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Towards redesign at scale through zero budget natural farming in Andhra Pradesh, India


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Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a form of agricultural system redesign being practiced at scale in India, particularly in the state of Andhra Pradesh. ZBNF is an emerging set of agricultural practices designed dramatically to reduce farmers direct costs (hence ‘zero budget’) while boosting yields and farm health through the use of non-synthetic inputs sourced locally (‘natural farming’). Andhra Pradesh has set out the aim of ‘rolling out’ ZBNF to all 6 million of the state’s farmers through a state-led programme of training and extension. We present data showing statistically significant differences between ZBNF and non-ZBNF yields and farmer incomes at multiple locations and with a variety of crops, as well as preliminary results on farmers’ experiences with crop health and household transitions following the adoption of ZBNF. We conclude with reflections on the lessons derived from Andhra Pradesh’s state support for ZBNF.
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International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
ISSN: 1473-5903 (Print) 1747-762X (Online) Journal homepage:
Towards redesign at scale through zero budget
natural farming in Andhra Pradesh, India
Zareen Pervez Bharucha, Sol Bermejo Mitjans & Jules Pretty
To cite this article: Zareen Pervez Bharucha, Sol Bermejo Mitjans & Jules Pretty (2020): Towards
redesign at scale through zero budget natural farming in Andhra Pradesh, India, International
Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, DOI: 10.1080/14735903.2019.1694465
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© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa
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Published online: 12 Jan 2020.
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Towards redesign at scale through zero budget natural farming in Andhra
Pradesh, India*
Zareen Pervez Bharucha
, Sol Bermejo Mitjans
and Jules Pretty
Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK;
School of Life Sciences, University of Essex,
Colchester, UK
Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a form of agricultural system redesign being
practiced at scale in India, particularly in the state of Andhra Pradesh. ZBNF is an
emerging set of agricultural practices designed dramatically to reduce farmers
direct costs (hence zero budget) while boosting yields and farm health through
the use of non-synthetic inputs sourced locally (natural farming). Andhra Pradesh
has set out the aim of rolling outZBNF to all 6 million of the states farmers
through a state-led programme of training and extension. We present data showing
statistically signicant dierences between ZBNF and non-ZBNF yields and farmer
incomes at multiple locations and with a variety of crops, as well as preliminary
results on farmersexperiences with crop health and household transitions
following the adoption of ZBNF. We conclude with reections on the lessons
derived from Andhra Pradeshs state support for ZBNF.
Agroecology; India; redesign;
sustainable intensication;
zero budget natural farming
1. Introduction
There is growing evidence that sustainable intensica-
tion can increase crop yields by redesigning ecosys-
tems on and around farms (Garibaldi et al., 2019;
Godfray et al., 2010; Pretty & Bharucha, 2018; Reganold
& Wachter, 2016; Royal Society, 2009). In some con-
texts, sustainable intensication is achieving scale,
reaching large numbers of farmers and hectares
(Gunton, Firbank, Inman, & Winter, 2016; Pretty et al.,
2018). This paper addresses the system of Zero
Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), an emerging agroeco-
logical practice that has spread in India, as a form of
agricultural system redesign. The focus is on the
southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, where the
state government has announced the intention to
roll out ZBNF to all the states 6 million farmers by
2024 (UNEP, 2018). This represents an infrequent con-
temporary example of a policy-led sustainability
transition at signicant scale in India, and provides a
number of lessons for other state-led initiatives for
sustainable agriculture.
We rst introduce the concepts of sustainable
intensication and agricultural system redesign. We
then briey describe some of the social-ecological
challenges faced by smallholders in Indias peninsular
drylands and outline how alternatives are emerging to
mitigate these. We go on to describe the evolution of
ZBNF, beginning as a grassroots social movement
(Khadse, Rosset, Morales, & Ferguson, 2017) and evol-
ving into a major policy initiative in Andhra Pradesh.
We then present some of the rst available ndings
on the impacts of ZBNF amongst early-adopters in
Andhra Pradesh, focusing on crop yields, costs of cul-
tivation, farmer income and observed impacts on farm
ecosystems and within households. We conclude the
paper by discussing ZBNF as a form of agricultural
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativeco
licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not
altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
CONTACT Zareen Pervez Bharucha Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
*IJAS Editorial and Review: The Handling Editor for this manuscript was Dr Howard Lee. Dr Lee solicited peer-reviews, assessed revisions made by
the authors and made all editorial decisions on the paper.
