Budget push for zero budget farming but contradictions mar Andhra's natural agri foray -Leo Saldanha

-Down to Earth

The method was promoted as low-cost investment on part of farmers, but huge amounts are being raised for statewide implementation

Andhra Pradesh has played a leading role in promoting agroecological farming in the past two decades. The Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) initiative of the state is often cited as a major intervention which encouraged farmers to gradually move away from chemical-intensive farming. However, despite such efforts, just 1 per cent of the state’s farmers practise non-chemical farming.

In this backdrop, efforts are underway to encourage Andhra’s six million farming households to adopt natural farming by 2022-2024 as part of an unprecedented global initiative.

Called the Climate Resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming (CRZBNF), this approach is inspired by Padma Shri awardee Subhash Palekar, who has been advocating zero budget (no external inputs of any sort, including finance) natural farming for decades. Palekar’s method constitutes one of the many agroecological farming approaches and has been immensely popular.

This is borne out by the fact that thousands of farmers turn up for his training workshops at their own cost. Various farmers’ movements, for instance the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, have also advocated Palekar’s approach. Recently, Palekar decided to rename his approach to natural farming as the Subhash Palekar Spiritual Farming, which he later modified as Subhash Palekar Natural Farming.

The emphasis on zero budget has been employed by Palekar to distinguish his approach as sustainable and supportive of farmers in contrast to organic farming, which he claims involves “foreign” inputs, considered an anathema in natural farming.

For a state to choose what is right for farmers is not a new thing. The Green Revolution promoted since the 1960s encouraged farmers with various incentives to adopt chemical farming based on hybrid seeds. During the 1990s, similar strategies were employed to propagate genetically modified (GM) and proprietary cotton promoted by US agribusiness corporation Monsanto.

In the subsequent years, methods employed in promoting the Green Revolution to gene revolution have come under severe criticism. This has led to:

* Massive loss of local agrobiodiversity and associated traditional knowledge
* Undermining of seed sovereignty
* Increased dependence on credit to purchase proprietary seeds, insecticides and pesticides
* Indebtedness on part of farmers due to low monetary returns from agriculture
* Stagnation in productivity
* Low value of agricultural produce.

All these have contributed to an unprecedented suicide epidemic among farmers: 0.35 million suicides are officially acknowledged as farm suicides during 1995-2015. In addition, farmlands are reporting high soil toxicity due to the use of pesticides and fertilisers, thus jeopardising public health.

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Down to Earth, 9 July, 2019, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/budget-push-for-zero-budget-farming-but-contradictions-mar-andhra-s-natural-agri-foray-65503?fbclid=IwAR0crFNtc6hAaHIK-SLWo

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