By Bidyadhar Maharana
Indian agriculture is on the cross roads. It is true that Green Revolution started in 1960s has transformed India from a begging bowl to self sufficiency by adopting High Yielding dwarf varieties of rice, wheat along with use of fertlisers and irrigation.
In 1960s Japanese method of rice cultivation was introduced in many states that adopted line transplanting and weeding by Japanese weeder. In Odisha we adopted line transplanting method with the advice of Japanese scientists in Chakuli farm of Sambalpur.
In recent times a resource conservation method of rice cultivation developed in Madagascar named as SRI was spread to many countries including India.
Use of low dose of seed, early seedings planted singly in square pattern, weeding by a weeder to incorporate weeds, keeping the soil moist and using organic manure and pesticides were practiced in such a method.
SRI has been successful in many locations of Odisha.CRRI (NRRI) and OUAT made some modifications in SRI looking at our field situation.
Line planting of rice which was subsequently replaced by random method of planting with the sole aim of maintaining desired plant population (50-60 per sq m) . But line planting has again been introduced.
Considering the pitfall of Green Revolution , steps have been taken for second Green Revolution to make the Indian agriculture more climate resilient and sustainable.
We all know that plants require 16-17 essential nutrients in various quantity as per type of crop, growth period , targeted yield and nutrient supplying capacity of soil. C, H,O are available from water and air while all other 13 nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, S, Mg, Fe, Cu, Zn, Bo, Mo, Mn, Cl) are available from soil reserve.
Now hydroponic method of cultivation has been introduced in some places where plants are grown in pots with water only with required mixture of nutrients. Since soil becomes deficit of nutrients after substantial removal by crops without proper replenishment we apply nutrients from organic and inorganic sources to meet the requirement of crops on the basis of soil test. It is the essence of Integrated Nutrient Management that is required for sustainable agriculture.
Considering the some adverse effects of chemical agriculture on the soil eco-system and animal health, new farming practices like organic agriculture , bio-dynamic agriculture, eco-farming etc. have been promoted in many places. Recently a new farming practice in the name of zero budget natural farming has become a matter of discussion.
Even our FM, Mrs Seetharaman has focused on ZBNF in her budget speech for 2020-21.
ZERO BUDGET NATURAL FARMING
ZBNF is a method of organic farming where inputs for the crop are given by nature itself and not by the farmer or any outside agency. This practice implies the use of locally available resources making the net cost of growing equal to zero.
For natural farming, the production of main crops is compensated by the production of inter-crops. Thus, the main crop becomes a bonus.The term ‘zero budget’ in ZBNF indicates that no budget is incurred as there are no external inputs in the form of fertilizers (farmyard or green manure), tractor cultivation (costing labor or fuel), micro-nutrients, pesticides or seeds from the market.
This further adds to 25% reduction in labour. There is also an added advantage of 10% lesser water and power requirements.
The four pillars of Zero Budget Natural Farming are Jeevamurtha, Beejamrutha Mulching and Waaphasa.
Because of current agrarian crisis after neo-liberalization of the Indian economy, Indian farmers increasingly find themselves in a vicious cycle of debt due to high production costs, high interest rates for credit, the volatile market prices of crops, the rising costs of fossil fuel based inputs, and private seeds. Under such conditions, ‘zero budget’ farming promises to end a reliance on loans and drastically cut production costs, ending the debt cycle for desperate farmers.
‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs and natural farming means farming with Nature and without synthetic chemicals. Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a set of farming methods, and also a grassroots peasant movement, which has spread to various states in India.
It has attained wide success in southern India, especially the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
As per Padmashri Subhas Palekar of Maharashtra in the Zero Budget Natural Farming nothing has to be purchased from the outside. It is believed by the practitioners that 1.5 to 2.0 %of nutrient from soil is used for crop production and remaining 98 to 98.5% nutrients are taken from air, water & solar energy.
It is further believed that the green leaves are food producing factories. The leaves, for producing the food, take carbon dioxide & nitrogen from the air, water from the canal, river or well given by the monsoon clouds, and solar energy from the sun for producing the food.
Every green leaf of any plant produces 4.5 gram carbohydrates per square feet surface, from which we get 1.5 gram grains or 2.25 gram fruits. For preparing this food, the plants take necessary elements like air, water and solar energy from the nature, not from us. That means, for the plants to grow and to give the production there is no necessity of adding from outside.
It is argued that in our farm nutrients are not available because the micro-organisms which convert these non-available from nutrients into available from are destroyed by means of poisonous chemical and organic fertilizers, insecticides, weedicides and cultivation by the tractor.
One gram of cow dung contains about 300 to 500 crore beneficial effective microbes. We can mix half cow dung and half the dung of bullock or buffalo and the cow dung should be used as fresh as possible and the urine as old as possible.
Some claim that one acre land needs only ten kilogram of local cow dung per month.
One local cow gives on an average about 10-11 Kg of cow dung, one bullock about 13 Kg of dung and one buffalo about 15 Kg dung per day. For one acre one day’s cow dung is enough. There is no need to purchase the F.Y.M. in bulk quantity.
Nature uses the dung and urine of the various animals, birds, insects and earthworms in its self-developing, self-nourishing system. That means the use of cow dung and urine is very natural and hence scientific.
THE CHALLENGE :
By 2050 global population may be around 9.7 billions and our agricultural production has to be increased by 70% to meet the demand of burgeoning population.
Due to increasing demand of high income groups we have to produce more diversified products. At the same time the critical problems like doubling farmer income, farmers suicides , sustainability of agriculture in climate change scenario, supplying nutrition to address malnutrition and malnourishment are to be addressed by suitable agriculture policies.
Zero budget implies that no direct cost is incurred but there are indirect costs in terms of feed to the cattle, labour and so on which are kept at very minimal.
WAYS FORWARD :
We know that there are some natural cycles like hydrological cycle, Carbon Cycle,Nitrogen Cycle, Phosphorus Cycle, Potash Cycle and Sulphur Cycle which operate in nature for nutrient availability to crops and trees. But human actions and climate change have disrupted such cycles partly.
The way population is increasing and the demand for many diversified food is increasing by high income and middle income groups, can we dispense with chemical agriculture and resort to ZBNF??
The fiasco of organic farming in Sikkim is before us.
The National Think Tank (NITI Aayog) has called for the scientific validation of zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) through multi-location on-the-field trials with farmers by Indian Council of Agricultural Research laboratories and State agriculture universities.
In a conference NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar suggested that if found to be successful, an enabling institutional mechanism could be set up to promote this technology so that Indian farmers would benefit.
Our view is that all such systems may be validated through field trials at RRTTs/KVK/ Government Farms/Private farms/Farmers’ Fields before making a general recommendation. The best option is to combine chemical-based farming, organic farming and ZBNF and slowly, over years reduce the proportion of land under chemical farming.
The “Nudge” concept proposed by Nobel Laureate Dr Richard Thaler can also be experimented by passing regular text messages to the innovators.