This article has been republished with minor changes. These changes do not impact the academic content of the article.
system redesign, and reecting on the lessons and
questions it presents for wider transitions to sustain-
able agriculture at scale in India and in comparable
1.1. Sustainable intensication and redesign
Agricultural intensication from the mid-twentieth
century centred on two linked goals: avoiding land
conversion and raising yields. It was assumed this
would help to meet growing demand but also spare
biodiverse, non-agricultural land from being con-
verted to low-productivity, extensive systems. Implicit
in this view was the belief that agriculture would inevi-
tably cause harm to non-cultivated landscapes (e.g.
Collier, Wiradi, & Soentoro, 1973; Conway & Barbier,
1990). The resulting high throughput models of agri-
cultural intensication have been successful at
raising yields, particularly of a small number of
cereal staples, and in the short term. Pellegrini and
Fernández (2018) estimate that during the Green
Revolution, yields grew threefold on average,
helping growth in agricultural yield to outpace popu-
lation increases. For each person worldwide, there is
now 25% more food than was produced per capita
in 1960 (Pretty & Bharucha, 2014).
Yet productivity growth has come at a signicant
social-ecological cost. Intensication has been
enabled by a 2-fold increase in irrigated area globally,
a 2-fold increase in the use of agricultural machinery,
a more than 6-fold increase in the application of
nitrogenous fertilizers, a four fold increase in phos-
phorus application, and a ve fold increase in potass-
ium (Pellegrini & Fernández, 2018; Pretty & Bharucha,
2014; Tilman, 1999). As a result, agriculture is now a
key driver of breached planetary boundaries (Campbell
et al., 2017; Rockström et al., 2017; Springmann et al.,
2018; Tilman, Balzer, Hill, & Befort, 2011; Willett et al.,
2019). Globally, it accounts for around 70% of global
freshwater use, around a third of all GHG emissions
and is the leading driver of land conversion (despite
early condence that intensication would protect
non-cultivated ecosystems). Soil erosion in agricultural
landscapes is between 10100 times the natural back-
ground rate (IPCC, 2019). Mitigating these impacts will
require radical shifts to the ways in which we produce
and consume agricultural goods and services.
The potential for synergies between agriculture and
ecosystem health was rst hinted at in the context of
smallholders in less-developed countries in the use of
the term sustainable intensication (Pretty, 1997). The
approach is not meant to be prescriptive, recognizing
that there is no single form or initiative that can accom-
plish sustainable outcomes over all types of agricultural
system. Instead, interventions as varied as crop varietal
improvements, multi-cropping, integrated pest man-
agement, conservation agriculture, the system of
crop intensication (starting as the system of rice inten-
sication and expanding to other crops), and the inten-
sication of small patches of land have shown the
potential to achieve positive social-ecological co-
benets alongside healthy yields (Pretty & Bharucha,
2014,2018; Pretty, Toulmin, & Williams, 2011). These
outcomes have extended ambition about what is poss-
ible beyond the avoidance of harm, and towards an
agenda of radical ecosystem restoration, community
regeneration and social-ecological resilience.
Redesign is key to these outcomes. The term comes
from a three-stage framework rst developed in the
mid-1980s, which proposed that transitions to sustain-
able agriculture occur along three distinct, non-linear
phases: eciency, substitution and redesign (Gliess-
man, 2016; Hill, 1985).
Eciency is additive and incremental, though
can involve step changes within existing agricul-
tural regimes. It involves reducing waste and
making the best use of resources. Examples
include targeting the use of inputs, precision agri-
culture, mulching to reduce loss of soil moisture,
drip irrigation, decit irrigation, irrigation schedul-
ing, monitoring soil moisture, the use of selective
compounds or selective spraying, using fuel-
ecient farm machinery, reducing post-harvest
losses, or choosing varieties that make more
ecient use of water or nutrients.
Substitution involves replacing harmful com-
pounds, practices or techniques with alternatives
that have less negative environmental or health
impacts. Examples include replacing inecient crop
varieties with those that are better at converting nutri-
ents to biomass, or ones which tolerate climate
extremes; the use of biological control agents to sub-
stitute for synthetic inputs, the use of RNA-based gene
slicing technologies, replacing the use of soil
altogether in hydroponic systems, and no-till to
replace inversion ploughing. As these examples
show, eciency and substitution are not mutually
exclusive. Substitution may drive eciency improve-
ments, such as when wasteful or ineective inputs
or practices are replaced by better performing ones.
