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The world’s population is predicted to expand to approximately 10 billion by 2050. It is expected that in a situation of modest economic growth, this will boost agricultural demand up to 50%, in comparison to 2013 (FAO 2017, The future of Food and Agriculture– Trends and challenges). Expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment. There has been significant decrease in forest cover and biodiversity over the years. Groundwater sources are also getting depleted rapidly. High-input, resource-intensive farming systems have caused massive deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
A transformational process towards ‘holistic’ approaches such as agro-ecology, agro-forestry, climate-smart agriculture, and conservation agriculture is a necessity. Practices such as agro-ecology, including Natural Farming, result in better yields without compromising the needs of the future generations. They are advocated by FAO and other international organizations.
Independent Assessment in Crop Cutting Experiments by Center for Economics and Social Studies (CESS) / I.D.S has been done for 6 seasons till now – 2018-19 (2 seasons) and 2019 – 20 (2 seasons) , Kharif 2020 and Rabi 2020-21 (2 seasons). It was observed that the Yield differences are not significant between NF and Non-NF farms.
Trends in FGD responses from 142 ZBNF farmers
(% of farmers)
|Impact on yield of ZBNF farms||57||35||8|
|Impact on farming expenses in ZBNF||0||0||100|
|Price received for ZBNF produce||13||87||0|
|Impact on manual labour for ZBNF||78||7||15|
|Impact on net income of ZBNF||90||10||0|
Source: Amit Khurana and Vineet Kumar,2020, The State of Organic and Natural Farming in India- Challenges and Possibilities, Centre for Science and Environment , New Delhi
NF advocates the cultivation of diverse species of crops depending on site-specific agro-climatic conditions. With the help of diversified/mixed cropping practices, farmers can harvest different types of produce at regular interval from small parcels of land and earn regular incomes. The mixed cropping system also improves the nutritional value of soil, minimizes risks, reduces pest loads, boosts productivity levels and ensures financial sustainability.
Natural Farming aims to make farming viable and aspirational by increasing net incomes of farmers on account of cost reduction, reduced risks, similar yields, incomes from intercropping, increasing crop intensity along with availing fair price of the crop grown.
Natural Farming aims to drastically cut down production costs by encouraging farmers to prepare essential nutrients and plant protection materials with locally available resources, thereby ending the need for external and commercial inputs like fertilizers and other chemicals. The inputs like Jivamrit and Beejamrit are significantly reducing the costs of cultivation.
As per the report of Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy in Andhra Pradesh on ‘Life Cycle Assessment of Natural Farming (NF) and Non-NF’, fertilizer’s contribution to materials cost is 10%–20% in NF viz-a-viz 50%–70% in non-NF Overall of cost of cultivation is lower in NF than in non-NF for paddy, maize, and groundnut (refer to below figure).
Cost of cultivation in irrigated crops
Source: CSTEP (2020) Life cycle assessment of NF – Non NF: A Preliminary study in Andhra Pradesh
Recent studies have observed that farmers cultivating rice using chemical inputs spend INR 5,961 per acre on average, while one using NF techniques incurred INR 846 per acre on natural inputs. A similar pattern has been observed with respect to maize and groundnut cultivation. For maize, NF farmers spent INR 503 per acre on natural inputs whereas chemical farmers, on average, spent INR 7,509 per acre. For groundnut, a chemical farmer spent INR 1,187 per acre as against INR 780 per acre by a NF farmer (Can Zero Budget Natural Farming Save Input Costs and Fertiliser Subsidies? Evidence from Andhra Pradesh- Niti Gupta, Saurabh Tripathi, and Hem H. Dholakia- CEEW Report | January 2020).
Average input cost on fertilizers and pesticides drops significantly for NF rice and maize farmers
Source: Can Zero Budget Natural Farming Save Input Costs and Fertiliser Subsidies? Evidence from Andhra Pradesh- Niti Gupta, SaurabhTripathi, and Hem H. Dholakia- CEEW Report | January 2020
Fertilizers and pesticides have been shown to have adverse impacts on farmers as well as consumers. Farmers are exposed to contaminants while applying chemical inputs. By replacing such external inputs with locally made natural concoctions, inoculums, and decoctions, NF can reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as acute and chronic neurotoxicity, respiratory diseases and even cancer, which are associated with the use and application of inorganic chemicals in agriculture. Pesticides contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which enter humans through diet and can have negative health impacts such as breast cancer, reproductive disorders, and poorer intellectual development in children. Discontinuing chemical pesticides and fertilizers in fields will prevent run-off into water sources, further reducing communities’ exposure to such chemicals.
Natural Farming products have a much higher nutritional content. Protein, amino acid, crude fat and other essential nutrient were about 300% higher than ordinary products. Chemical residue such as nitrate is almost undetectable in Natural Farming produce. A research study on ‘Assessment of Post NF effects on the Health and Nutrition Profile of Households’ through interviewing 570 households spread across 8 pilot districts and 19 clusters of Andhra Pradesh revealed that almost 80% of the NF families have experienced improvement in gastric problems, Hypertension and Diabetes post NF consumption. All the NF households revealed improvement in stamina and improvement of health in their infants post NF consumption.
