Harvesting without Investing
Crops need water and Zero Budget Agriculture means drawing less water to achieve more crop per drop. Hence, Zero Budget Agriculture is set to induce farmers to opt for the products, which have a better market realisation. Residue-free farming will deliver good returns with whatever small size of landholdings without having to disturb farmers’ families & boundaries
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. Invasions and wars did not deter its citizens from creating of wealth. And generations ensured that more wealth is created. The centre to the creation of wealth was agriculture and rural economy.
For all Bharatiya populace, which then was divided into several regions, agriculture was a way of life. Prayers of Panchtatva (i.e. Agni, Jal, Vayu, Akash and Prithvi) were part of the entire nation’s lifestyle and its life cycle, and daily and religious routine was woven around these Panchtavas. 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.
Budget 2019 has mention of Zero Budget Farming. It has been appreciated and strongly criticised. The proposal needs to be critically examined with facts and circumstances that have led to re-introduction of this concept in modern-day Bharatiya lifestyle. Needless to say, there is zero merit in arguments that the country will be pushed back in international markets. More so, the proposal should be appreciated in light of the latest international concerns and trends and 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 look inwards. Most of the productivity and environmental indicators are alarming and need an 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.
Indicators India International
1991- 2006- 1991- 2006-
2000 2015 2000 2015
Nitrogen Balance kg/Ha  103.8 95.1 33.2 30.0
Phosphorus Balance   23.4 31.8 3.7 2.3
Agriculture share of  5.2 4.7 3.7 2.0
energy used %
Agriculture share of 28.4 18.6 8.5 8.9
GHG emission %
Source: OECD 2019 Report
OECD 2019 Report highlights a few issues which need urgent attention. When our nitrogen balance is 95.1 kg/Ha as compared to the 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 last 70 years when we were adding the burden of such magnitude to our motherland? Farmer leader, the late Sharad Joshi, always said “one-day Nehruvian model will fail this country. The more you take away from farmer to support your cities, more the farmer will rebel.”
We will support private entrepreneurships in driving value-addition to farmers’ produce from the field and for those from allied activities, like Bamboo and timber from the hedges and for generating renewable energy. Annadata can also be Urjadata. Dairying through cooperatives shall also be encouraged by creating infrastructure for cattle feed manufacturing, milk procurement, processing & marketing. I place my appreciation for our farmers who have made India self-sufficient in pulses. I am sure they will repeat such a success even in the production of oilseeds. We also hope to form 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organizations, to ensure economies of scale for farmers over the next five years. — Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance MinisterMost 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. Real problem rests in understanding specific issues affecting regional agriculture. Excessive push for use of fertilizers and nutrients during and after the Green Revolution is the first cause of damage to soil fertility and higher chemical residue in produce. The few, who had mocked at PM Modi’s push for a soil health card, will hopefully now understand the idea behind that move. Unless each farmer is able to assess soil balance, he will not be able to adopt residue free farm practices. When he will have soil history with produce record, he can better manage his farm productivity by planning intercropping cycles.
More and more budgetary provision for subsidies for import and distribution of fertilizers and nutrients are causing a drain on the financial system and adding to problems of government in currency management. Royalty payments made to foreign seed companies and growth nutrient products are 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 the balance of payments crisis.
Practically, we need to review every agriculture practice that has been altered in the last 5 to 6 decades. The pattern of agriculture produce historically has been based on what soil delivers the best. Hence, we have Alphonso from Konkan, Langada and Dashehari from North and Totapuri from South. We get best pineapples in north east and Vidarbha delivers oranges. Seasons, when they are ripening, are also seasons when they are consumed. Paddy and wheat varieties too are harvested when the climate is fit for preservation for future consumption for years to come. If so, what went wrong with agriculture?
Quest of a few politically powerful groups to chase profits in commercial crops such as sugarcane 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’s horizon. In several areas, farmers have even moved out of the production of vegetables to water guzzling commercial crops. Race for so-called production has led to indiscriminate use of fertilizers and nutrients resulting in the destruction of soil and higher chemical residues. When Nepal banned the import of Mangoes and vegetables after detection of excessive chemical residues not many raised eyebrows but expected PM Modi and CM Yogi to intervene.
OECD Report accepts that growth of Bharatiya agriculture is at 3.5% way above global growth of 2.2% per year. In the same breath, the Report criticizes Green House Gas emission by Livestock rearing sector. Few environmentalists could seek a ban on further livestock rearing; a sector which has maximum non-farm employment in our country. Zero budget agriculture is nothing but a response to several issues which have now been discussed against our nation internationally.
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 a base, which otherwise happens to be an environmental hazard. Field trials have established substantial cost savings to farmers. Several lube based, produce specific, region-specific, soil specific solutions are being invented and improvised. Special efforts are required by Niti Ayog to identify and propagate such products. Microbe solutions and bio-fertilisers have a lot of export potential to give developed and developing nations a look at our traditional practices.
Green House Gas emissions by livestock will be naturally reduced once farmers are trained in the use of livestock secretions as inputs to improve soil fertility coupled with microbe-based nutrients. Burning of stubs causing pollution will be a thing of past once farmers are trained in the use of stubs and livestock secretions to make land more fertile. For this, farmers will have to be moved away from Farm Management Practices, which have been imbibed by vested interests in the industry as the only available solution. Zero Budget Agriculture can be considered as one of the steps proposed to achieve a reduction in emission levels earlier than the committed year of 2030.
Climate change is a major challenge to modern day farmers. Excessive flooding or droughts are extremes which cause major losses to farm income. Zero budget farming provides an answer; where the farmer is able to produce a 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.
Presence of nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil is welcome but not excessive use. Bacteria, insects or farm practices which convert the presence of these two vital ingredients in the soil to nutrients to boost the productivity of every product should be invented and put to use. Zero budget agriculture envisages focus on improving and inventing products and practices which will convert the presence of both products to farmer’s advantage.
We need sustained growth in agriculture. Solutions such as land pooling and contract farming will not necessarily work. Some sections of the 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 recognises as Geographical Indicators; 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 a better market realisation. Residue-free farming will deliver good returns with whatever small size of landholdings without having to disturb farmers’ families and boundaries.
Residue-free organic produce has a special place in the international market. In developed countries residue-free products command 200% premium. Even big cities here have shops which sell residue free products at a very high premium. Government policy encourages export of organic products and these are exempted under the export restricted category. To meet global interests in residue free products Zero Budget Agriculture will give immediate push; add premium income to farmers kitty and give him a better understanding of age-old Good Agricultural Practices.
30% of our nation has chemical residue-free land. Tribals and farmers in hilly regions practice residue-free farming. The myth that residue-free farming results in lower productivity have been busted in several agricultural products. Green Input based agriculture means better yields with stronger pest resistance and almost 100% fruition to deliver highly nutritious produce.
While expanding on the theme of Zero Budget Farming, FM Nirmala Sitharaman must have kept in mind the traditional water harvesting methods which have been serving water needs of farmers since ages. Crops need water and Zero Budget Agriculture means draw less water to achieve more crop per drop.
PM Modi supports all technology-based initiatives such as BT or HTBT if they have a proven track record. His insistence on Zero Budget Agriculture through the budget is another push to change the behaviour of the farming community and make them aware of what best they already have with them. His push is to make them realise 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 groundwater. PM Modi’s efforts are to make the farming community realise the potential soil offers and the importance of preserving the quality of the nation’s soil for future generations to come.
(The writer is a social economist)