ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mirage of Zero Budget Farming

Is “zero budget farming” the new demagoguery of the state to camouflage misgovernment?


The conferring of the Padma Shri on Marathi agriculturist Subhash Palekar had brought the concept of Zero Budget (Natural) Farming (ZBF) to public notice in 2016. In the context of the vulnerability faced by the commercial input-intensive agrarian systems in the country, many perceive this naturalistic farming method as a potential breakthrough. First, by eliminating the use of purchased/commercial seeds, fertilisers, and chemicals, production costs can be drastically cut down. Second—and largely as a consequence of the first factor—by reducing farmers’ reliance on loans, their entrapment in debts can be avoided. If these are among the reasons underlying the enthusiasm of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre for pushing the ZBF as a strategy for the distressed agriculture in this country—through its Economic Survey 2018–19 and budget 2019—then our scepticism about the government’s intentions may be excused as a critic’s paraphernalia. But, will it be easy to side-step some of the crude realities?

Reportedly, Palekar’s experimentation with ZBF was almost a decade old by the time he was felicitated in 2016. Yet, apart from some media reports and case studies that were predominantly published and publicised around the time of the award, and the books written by Palekar himself on the ZBF techniques per se, no independent, in-depth economic assessments of this farming model are available in the public domain. With a 2016 case study conducted by the La Via Campesina (LVC)—a coalition of 182 farmer organisations across 81 countries—mentioning that most of the farmers collaborating with Palekar
in Karnataka came from the “middle peasantry,” the issue of the inclusiveness of this model remains open to contention, as do the aspects of scalability and sustainability. While the same report cites the marketability of the ZBF produce to be a major limitation, some recent media reports have brought to the fore several instances where farmers using the ZBF methods have returned to the conventional input-intensive farming practices on the grounds of profitability.

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Updated On : 7th Aug, 2019
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