Harvesting without Investing; Budget 2019's thrust to farming and agriculture
- Madan Diwan
Bharat has been a source of global exploitation over the last several decades. Invaders after invaders came and looted this country and took away resources generated by farmers, artisans and rural folks of this nation. Invasions and war did not deter its citizens from creation of wealth. And generations ensured that more wealth is created. Centre to creation of wealth was agriculture and rural economy.
For all Bharatiya populace, which then was divided in several regions, agriculture was a way of life. Prayers of panchtatwa (i.e. Agni, Jal, Vayu, Akash & Prithvi) were part of entire nations lifestyle and its life cycle and daily & religious routine was woven around these panchtawtas. Just a few days ago we celebrated ‘Nirajala Ekadashi’; meaning living without water for a day. Each year this festival falls exactly at a time when water situation across regions comes to zero and the festival serves as a reminder of water conservation.
Zero Budget Farming in Budget 2019 
Budget 2019 has mention of Zero Budget Farming. It has been appreciated and ferociously criticized. Proposal needs to be critically examined with facts and circumstances that have lead to re-introduction of this concept in modern day Bharatiya lifestyle. Needless to say, there is zero merit in arguments, that country will be pushed back in international markets. More so the proposal should be appreciated in light of the latest international concerns and trends & market practices that are delivering net value addition to farmers and citizens across many nations. OECD report 2019, has thrown some important statistics for all of us to think inwards. Most of the productivity and environmental indicators are alarming and need urgent response from society as a whole and not so much from the Government. OECD analysis suggests that our Agriculture is contributing to global warming by releasing abnormally high greenhouse gases in the environment.
OECD 2019, report highlights a few issues which need urgent attention. When our nitrogen balance is 95.1 kg/Ha as compared to world average of 30 kg/Ha what should be our response? When our phosphorus balance is 31.8 kg/Ha as compared to global 2.3kg/Ha; can we recommend more? What 103 ICAR institutes; 3 "Central Agricultural Universities" 4 Deemed Universities 60 "State Agricultural Universities and Thousands of KVKs were doing over the last 70 years when we were adding burden of such magnitude to our mother land ? Farmer leader late Sharad Joshi always said “one day Nehruvian model will fail this country. More you will take away from farmer to support your cities, more farmers will rebel.”
Most of the modern theorists would seek a technological solution, which practically doesn’t exist and would rather opt for costly videshi discourse, which will further drain precious foreign exchange. More and more budgetary provision for subsidies for import and distribution of fertilizers and nutrients is causing a drain on financial system and adding to the problems of government in currency management. Royalty payments made to foreign seed companies & growth nutrient products is another source of financial worry to the nation. OECD report also talks of excessive use of power essentially meaning more imports of coal and crude to support this consumption pattern. All this adds to balance of payments crisis.
Challenges and Solutions 
Quest of a few politically powerful groups to chase profits in commercial crops such as sugar cane and governmental support to encourage consumption of imported fertilizers and nutrients is the cause of death of traditionally Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in our country. Products like jowar, bajra, maize are out of farmer horizon. In several areas farmers have even moved out of production of vegetables to water guzzling commercial crops. Race for so called production has led to indiscriminate use of fertilizers and nutrients resulting in destruction of soil and higher chemical residues.
Technological solutions to most of the issues are already being designed. Microbes based formulations have been developed and tested by UPCAR (Uttar Pradesh Council for Agriculture Research) as low green input nutrients. Products have been developed keeping in mind the use of charcoal powder as base, which otherwise happens to be an environmental hazard.
Climate change is a major challenge to modern day farmer. Excessive flooding or droughts are extremes which cause major losses to farm income. Zero budget farming provides an answer; where farmer is able to produce better yield in the event of drought by using robust seeds procured from natural seed bank initiatives. Microbe based solutions, which are green in nature will be able to save plants from fungus arising out of excessive flooding. We need sustained growth in agriculture. Solutions such as land pooling and contract farming will not necessarily work. Some sections of farming community will oppose it tooth and nail. Bharat has unique regions, unique cultures and unique farm practices which deliver different products which modern world recognizes as Geographical Indicators (GI); such as Basmati Rice, Nasik Grapes, Coorg Coffee, Darjiling Tea etc etc. Zero Budget Agriculture is set to induce farmers to opt for such products which have better market realization. Residue free farming will deliver good returns with whatever small size of landholdings without having to disturb farmers’ families and boundaries.
While expanding on the theme of Zero Budget Farming FM Nirmalaji must have kept in mind Eris which plays many roles in maintaining the ecological balance. They act as as flood-control systems, preventing soil erosion and wastage of runoff during heavy rainfall- in Tamilnadu. Without eris, - which also recharges the groundwater in the surrounding areas -paddy cultivation in Tamilnadu would have been impossible. Similarly she would have thought of Bavi, Jampoi, Ahar Pynes, Baolis, Vavdis, Kuhl, Kyere, Korambu, Zabo,Kata, Rapat Kholas, Jampois and several variants which have been serving the water needs of farmers since the dawn of human civilization. All these structures exist in farmland and don't need heavy investment. These will coexist with and act in addition to canal and hydel networks that modern world envisages. Crops need water & Zero Budget Agriculture means draw less water to achieve more crop per drop.
PM Modi's support to Technological Solutions
PM Modiji supports all technology based initiatives such as BT or HTBT if they have a proven track record. His insistence on Zero Budget Agriculture through budget is another push to change behavior of farming community and make them aware of what best they already have with them. His push is to make them realize damages caused to the field they have inherited from forefathers; and stop excessive use of inputs, be it fertilizers, insecticides, weedicides or pumping out of ground water.
PM Modijis efforts are to make farming community realize the potential soil offers and the importance of preserving quality of nation’s soil for future generations to come.
(The author is a Social Economist)