Zero-budget natural farming could lead to yield loss: Panel

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For decades environmentalists have been looking for a solution to replace large scale chemical-dependent farming with organic farming. But it seems that they have to wait a lot.

Zero Budget Natural Farming or ZBNF is a chemical-free organic farming method, depending on farm biomass.

It was promoted by Maharashtrian agriculturist and Padma Shri recipient Subhash Palekar, who argued that chemicals are harmful to soil and bad for farmers economically.

He said that it is the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with large scale irrigation projects that force farmers to take a loan. Soil affected by the chemicals gives a bad harvest, forcing the farmer to default, leading to suicide.

It was promoted by Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speeches.

ZBNF uses Beejamrit (seed-microbial coating), Jeevamrut (soil-microbial enhancer), Waaphasa (soil-aeration), and Acchadana (Mulching), that could be developed from the farm itself.

This alternative to expensive fertilizers and pesticides made her promote it and appointed a panel of experts from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to study its potential. But the results are not promising.

The panel went through more than 1,400 scientific journals related to organic farming. They also interacted with the farmers who have adopted them. According to their statement, if adopted on a large scale, it would lead to tremendous yield loss.

The panel will submit the report soon. Even though they are persuaded to conduct long-term field trials, the 16-member panel suggests that future studies on this method should be conducted on rainfed regions instead of irrigated zones.

The Green Revolution has rocketed Indian agricultural production from a negligible point to a high yielder. For that India, used HYV seeds, chemical fertilisers and assured irrigation.

Even though India is the biggest producer of rice, wheat, pulses and oilseeds, it has impacted Indian soil.

For the last four decades, due to the usage of chemicals, soil health has gradually degraded, with pesticides creating their share of enviro-health issues.

The ICAR panel recommended the use of an integrated production system. It is a system where conservation agriculture is conducted by using farmyard manure, inter-cropping, crop diversification and integrated nutrient management to improve soil health.

To promote traditional and indigenous practices such as ZBNF, the government initiated a project called Bhartiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati (BPKP). It is a sub-scheme of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, an initiative for farmer welfare.

4.09 lakh hectares of land has been covered by BPKP. The government is boosting such organic and modern farming methods to reduce the dependence of farmers on purchased inputs.

This cost-effective method will not only help the farmer but will also improve the soil.

There are even talks of including ZBNF in the curriculum, especially at the college level. But the latest report may not help it.

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