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Zero Budget Natural Farming

2022 FEB 25

Mains   > Agriculture   >   Crops   >   Organic farming


  • Large scale adoption of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) - farm practices which exclude all synthetic chemical inputs and promote use of on-farm biomass - would result in ‘tremendous reduction’ in production of agricultural crops thus comprising India’s food security, an expert committee set up by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has stated recently.
  • ICAR had set up a committee, under V Praveen Rao in 2019 to empirically validate the results of ZBNF. 



  • ZBNF is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.
  • It is a grassroots movement that aims to improve farm viability by reducing costs.
    • The word ‘budget’ refers to credit and expenses, thus the phrase 'Zero Budget' means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs.
    • 'Natural farming' means farming with Nature and without chemicals.
  • It was originally promoted by Maharashtrian agriculturist and Padma Shri recipient Subhash Palekar, who developed it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution.
    • Because of the Green Revolution initiated in early 1970s through introduction of high yielding seeds, application of chemical fertiliser and assured irrigation, India has emerged as one of the biggest producers of several agricultural crops such as rice, wheat, pulses and oilseeds.
    • However, in the last four decades or so there has been gradual degradation of soil health because of excessive use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides.
  • Under ZBNF, neither fertilizer nor pesticide is used and only 10 percent of water is to be utilized for irrigation as compared to traditional farming techniques.
  • The ZBNF method also promotes soil aeration, minimal watering, intercropping, bunds and topsoil mulching and discourages intensive irrigation and deep ploughing.
  • ZBNF doesn’t promote vermicomposting as it introduces the most common composting worm, the European red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) to Indian soils. It is claimed that these worms absorb toxic metals and poison groundwater and soil.
  • ZBNF was mentioned in two budget speeches of the Union government in 2019-20 and 2020-21. ZBNF was referred to it as “innovative model for doubling farmers income”


  • According to the Economic Survey, more than 1.6 lakh farmers are practising the ZBNF in almost 1,000 villages using some form of state support, although the method’s advocates claim more than 30 lakh practitioners overall.


  • Jeevamrutha:
    • This is a fermented microbial culture that provides nutrients, acts as a catalytic agent that promotes the activity of microorganisms in the soil, increases earthworm activity, and helps prevent fungal and bacterial plant diseases.
    • The fermentation process spans for 48 hours, during which the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria present in the cow dung and urine multiply as they consume organic ingredients.
    • According to Palekar, Jeevamrutha is only needed for the first three years of the transition, after which the system gets self-sustaining.
  • Beejamrutham:
    • A treatment used for seeds, seedlings or any planting material, Bijamrita helps in protecting young roots from fungus, as well as from soil-borne and seed-borne diseases that commonly affect plants post the period of monsoon.
  • Acchadana (mulching):
    • Palekhar suggests the following types of mulching:
    • Soil Mulch:
      • Protects topsoil while cultivation and does not destroy it by tilling.
      • Moreover, it promotes aeration and water retention in the soil. Palekar has advocated the avoidance of deep ploughing.
    • Straw Mulch:
      • Straw material hints at the dried biomass waste of previous crops.
      • This, as Palekar suggests, can be composed of the dead material of any living beings such as plants, animals, etc.
    • Live Mulch (symbiotic intercrops and mixed crops)
      • It is pivotal to develop multiple cropping patterns of monocotyledons and dicotyledons grown in the same field so as to supply the essential elements to the soil and crops.
    • Whapasa – moisture
      • Palekar opposes the common belief that the plant roots need a lot of water.
      • In this respect, he counters the over-reliance on irrigation in green revolution farming.
      • He strongly opines that the roots need water vapour. This he says as Whapasa is the condition in which the soil contains both air and water molecules.
      • He encourages the reduction of irrigation and emphasizes its usage only during noon.


