High levels of farmer debt and the phenomenon of farmer suicides in India have made finding low-cost agricultural strategies fundamental to rural wellbeing and development. This is combined with the increasing environmental changes, particularly soil degradation, which undermines effective agricultural production. These are formidable challenges which have a disproportionately higher effect on the food security and wellbeing in lower income countries, endangering the achievement of the SDGs.
Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a grassroots agrarian movement in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is a low-cost, locally-sourced natural farming method that does not rely on the use of agrochemicals and has the potential to meet the twin goals of global food security and conservation of the environment. Inputs into the ZBNF are home made and consist of seed treatments (bijamrita), microbial inoculum (jiwamrita) applied either as a liquid foliar spray or solid top dressing to the soil, and cover crops and/or mulching (achhadana). Amendments consist largely of desi cow dung and urine, among other locally sourced components.
In Andhra Pradesh, ZBNF is being implemented by Rythu Sahikara Samstha, a non-profit organization established by the state government. RySS works through a rural extension model that engages a network of educated and trained farming fellows, resource persons, and champions of the ZBNF program to work in village clusters, primarily with women’s self-help groups (SHGs).
An interdisciplinary team of soil and social scientists from the University of Reading are working to develop an evidence base to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the ZBNF approach, to what extent that success has come from context-specific conditions, and whether there are principles that could be useful in other geographic and cultural areas.
The state government supports ZNBF, with the intention that 6 million farmers will implement ZBNF by 2024.