers currently practise ZBNF as part of a state government-led initiative.

CEEW research found that ZBNF had been adopted by a large number of marginal farmers in AP. Instead of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, ZBNF farmers used low-cost locally-sourced natural concoctions, inoculums and decoctions based on cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, lilac, green chillies, and many other such natural ingredients.

Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW, added, “Andhra Pradesh’s evolving experience shows that scaling up ZBNF could lead to massive savings on fertiliser subsidies, while reducing input costs for farmers. However, the impact of ZBNF across other regions and agro-climatic zones must be examined before a nationwide roll-out. Further research is also needed to understand the impact of ZBNF on greenhouse gas emissions, crop yields and resilience, and the chemical fertiliser industry, as the practice scales up.”

Rajiv Kumar, Vice-Chairman, NITI Aayog, said, “To take the current research on Bhartiya Prakrutik Krishi Paddhiti (Indian natural farming practices) further, we need more organisations and partners to conduct comprehensive and multi-faceted studies. Research across different agro-climatic zones in the country to look at overall cost reduction, yields, climate change, water-use, price realisation, will further help understand the prospects better.”

National Academy urges caution

Meanwhile, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), in a letter to the Prime Minister in September 2019, urged caution on the widespread implementation of ZBNF.

The Academy felt there is no scope for the incremental value gained by the farmer or the consumer through ZBNF that represents one of the many such practises followed in India prior to the 1950’s, when no more than 60 million tonnes of foodgrains was produced, making ZBNF a technology that lacked rationale or acceptability as a production technology.

Therefore, the Government should not needlessly invest capital, effort, time and human resources in promoting ZBNF on the grounds of technical infeasibility for India to explore this unproven and unscientifically proposed technology.

The NAAS sent the letter after considered brainstorming sessions with about 70 experts from across the country on the subject.

Published on January 10, 2020
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