  • Doubling farmers’ income:
    • Reduced cost:
      • According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, almost 70% of agricultural households spend more than they earn and more than half of all farmers are in debt.
      • In States such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, levels of indebtedness are around 90%, where each household bears an average debt of ?1 lakh
      • In order to achieve the Central government’s promise to double farmers income by 2022, one aspect being considered is natural farming methods such as the ZBNF which reduce farmers’ dependence on loans to purchase inputs they cannot afford.
      • Meanwhile, inter-cropping allows for increased returns
    • Higher yield
      • Besides reduced input cost, farmers practising ZBNF gets higher yields.
      • In Andhra Pradesh Yields of five crops (paddy, groundnut, black gram, maize and chillies) have increased by 8-32% for ZBNF farmers.
      • Farmers use bio-fertilisers and that make the soil fertile, thus giving higher yields
    • Huge market for organic farm produce:
      • ZBNF produce could be marketed as pesticide free and fertilizer free >> better export potential >> huge demand in developed world.
  • Eco-friendly:
    • An alternative to chemical-intensive farming:
      • Chemical-intensive farming has had a severe impact on ecosystems, climate and health. Further, it has pushed up costs, making agriculture unviable for small farmers.
    • Save water and electricity:
      • ZBNF counters over-reliance on irrigation
      • Under ZBNF, only 10 percent of water is to be utilized for irrigation as compared to traditional farming techniques.
      • Thus it also reduces the consumption of electricity.
    • Reduced methane emission:
      • ZBNF reduces methane emissions significantly through multiple aerations.
    • Avoid residue burning >> check air pollution:
      • It also has the potential to avoid residue burning by practising mulching.
    • Reduce health issues:
      • ZBNF is free from health hazards, as no chemical or organic materials are used for farming.
      • Wide-scale adoption of ZBNF would help reduce the release of harmful chemicals to the air, water and soil.
    • Reduce Ocean acidification and marine pollution:
      • ZBNF eliminates chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and would help reduce ocean acidification and marine pollution from land-based activities.
      • High concentration of ammonium nitrates in fertilisers, and hazardous chemical pollutants from pesticides which run-off into rivers and oceans can severely impact aquatic life. The use of natural concoctions in ZBNF will help to reduce the contamination and degradation of rivers and oceans.
  • Improving soil health:
    • The earth has been losing its top soil at a fast rate, primarily due to chemical-heavy farming and deforestation.
    • At the current rate of soil degradation, all the world’s soil will be gone in 60 years, cautions the United Nations.
    • India is among the countries where soil degradation is happening faster than its replenishment.
    • The ZBNF method promotes soil aeration, minimal watering, intercropping, bunds and topsoil mulching and discourages intensive irrigation and deep ploughing.
    • All these factors results in improving soil health.
  • Climate resilient
    • ZBNF might help farmers build resilience against extreme climate events by improving the fertility and strength of the soil.
    • ZBNF farmers have shown that crop losses due to droughts, floods and other extreme events have been lower than in non-ZBNF farms.
  • Food and nutritional security
    • As a result of increased crop yields, it will be able to improve food and nutritional security at national level.
    • The practice of intercropping growing multiple crops in proximity to each other is encouraged under ZBNF as it ensures vulnerable communities access to a suite of nutritional sources and income generating crops throughout the year.
    • In the long-run, due to the use of local inputs, the project is likely to contribute to maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds and crops.


  • Bhartiya Prakritik Krishi Padhati (BPKP)
    • It is a sub scheme of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY)
    • It is being implemented by ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare since 2020-21, which focuses on promoting traditional indigenous practices including ZBNF.
  • Inclusion of ZBNF in Agriculture university curriculum:
    • ICAR has decided to develop a curriculum in consultation with agriculture universities and subject experts for inclusion of ZBNF in the syllabus at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
  • State-wise:
    • Andhra Pradesh:
      • In 2018, Andhra Pradesh rolled out an ambitious plan to become India’s first State to practise 100% natural farming by 2024.
      • It aims to phase out chemical farming over 80 lakh hectares of land, converting the State’s 60 lakh farmers to ZBNF methods.