Perception of HHs on Health post NF consumption
Source: Assessment of Post NF effects on the Health & Nutrition profile of households (December 2019)
Natural Farming leads to rural employment and increases the financial viability of small farms. NF has the potential to generate employment opportunities across the agricultural value chain, from production, distribution, and retail of natural mixtures to market linkages for such produce. Further easy accessibility to natural inputs would bring in gender equality in the sector.
Natural Farming can mitigate India’s prolonged problems of both direct unemployment and disguised unemployment.
A report by CEEW states that Non-Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) farmers use three times more urea and DAP per acre than ZBNF farmers. It also highlights that farmers practicing rice cultivation using ZBNF can avoid 83–99 percent of various fertilizers consumption. The expected urea use for ZBNF rice farmers is 0.59 kilograms per acre (kg/acre) and for non-ZBNF farmers is 74.46 kg/acre, resulting in 73.87 kg/acre of avoided urea consumption. (CEEW – “Can Zero Budget Natural Farming Save Input Costs and Fertiliser Subsidies- Evidence from Andhra Pradesh”)
The fertilizers that can be avoided through ZBNF are mentioned below
Source: Can Zero Budget Natural Farming Save Input Costs and Fertiliser Subsidies- Evidence from Andhra Pradesh, January 2020.
Natural Farming aims to reduce risks associated with uncertainties of climate change by promoting the adoption of an agroecology framework. It encourages farmers to use low-cost homegrown inputs, eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers, and industrial pesticides. Natural Farming has shown evidence of increased resilience of farmlands along with protecting crops against extreme weather conditions by improving the fertility and strength of the soil.
Natural Farming fields / crops / orchards show especially strong resistance to climatic fluctuation. During the Pethai and Titli cyclones of 2018, the crops cultivated through Natural Farming in Andhra Pradesh, showed greater resilience to heavy winds than conventional crops. A study by CEEW on “Zero Budget Natural Farming for the Sustainable Development Goals Andhra Pradesh, India”, observed that during a bout of cyclonic winds in Vishakhapatnam in 2017, paddy crops withstood the winds and water-logging much better than adjacent non-NF (Zero-Budget Natural Farming) paddy fields. This aspect would help minimize the revenue losses to the farmer due to adverse climatic conditions.
Similarly, the CSE study on “State of Organic and Natural Farming in India- challenges and opportunities” also states that most farmers felt that NF had improved the overall resilience of crops to adverse climatic conditions.
WWF (2016) had reported that, “out of 50 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater, 70 percent consumption is accounted for agricultural purpose’’. Groundwater irrigation accounts 60 percent of the total irrigated area in India is leading to over-exploitation and falling water levels in aquifers.
Natural Farming is a pre-eminent practice that has proved to improve water retention capacity. It requires minimum water consumption and is known to reduce the dependency on resources like water and electricity. Thus, ultimately preserving groundwater reserve, improve water table, and reduce financial and labor stress on farmers. Practices like Whapasa have a positive effect in improving fertility and improving water retention capacity of soil. Similarly, contours and bunds preserve rainwater and allow soil moisture to retain for a longer period.
Essentially, Natural Farming helps in making soil porous and increases the moisture content in the soil since the amount of water in the air is 10 times that of the amount of water in rivers. Natural Farming can transform agriculture for drought-prone areas in the country.
The reduction in water consumption by paddy in Zero Budget Natural Farming (NF) is evident in a study by Centre for study of Science, Technology and Policy conducted in Andhra Pradesh on Life Cycle Assessment of NF and Non-NF. It was found that for paddy, NF requires 1,400 thousand liters as per theory and 3,500 thousand liters as per the survey, (average per acre) less water than non-NF.
Water consumption by paddy for both the practices, considering theoretical and survey data
Source: Life cycle assessment of NF and Non-NF a study in Andhra Pradesh, Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, November 2019
Natural farming transformation happens in a democratic way through men and women collectives taking charge at the grassroots. Especially women collectives (SHGs and their federations) are involved in programme planning, implementation and monitoring. They are at the centre of this movement of transformation as women and their collectives understand natural farming better and they motivate their members to adopt natural farming. They are more empathetic to the damage usage of chemicals and fertilizers cause on the soil, their farms and the health of their family.
Moreover, the knowledge dissemination and hand holding support is constantly provided through farmer and community driven extension architecture.
Climate change poses critical risks for farmers, and endangers the soil, water, and other resources on which food production depends. Rising temperatures have already intensified droughts, heat waves, and cyclones, making it harder to grow crops. In this context the crops grown under natural farming methods show great resilience to droughts and cyclones. The changes in soil structure with the help of organic carbon, no/low tillage and plant diversity are supporting plant growth even under extreme situations like severe droughts and withstanding severe flood and wind damage during cyclones. NF impacts many farmers positively by imparting resilience to the crops against weather extremities.
(Disclaimer: The term ZBNF have been used in some reports and infographics as these studies were conducted when the Andhra Pradesh community-managed Natural farming was termed as Zero Budget Natural farming (ZBNF)).