Examining the hype about Zero Budget Natural Farming


Authors – Sreesvarna B & Apoorva Srinivas

Monsoon rains have finally arrived this year and all of us can take a sigh of relief now that farmers can go back to farming soon. However, we cannot again rely on chemical-based fertilizer farming where farmers have to pay a heavy price for input costs. Further, the harm done to the environment due to excessive use of pesticides is evident to all.

The current trend in term of Indian agriculture is to get higher yields of farm produce without disturbing the nature of the soil since the area under cultivation is drastically reduced. This comprehensive approach is emerging due to socio-environmental issues such as climate change, migration of the younger generation away from agriculture and lack of food security.

Source: The Wire

This has led to a steady rise in awareness about organic agriculture and various other forms of natural farming. Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is one among these various types of natural farming that are being practiced across India. This concept was popularized by Padmashri award winner Subhash Palekar from Maharashtra. This idea came across when Palekar studied tribal lifestyles and forest ecosystems in detail and he realized that forests do not require any human assistance for their existence and growth.

ZBNF is a method of organic farming where inputs for the crop are given by nature itself and not by the farmer or any outside agency. This practice implies the use of locally available resources making the net cost of growing equal to zero. For natural farming, the production of main crops is compensated by the production of inter-crops. Thus, the main crop becomes a bonus.

The term ‘zero budget’ in ZBNF indicates that no budget is incurred as there are no external inputs in the form of fertilizers (farmyard or green manure), tractor cultivation (costing labor or fuel), micro-nutrients, pesticides or seeds from the market. This further adds to 25% reduction in labor. There is also an added advantage of 10% lesser water and power requirements, which is due to the additive practices that is to be followed along.

The four pillars of Zero Budget Natural Farming are:

Jeevamurtha: adding soil inoculants


Source: Jeevamurtha

Soil nutrition is the most important factor for plant growth. The required soil health can be achieved by either using fertilizers (chemicals that affects the soil in the longer run), or organic manure (a natural ingredient requiring manure preparation which is time-consuming and labor-intensive). But Zero Budget Natural Farming states the best method is to increase the microbial activity in the soil in such a way that nutrients are easily available, which is achieved by adding an inoculant made from fermented cow dung, cow urine and jaggery.

Beejamrutha: The seed treatment

Seed treatment is normally done to enhance the nutritional accessibility for seeds and to protect them from any stress so as to enhance their viability. The conventional way of doing that is to coat it with a chemical. But in ZBNF, the seed treatment is done using cow dung, cow urine and soil. This adds to the advantage of protecting the soil from seed-borne diseases.

Mulching: An outer cover for the soil

Crop residue is used to cover the soil from direct sunlight hence reducing the evaporation loss and soil erosion. This, in turn, conserves soil moisture. Both earthworm activity and microbial activity increases drastically in such dark and moist conditions.

Waaphasa: Maintenance of soil water balance

Waaphasa is carried out by spraying water on biodegradable materials. For more yield, stem width should be higher which means root coverage should be higher. When water is given outside the canopy of the crop, the root will automatically spread. This would increase the vegetation. If a trench is done, it must be so at least a foot away from the canopy so as the root can grow until there. Once it does so, the second trench is to be dug during the next season outside the first one as now, the canopy is more.

Typically, the atmosphere would contain about 35% humidity in summer, 65% humidity during the winter and 95% during the rainy season. It is this natural moisture absorbed from the atmosphere that is used in ZBNF. Further, a multi-tier cropping system is used instead of monocropping. This provides two advantages: one preventing hot air blows during summer to withstand minimum irrigation and also withstand against pest and insect attacks.

Particularly, this kind of multi-tree system is most suitable for plantation of more than three variety of horticultural crops. The first layer will have drought-resistant, tall trees such as coconut, silver oak, teak etc. Under the shade of these trees, smaller fruit bearing trees like mango and guava can be planted. The space between these two trees can be used for spice crops like pepper or ginger (shadow crops).

Shadow crops like coffee and cardamom (spices) can be planted in between the trees. This way the utility of the land can be increased by about five times. Space for furrows can be given in between to ensure percolation of rainwater into the aquifers. Trenches can also be made in between two shadow region crops. The trenching boarder can be cropped by dribble system with crops like cow pea, cucumber or watermelon. The trench lines must though be covered by mulching.

