Subhash Palekar, popularly known as Krishi ka Rishi (the “sage of agriculture”), is a famous exponent of natural farming and a tireless promoter of the concept of “Zero Budget Natural Farming” (ZBNF).
ZBNF is based on four principles listed below :
1. Zero budget farming
The production cost for the farmer is zero as no input needs to be purchased. As 1.5 to 2.0 % of the nutrients are taken from the soil by the plant (the rest is taken from the air, water and solar energy), there is no need to add fertilizers. These nutrients provided by nature (as in the forest) are totally free of cost. The farmer uses its own seeds and protects the crop with natural products that he collects himself so that he does not have to buy either chemicals or seeds.
As a zero cost technique, natural farming is an appropriate answer to the current agriculture crisis and particularly to farmers great indebtedness and dependence on money lenders, that increasingly leads too many of them to commit suicide.
2. Natural inputs
Natural farming does not require chemicals inputs or organic compost like vermiculture but promotes a natural catalyst of biological activity in the soil and natural protection from diseases.
The nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potash, Iron, Sulphur, Calcium) which are present in the soil are not in an available form for the plants. They first need to be transformed through the action of micro-organisms (bacteria, microbes and local earthworms) that are normally present in the soil as well. But the excessive use of chemicals have destroyed these micro-organisms. It is thus necessary to reintroduce them through natural methods like application of local cow dung which, according to S. Palekar, contains 3 to 5 millions of such beneficial microbes. His researches show that local cow dung (zebu) is the most effective compare to foreign cows (Jersey, Holstein). Only one cow is needed to cultivate 30 acres of lands (most Indian farmers own less than 1 acre) as one cow gives about 11 kilograms of dung per day and as only ten kilograms of local cow dung are required per month to cultivate one acre of land.
Observing nature, S.Palekar thus developed a natural “catalytic agent” known as Jivamrit to promote the formation of humus in the soil by encouraging the multiplication of micro-organisms that decompose the dried biomass of the soil and make it available as nutrients for the plants. The components of jivamrit are entirely natural: water, local cow dung, local cow urine, jaggery (sugarcane sugar), pulse’s flour and soil.
On the same pattern, he designed a seeds treatment formula to protect them from various diseases and insects, without using any pesticides: bijamrita is a natural mixture of water, local cow dung, local cow urine, soil and lime.
Other mixtures aimed at managing insects and pests (natural pesticides and fungicides) contain tobacco, green chili, garlic, neem, and various fruits such as custard apple, guava, lantena camella, papaya, white dhotara, pomegranate.
These natural catalysts, protections and treatments ensure the quality of the soil, the underground water and the crops. Preventing any deterioration or pollution of the environment and maintaining the productivity at a very good level on the long term, natural farming can thus be equated with sustainable agriculture.
Mulching is also one of Zero Budget Natural Farming’s four wheels. It is necessary to create the micro-climate under which micro-organisms can best develop, that is 25 to 32 °C temperature, 65 to 72 % moisture and darkness and warmth in the soil. Mulching indeed conserves humidity of the soil (therefore diminishing the need for irrigation), cools it and protects its micro-organisms.
Intercropping, multicropping or mixed cropping, as opposed to mono-cropping which has been imposed by industrial and mechanised agriculture, is the cultivation of two or more crops in proximity in the same field, during a growing season, to promote interaction between them. It is based on the assertion that there is a complementarity between plants. Natural farming enhances the use of the soil and its nutrients through this complementarity between the crops.
For example, one could mix long life-span species (like chikoo, coconut, mango) with short life-span species (like various vegetables, leguminous, medicinal and aromatic plants) and medium life-span species (like banana, papaya, custard apple). The diversification of crops has to be decided according to the area and agro-climatic conditions.
Multicropping is a good way to minimize the risks for the farmer who is able to enjoy continuity of yield throughout the year. In case of a crop’s failure he can also rely on the other crops. Other advantages of intercropping include the limitation of outbreaks of crop pests (some plants act as natural pesticides against other crops’ pests) while rotation protects against endemic pests; the protection of biodiversity; a better and richer nutrition.