Friday, November 28, 2014

"Zero-budget farming"- A challenger to organic farming?

Every one knows that organic foods are being patronized by more and more people and they account for about 5% of the main stream food industry produced foods. Whether all the claims made by the producers of organic foods are sustainable and 100% safe depend on individual producers/processor though there are stringent regulatory controls supposed to be in place. Unfortunately dilution of organic food specification started in the USA with pressure and lobbying by the "big brothers" in the main stream sector and consumers have to be careful in selecting only 100% organic foods to rule out any possibility of use of chemicals or practices not desirable for absolute safety. While "organic foods vs mainstream commercial foods" debate is hotting up, another side player has jumped into the fray saying even organic foods are not so natural as is being claimed. The so called zero budgeting farming technology being touted by an individual in India depended entirely on cow dung and cow urine to increase the yield with out using any chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The claim that one cow can support 30 acres of land producing crops like cereals is amazing indeed if true and deserves a close look from knowledgeable agricultural experts. Here is a low down on this on-going development in India in the farm sector. 

"Advocate of zero-budget spiritual farming Subhash Palekar has claimed that farmers' suicide in the country was observed among those practicing the chemical-farming methods. Making a plea for encouraging chemical-free farming, Mr. Palekar said there were nearly 4 million farmers practicing zero-budget farming in the country who were prospering. Mr. Palekar, who interacted with media persons here on Saturday, said there was not a single example of farmers practicing zero-budget farming committing suicide, due to higher yield and low cost input. Zero-budget agriculture entails no external chemical inputs like fertilizers or insecticides. While chemical farming methods yield about 12 quintals of basmati rice per acre, under the zero-budget farming method, yield was observed to be as high as 18 to 24 quintals, according to Mr. Palekar. Similarly, about 6 quintals of wheat per acre was the normal yield while it was 18 quintals under zero-budget farming. The country's food output cannot be doubled through chemically-intensive agriculture methods or even conventional organic agriculture. Only zero-budget farming was could meet the country's food requirements. Despite the obvious advantages of alternative methods, not many farmers were switching over to it due to government policies which link all credit, marketing, and insurance facilities to chemical-based agricultural practices, said Mr. Palekar. He noted that the alternative method of farming was more popular in Karnataka, than in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. He came down heavily on the organic farming policy of the State government on the grounds that it was more expensive than chemical-based agriculture. In Mysore region, there were nearly 400 to 500 farmers who had switched over to zero-budget agriculture and Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha leader Badagalpura Nagendra said the organisation was working to create awareness among farmers about its benefits."

It is claimed by the proponents of zero budget farming that the yield under this regime could be 50% to 100% more than the prevalent yields reported using irrigation and full fertilizer use. If 4 million farmers have switched over to this system of cultivation, as being claimed by the proponents of zero budget farming there must be some thing worthwhile that attracts them. In one sense this cow centered farming technology seems eminently suited to India and needs further encouragement. If farmers are happy and no suicide case has ever been reported by zero budget farmers, it is all the more reason to have a close look at this by agricultural experts in Universities and ICAR to confirm that the claims are true and there is no risk inherent in adopting this technology nationally. Just because a single person with years of experience dealing with farmers has propounded this new concept it does not mean that it does not deserve attention. Social organizations and NGOs engaged in rural upliftment in the country must put their heads together to study this system and if found feasible take action to propagate the same.


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