  • Yield challenges:
    • Sustainability of ZBNF is questioned because external nutrient inputs are limited, which could cause a crash in food production.
    • It takes time for the effect of natural farming to be reflected in the yield.
  • Uncertainty:
    • There will certainly be a drop in the cost of farming, but the effect on crop yield may vary, depending on the soil quality, crop and the methods adopted by the farmer.
  • Previous experience:
    • Sikkim:
      • The state has seen some decline in yields following a conversion to organic farming >> it is used as a cautionary tale regarding the pitfalls of abandoning chemical fertilizers.
    • Andhra Pradesh
      • In farmlands on which chemical farming has been practised intensively, the soil quality is poor and does not respond quickly to ZBNF.
      • Also, in crops such as paddy, standing water in the field inhibits soil microbial population, which in turn impacts the yield after farmers switch to ZBNF.
  • Lack of data:
    • ZBNF method’s effectiveness has not been conclusively established by any independent scientific study so far in India.
  • Vulnerable:
    • Pest management under ZBNF is only preventive; if the soil quality is poor or the farmer does not follow the recommended practices, crops will be susceptible to pest attacks.
  • Poor nutrient availability:
    • Nitrogen:
      • Nitrogen fixation, either by free-living nitrogen fixers in soil or symbiotic nitrogen fixers in legumes, is likely to provide the major portion of nitrogen available to crops.
      • However, even with maximum potential nitrogen fixation and release, only 52–80% of the national average nitrogen applied as fertilizer is expected to be supplied.
    • Other nutrients:
      • Since biological fixation from the atmosphere is possible only with nitrogen, ZBNF could limit the supply of other nutrients


  • ICAR committee has given the following recommendations:
    • Adoption of an integrated production system
      • In place of ZBNF, the ICAR committee has recommended adoption of an integrated production system through usage of farm practices such as conservation agriculture through usage of farmyard manure, inter-cropping, crop diversification and integrated nutrient management for improving soil health.
    • Need to conduct long-term field trials
      • The committee has stressed for need to conduct long-term field trials on ZBNF.
    • Focus on rainfed regions instead of irrigated zones:
      • The committee also suggested that future research on ZBNF should be carried out only in rainfed regions instead of irrigated zones which produce the biggest chunk of agricultural crops production in the country
  • Multi-location studies:
    • Multi-location studies are needed to scientifically validate the long-term impact and viability of the model before it can be scaled up and promoted country-wide.
  • Institutional mechanism:
    • If found to be successful, an enabling institutional mechanism could be set up to promote the technology
  • Need for government support:
    • Natural farming may not yield results from Day 1 >> it needs perseverance and investment of time and labour.
    • If marginal and small farmers are to switch to natural farming, the government must support their livelihood till yields stabilise and their incomes grow.
    • To practice all the ZBNF techniques, a farmer will require hand-holding in the initial few years.
    • Further, given the chances of crop failure in the first year of transition to ZBNF, the government must support farmers’ livelihood.
  • Seed banks:
    • The government should also invest in building seed banks in every village to ensure supply of desi seeds; the ZBNF technique stresses on the use of desi seeds, not hybrid/GM seeds.


  • The Andhra model:
    • After 10-15 years of promoting non-chemical pest management programme and community-managed sustainable agriculture in the State, the Andhra Pradesh government implemented ZBNF in 2015, as it was getting popular with farmers in the State.
    • Farmers (referred to as community resource partners – CRPs) were trained in each district on ZBNF.
    • These farmers were given the responsibility of motivating and training farmers to switch to ZBNF practices.
    • The pilot programme was successful; cultivation costs fell, and yields increased.
    • The Andhra Pradesh government has roped in women self-help groups, civil society organisations and farmer institutions to take forward the ZBNF.


Q. What is zero budget natural farming? How this innovative model could help in doubling farmer’s income?