A shift to natural farming can turn out to be a revolutionary change, policy advocacy group ICRIER  (Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations) said in a report citing instances of Andhra Pradesh where yields ‘seemed’ to have improved. However, to balance the findings, it also warned that “if the yield and production plummet” the implications for food security can be severe.

In a report titled “Zero Budget Natural Farming — Implications for Sustainability, Profitability, and Food Security”, commissioned by NABARD and released last week, ICRIER said: “The sheer disparity in the outcomes of the two experiments conducted by CESS-IDSAP and ICAR-IIFSR suggests the importance of long-term experimentation before declaring this as a nationwide agriculture practice. If the yield and production plummet, as the ICAR and IIFSR findings advocate, the implications for food security can be severe.

“Naturally obtained inputs like cow dung, cow urine, leaves, etc. are without any reservation sustainable alternatives to the chemical inputs which have destroyed nature’s inherent ability to rejuvenate the soil. If the yields improve as they seem to have in Andhra Pradesh, then a shift to natural farming can turn out to be a revolutionary change,” the study said.

Financial aid

According to NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand, natural farming can cover in 25-30 per cent of the total area of 140 million hectares under cultivation as there are several places where there is hardly any use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The government has never proposed natural farming to replace current practices in every land, but its emphasis is only in an overall reduction to save soil.

Authored by Sandip Das, Mahima Khurana and Ashok Gulati, the report said farmers be given financial support directly into their bank accounts on per hectare basis and the prices of chemical fertilizers be determined by free play of markets. “Let farmers choose the crops and farming practices that suit them most. That way, those who want to practice ZBNF will not be discriminated against,” it said.

Currently, chemical fertilizers are excessively subsidised leading to their imbalanced use, and therefore adverse impact on environment. “Much of this can be reduced/eliminated by creating crop-neutral incentive structures,” it said.

“While organic farming and related practices like natural farming are successful in niche markets where a premium price can compensate for the returns from lower yields, a complete switch to organic approaches can hamper national food production. Resilient supply chain networks for the farm inputs required in natural farming are a prerequisite to transitioning towards natural farming,” the authors concluded.