Disadvantages of ZBNF

The main disadvantage of this ZBNF method is due to the misunderstanding among farmers who go by the word. While the method is natural (more like the Ayurvedic treatment for humans), but it does incur a minimum input cost. The cost is in the indirect form of labor for field work and cattle rearing, the input requirement for cattle feed and its health requirements like vaccinations. Zero budget implies that no direct cost is incurred but there are indirect costs in terms of feed to the cattle, labor and so on which are kept at very minimal.

Further, we should not forget, ecological changes cannot be done instantaneously. Zero Budget Natural Farming might be profitable in the long run, but as of now, completely depending on it for profit is not feasible (particularly for those owning more than 5 acres). The best option is to combine chemical-based farming, organic farming and ZBNF and slowly, over years reduce the proportion of land under chemical farming. States like Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have started to take steps towards ZBNF, we need to watch out for the outcome.

Sreesvarna B
Sreesvarna B is an Agricultural Engineer, who graduated from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru and got her master’s degree in Renewable Energy Engineering from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. Her research interests include climate change and its impact, extraction of energy from renewable sources, irrigation and water management. As a part of her academics, Sreesvarna has done various projects on technology and sustainable development in rural areas, thermal image analysis for assessing canopy temperature of plantation crops, design of micro-irrigation systems and bio-materials feasibility for solar cells. Her other passions include playing violin, camping, cycling, gardening and writing articles.


  1. I got confused in the last line of beejamrutha section. Is it protecting soil from seed-borne diseases or protecting seed from soil-borne diseases. LoL, it is good article with small confusion.

    • Seeds can suffer a mechanical injury during processing and these damaged seed pave the way for fungal spores to seed contamination. These seeds when sowed without treatment tends to affect the soil. The becomes seed borne soil disease. When such seeds are planted during unfavourable soil conditions they cause certain fungi to attack and damage the seed, this becomes soil-borne seed disease.

  2. The best way is that everyone should own their land and every family should have no more than 3 acres of land which they can maintain and sustain themselves. this will reduce the inter dependence of the families which will in long run make them self sufficient. The people in the villages then can exchange their crops for the year. People owning more than 5 acres of land should donate to other landless farmers so that they can grow their own food.
    people’s main needs are food & shelter.

    • There is another side of your point too. Our country has a maximum of small and medium farmers ( less than 5-acre land). This means, one farmer, sows something, and the other sows something else. The basic problems that come cause of this:
      1) They say for having a good yield ( quantity and quality), you need to share your seeds. As in, when the highest quality seeds are sowed by every farmer around the neighborhood, the pollination is right and you get the best variety. Change in a variety causes crossing which leads to comprise in quality.
      2) You cannot utilize farm mechanization and technology to the fullest as all you own is a small land and its profit won’t meet the initial cost and running cost of the technology.
      3) You cannot guarantee water source as when you have a higher land holding, you can do something for farm pond to catch the run-off water. For a smaller holding, you need to depend on the community to come together and work together. That is not impossible but is a huge task.
      4) One acre or Ten acres, farming takes time and effort. You can’t guarantee profit for the work and time you put into the one acre. ( you need an alternate job for income right? or will you spend the whole of your time in the field? )
      People are working on these lines, we need the community to come together and that takes time.

  3. Thank you very much for your insightful thoughts Megha. But donating land to the landless doesnt seem to be possible in India. the Bhoodhan movement way back in the 1950s tried its best to convince landlords to donate, but it didnt work!

  4. because of continuous mulching,is there any chance of snakes coming to farmland or home garden.

    • Any agriculture field, with mulching or without, attract snakes as snakes come looking for its prey (rodents that consume crop yields!). For an extremely traditional farmer, the snake is a friend than a foe. It is though mandatory to move with caution in the fields and be alert. Keeping the house clean and surroundings of the home clean will not bring rodents in, which would hence not let a snake in.
      There are possible steps that can be taken to avoid snake- human conflict and also when a snake is not threatened, it does not attack. Do not panic if you tend to come across a snake ( most common poisonous ones being naga (spectacle cobra), common krait, Russel’s Viper and Scaled Viper) please call the concerned department and stay away.


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