THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 09 october 2019 (Stirring up the truth about Zero Budget Natural Farming (The Hindu))

Stirring up the truth about Zero Budget Natural Farming (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 3: Economy
Prelims level: Zero Budget Natural Farming
Mains level: Agriculture


  • Organic farming became an umbrella term that represented a variety of non-chemical and less-chemical oriented methods of farming.
  • Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamics, Masanobu Fukuoka’s one-straw revolution and Madagascar’s System of Rice Intensification (SRI) were examples of specific alternatives proposed.
  • In India, such alternatives and their variants included, among others, homoeo-farming, Vedic farming, Natu-eco farming, Agnihotra farming and Amrutpani farming.
  • Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), popularised by Subhash Palekar, is the most recent entry into this group.

Unsubstantiated claims

  • ZBNF is hardly zero budget. Many ingredients of Mr. Palekar’s formulations have to be purchased.
  • These apart, wages of hired labour, imputed value of family labour, imputed rent over owned land, costs of maintaining cows and paid-out costs on electricity and pump sets are all costs that ZBNF proponents conveniently ignore.
  • There are no independent studies to validate the claims that ZBNF plots have a higher yield than non-ZBNF plots.
  • The Government of Andhra Pradesh has a report, but it appears to be a self-appraisal by the implementing agency; independent studies based on field trials are not available.
  • According to reliable sources, preliminary observations of these field trials have recorded a yield shortfall of about 30% in ZBNF plots when compared with non-ZBNF plots.

Standing reason on its head

  • Mr. Palekar’s claims stand agricultural science on its head.
  • Indian soils are poor in organic matter content. About 59% of soils are low in available nitrogen; about 49% are low in available phosphorus; and about 48% are low or medium in available potassium.
  • Indian soils are also varyingly deficient in micronutrients, such as zinc, iron, manganese, copper, molybdenum and boron.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies are not just yield-limiting in themselves; they also disallow the full expression of other nutrients in the soil leading to an overall decline in fertility.
  • In some regions, soils are saline. In other regions, soils are acidic due to nutrient deficiencies or aluminium, manganese and iron toxicities.
  • In certain other regions, soils are toxic due to heavy metal pollution from industrial and municipal wastes or excessive application of fertilizers and pesticides.

Nutrient requirements of plants

  • Mr. Palekar has a totally irrational position on the nutrient requirements of plants. According to him, 98.5% of the nutrients that plants need is obtained from air, water and sunlight; only 1.5% is from the soil.
  • All nutrients are present in adequate quantities in all types of soils.
  • However, they are not in a usable form. Jivamrit, Mr. Palekar’s magical concoction, makes these nutrients available to the plants by increasing the population of soil microorganisms.
  • All these are baseless claims. The Jivamrit prescription is essentially the application of 10 kg of cow dung and 10 litres of cow urine per acre per month.
  • For a five-month season, this means 50 kg of cow dung and 50 litres of cow urine.
  • Given nitrogen content of 0.5% in cow dung and 1% in cow urine, this translates to just about 750 g of nitrogen per acre per season.
  • This is totally inadequate considering the nitrogen requirements of Indian soils.

ZBNF’s spiritual closeness to nature

  • The spiritual nature of agriculture that Mr. Palekar posits is troublesome. Some of his statements are odd.
  • He has claimed that because of ZBNF’s spiritual closeness to nature, its practitioners will stop drinking, gambling, lying, eating non-vegetarian food and wasting resources. For him, only Indian Vedic philosophy is the “absolute truth”.
  • By placing cows at the centre of ZBNF, he (wrongly) claims that India’s cattle population is falling.
  • From there, he espouses empathy for the activities of gau rakshaks. All of this reeks of a cultural chauvinism that uncritically celebrates indigenous knowledges and reactionary features of the past.

Scientific approach needed

  • Improvement of soil health should be a priority agenda in India’s agricultural policy. We need steps to check wind and water erosion of soils.
  • We need innovative technologies to minimise physical degradation of soils due to waterlogging, flooding and crusting.
  • We need to improve the fertility of saline, acidic, alkaline and toxic soils by reclaiming them.
  • We need location-specific interventions towards balanced fertilisation and integrated nutrient management.
  • While we try to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers in some locations, we should be open to increasing their use in other locations.
  • But such a comprehensive approach requires a strong embrace of scientific temper and a firm rejection of anti-science postures.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the One Nation One Ration Card, consider the following statements:
1. It will ensure all beneficiaries in getting access to Public Distribution System (PDS) across the nation from any PDS shop of their own choice.
2. A central sector scheme “Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM- PDS)” has been approved for implementation during 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only
B. 2 only
C. Both 1 and 2
D. None

Answer: C
Mains Questions:

Q.1) Do you think the Zero Budget Natural Farming has no scientific validation and its inclusion into agricultural policy appears unwise? Give your arguments in this regard.