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
- Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), popularised by Subhash Palekar, is
the most recent entry into this group.
- 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
- 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
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
- For a five-month season, this means 50 kg of cow dung and 50 litres of
- 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
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
- 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.
- In this sense, the inclusion of ZBNF into our agricultural policy by the
government appears unwise and imprudent.
Q.1) With reference to the One Nation One Ration Card, consider the
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
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.