The Union Budget’s push for Zero Budget Natural Farming to double farmers’ income is as much a testimony to the method as it is to its originator, Subhash Palekar. The 70-year-old farmer from the drought-hit Vidarbha region of Maharashtra has been advocating the chemical-free method of farming for the past 20 years. Palekar’s methods have also found acceptance in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, with more than 50 lakh farmers said to be growing crops in this manner. The Indian Express spoke to Palekar about his method and the questions surrounding it.
How did natural farming come to be included in the Union Budget? Were you invited to make presentations before the Niti Aayog?
There is a bit of a history about how natural farming came to be included in the Budget and let me share that with you. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had got his mandate on the basis of his promise to double farmers’ income. The prime minister had expected that in five years, agricultural universities would do extensive research on how to reduce the cost of production and ensure increase of incomes. However, this did not happen, which propelled the Niti Aayog and the government to look for solutions elsewhere.
During a nationwide search, the Niti Aayog came across natural farming and studied it for at least two years. Finally, in February this year, Rajiv Kumar, vice-chairman of Niti Aayog, had called me to make a presentation about this before a distinguished gathering of officers, scientists and vice-chancellors of various agricultural universities. That very day, he declared in a press conference about the government’s decision to popularise my methods across the country.
This meeting was followed by another one last month, which was also attended by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. Following such extensive deliberations, the Union Budget decided to include natural farming to help boost up farmers’ income.
There seems to be some ambiguity about the name Zero Budget Natural Farming. Is it really Zero Budget as multiple farmers have pointed out maintaining a cow would require investment?
Back in the 1990s, when I had perfected the technique, the name Zero Budget was coined as our theory was that production cost of the main crop would be sufficient for the intercrop. However, as the technique caught the imagination of farmers, certain questions started cropping up. In case of crops like paddy, which can’t have any intercrop, the theory of production of cost of main crop sufficing for the intercrop can’t stand. Also, some crops are labour-intensive — which farmers would have to bear.
This led me to rethink on the name and I started a debate on social media and in the public about a new name for the technique, and so, the name Subhash Palekar Natural Farming was coined. The only reason my name is included was that some NGOs had started propagating this technique, claiming that this was perfected by them. The change of name was intimated to the Niti Aayog, which agreed to use the new name. However, this was not reflected in the Budget.
Have you applied for a patent for this technique?
The technique is a result of intensive research done by me. But I have no desire to monetise this as the only thing I want is to help farmers. My sons, who are working professionals, have also joined my movement for the same thing. In a month, I am conducting workshops for 25 days completely free-of-cost. The only reason I have not applied for a patent is that I don’t want my technique to be a money-generating machine for later generations. My technique will remain free for all farmers.
Can natural farming be used for hybrid or genetically modified seeds? Also how effective is this for horticulture crops?
Our system is seed agnostic and can be used for hybrids, desis and even genetically modified seeds. My system talks about treatment of the soil, increasing microorganisms in it and so, has nothing to do with the crops or seed. Those who oppose Bt cotton should give an alternative before asking farmers to stop growing it. Farmers who have used my techniques have been able to get second generation from BT cotton and have successfully sown the seeds. The cost of production of BT cotton, in fact, increases manifold if grown with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. With my technique, the cost of production is minimal and so, helpful to farmers.
As of horticulture and polyhouse crops, we have a large database of farmers who have successfully grown grapes and capsicum using this.
Can your technique help fight pests and insects?
Natural farming helps increase the immunity of crops and so, crops grown with this method will certainly be able to resist attacks of pests. In fact, the technique has helped crops develop drought-resistant properties also. Nature has endowed all plants and crops genes to fight pests and droughts, but such genes are normally recessive and do not express themselves. Natural farming activates such genes and so, can be an important source to fight drought.