On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said that implementing the Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) at a larger scale would help the state make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This unique initiative was launched in September 2015 under the central government's scheme of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. 50 villages across 13 districts of the state were selected for the pilot project. After witnessing an overwhelming success, the government wants to cover approximately six million farmers by 2025-26.
Eliminating chemical fertilisers
This method was created by Subhash Palekar who belongs to a rural family in Maharashtra. The objective of ZBNF is to reduce the usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and promote sound agronomic practices. Farmers use earthworms, cow dung, urine, plants, human excreta and such biological fertilisers for crop protection. The method reduces the farmers' investment to a greater extent while increasing the levels of production. A major chunk of the farmers' investment is spent on chemical fertilisers. Also, repeated usage of fertilisers on the land degrades its quality over a period of time and renders the land unfit for cultivation. Few districts of Andhra Pradesh like Anantapur, Kadapa, Kurnool and Chittoor were traditionally drought-prone. There are many villages that witness dry spells for a month. In such districts, the scheme was very helpful to boost the productivity of agricultural land.
Ponds form a vital component of the ZBNF as one of its objectives is fighting drought conditions. In rain-fed agriculture, availability of water in the form of moisture becomes important. Hence, the composting is done on the farm itself so as to increase the organic matter in the soil. More the organic content in the soil, higher will be its water retaining capacity. Another important feature of ZBNF is intercropping, wherein two or more crops are grown in proximity. This is done to produce a higher yield on a given piece of land by making optimal use of resources. Farmers in the villages of Andhra Pradesh often grow chillies, tomatoes, red gram and pearl millet. According to reports, in Anantapur district, a 136 percent increase was observed in groundnut yield.
Collaboration with United Nations
In its path towards sustainable agriculture, the government of Andhra Pradesh has collaborated with Sustainable India Finance Facility (SIFF) which is a combine initiate of UN Environment, World Agroforestry Centre and BNP Paribas. This collaboration will increase the number of states adopting the natural farming method in the country. Also, the credibility of the initiative increases, which attracts more states to encourage the practice. Assistance in the form of scientific research in agriculture and soil testing will be delivered.
Towards a food-secure world
A United Nations report projects the world population to reach 9.6 billion by 2025. To feed the growing population, we need to adopt intensive agricultural techniques that ensure high yields of crops. In most of the developing countries of the world today, including India, land holdings are considerably small in size. Hence, there is a need to develop methods that help produce higher output with fewer resources.
Natural farming not only ensures food security by increasing the crop yield but also contributes to combat the spectre of climate change. Agriculture is also one of the main sectors affected due to climate change. The effects of climate change can be in the form of extreme weather conditions, droughts and increased variability in temperature and rainfall. These events will decrease the productivity of agricultural land, making it unfit for cultivation. Such conditions can be avoided by introducing Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), which is an approach that helps and guide actions to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support the development and ensure food security in a changing climate.
In the Economic Survey of India 2017-18, it was stated that the government of India would implement various schemes to sustain agriculture. About 30 percent of the climate change process can be prevented if sustainable mechanisms are put to use in agriculture. However, less than three percent of the total finance goes towards this sector. Therefore, there is a grave need to increase the flow of finance into agriculture. The measures taken by the government of Andhra Pradesh are commendable. With its success, other states are also expected to give due importance to such schemes and reinvigorate the rural economy.