India File

Ground results validate zero budget natural farming: Subhash Palekar

N Madhavan | Updated on October 18, 2019

Subhash Palekar, Father of zero budget natural farming

Speaking to BusinessLine at a farm on the outskirts of Aurangabad, Subhash Palekar, father of ZBNF, rebuts every criticism and allays every fear that have been raised

The Modi government sees zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) as a solution to the farm crisis. The 2018-19 Economic Survey recommended it and so did the 2019 Union Budget. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised many by asking farmers not to use chemical fertilisers during his Independence Day speech this year. But the scientific community is not convinced.

Speaking to BusinessLine at a farm on the outskirts of Aurangabad where he had come on a field visit along with his farmer followers, 70-year old Subhash Palekar, father of ZBNF, rebuts every criticism and allays every fear that have been raised. Excerpts:

On scientists calling ZBNF a half-baked concept

Over 50 lakh farmers are practising ZBNF across agroclimatic zones and soil types with fantastic results. Their yield has increased, so has their realisation, even as their costs have dropped sharply. Some have seen their farm income more than double.

Scientists are ignorant about this technique and are talking without visiting the farms. Neither have they met me. How can they validate something that they do not know about? NITI Aayog has studied it and is convinced that this concept is the solution to the farm distress. Over seven lakh farmers have committed suicide due to chemical farming. Not one has died due to ZBNF.

On soil fertility in the absence of chemical inputs

Why do forests have rich growth? No one is spraying fertiliser there. All that plants need to grow are available in nature. The humus that mulching creates enriches the soil and allows the growth of micro-organisms, including earthworms. Did you know that the excreta of an earthworm contains seven times more nitrogen than normal soil? It also contains nine times the phosphate and 11 times the potassium. Also, inter-cropping will ensure that adequate quantity of nitrogen is fixed in the soil.

On small farmers not taking to ZBNF

That is not true. Out of the 50 lakh farmers practising ZBNF, 82 per cent of them are small farmers owning less than five acres of land. This concept works best for small farmers as they have very less labour cost. They are thus free of debts, defaults and fear of suicide.

On whether ZBNF is really a zero budget farming

We called it zero budget because whatever costs the farmer incurred on inputs and labour will be recovered through inter-cropping. The entire realisation from the main crop is profit. However, in some crops such as paddy, where the field is water-logged, inter-cropping is not possible. For the sake of accuracy, we have re-named this concept Subhash Palekar Natural Farming.

On his insistence on local cow breed

When I researched the dung and urine of local cow varieties, bullocks and western breeds, the microbial count in local breed cow dung was as high as 300 crore in one gram compared to about 70 lakh in the case of a Jersey cow variety, which also had significant pathogen bacteria. That is why I advocate local cow breeds.

On his preference for local seed varieties

In chemical farming, hybrids and GM seeds give higher yield but in ZBNF local seeds treated with Bijamrut deliver higher output. That being the case why should a farmer spend on costly hybrid and GM seeds?

On the fear of yield drop in the first year

If all aspects of ZBNF are followed, the farm will get recharged within three months. Humus creation will ensure that and the farmer will get a good yield right from the first year.

On market access

We are encouraging our farmers to sell directly to the consumers. That way, they can get better realisation. People are willing to pay a premium for naturally-grown farm produce. We have also started connecting buyers and farmers through Whatsapp.

On vested interests opposing ZBNF

There are four distinct lobbies working against ZBNF — the GM seed lobby, organic farming lobby, some farmer associations and, of course, agricultural scientists. Results on the ground show that ZBNF is the only way to make farming both profitable and sustainable.

Published on October 17, 2019

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