In India, Davis et al. (2018) estimate that replacing
rice with millets, maize or sorghum would reduce
irrigation water demand by 33% while improving the
production of protein, iron and zinc.
Both eciency and substitution are progressive
steps towards sustainability, and usually require
more than new technologies. For example, the per-
formance of infrastructure declines over time,
wasting both water and energy, so regular monitoring
and maintenance (and accompanying institutional
architectures to enable this) is important. At the begin-
ning of the century, the World Bank (Briscoe & Malik,
2006) estimated that Rs 17000 crore (US$250 million)
would be required annually for the upkeep of Indian
irrigation infrastructure, but less than 10% of this
amount was actually available and even less was
likely to be spent eectively (Thakkar, 2010). Where
investment in eciency-enhancing technologies is
made, farmers and water managers need to be
trained to manage them properly (Levidow et al.,
2014; Perry, Steduto, Allen, & Burt, 2009). Finally, pre-
vailing practices are also a function of farmersper-
spectives and priorities. For example, there may be a
fundamental mismatch between farmersgoals
(aimed at maximizing economic returns) and water
managers (aimed at minimizing water use); these mis-
matches need to be reconciled through knowledge
exchange and communication between dierent sta-
keholders (Levidow et al., 2014). Thus, eciency
depends as much on social and human capital, collec-
tive action and well-functioning institutions as it does
on new technologies or practices.
Both eciency and substitution are necessary for
responsible stewardship, but neither is sucient for
fully sustainable agroecosystems. Water saved
through eciency improvements on individual
farms, for example, may not reduce overall water con-
sumption across the landscape and may even
increase it (Grafton et al., 2018). The substitution of
some harmful inputs with more benign ones may
not be enough to tackle resource degradation or miti-
gate key negative social and ecological externalities
(Altieri & Rosset, 1996).
What is needed once basics are mastered is rede-
sign. Hill described redesign as an approach that
recognises the existence of natural, ecological and
psychosocial laws and takes them into account in
all of its designs and management procedures(Hill,
1985, p. 86). In practice, this has come to mean the
harnessing of agroecological processes such as preda-
tion, parasitism, nutrient cycling, biological nitrogen
xation and allelopathy to achieve healthy yields
(Gliessman & Rosemeyer, 2009; Gurr et al., 2016).
Farmers practicing redesign proactively manage the
functional relationships that support these ecosystem
services. They understand the agroecological basis of
farm functioning, and focus on preventing problems
before they occur (Gliessman, 2015).
Redesign requires three important shifts: in knowl-
edge systems, farming communities and supporting
institutional architectures. First, knowledge systems
need to broaden away from the simplied technics
of high-throughput agriculture and include context-
specic knowledge of whole agroecosystems, includ-
ing knowledge of how eectively to steward the bio-
diversity and ecosystem services that inuence
them. Second, redesign requires farmers to work
together, with collective action important across land-
scapes. Third, redesign requires institutional links
between multiple stakeholders across scales. In
essence, redesign is less about particular technologies
or practices and more about the social, institutional
and human dimensions of learning, communicating
and monitoring dynamic agroecosystems.
Four broad principles characterize redesign
(i). The rst is a focus on transformation rather than
management of an existing system. Redesigned
farms are fundamentally altered by the addition
of new elements, new congurations and lin-
kages between elements. A corollary to this is
an explicit emphasis on a new, essentially norma-
tive vision, and a commitment to tackle what Hill
referred to as root causes.For Hill and MacRae
(1996), redesign is achieved when the causes
of problems are recognized, and thereby pre-
vented, being solved internally by site- and
time-specic design and management
approaches instead of by the application of
external inputs(p. 82). Hill argues for a deeper
understanding of the psychosocial rootsof
unsustainable practice (within agriculture and
in society more broadly) and distinguishes
between shallowand deeporientations to
change (Hill, 2014).
(ii). Second, redesign initiatives are agroecologically-
based. Farmers actively steward biodiversity to
manage processes of predation, parasitism, allelo-
pathy, herbivory, nitrogen xation, pollination and
trophic dependencies (Gliessman & Rosemeyer,
2009; Gurr et al., 2016). While eciency and sub-
stitution are based on particular inputs, practices
and technologies, redesign focuses on
maintaining and managing biodiversity and
whole ecosystems on and around farms. In
doing so, the aim is to create systems capable
of sponsoring their own soil fertility, crop protec-
tion and yield constancy(Altieri & Rosset, 1996,
p. 165).
(iii). Third, redesign involves new relationships and
forms of organization and is essentially a social,
political and cultural challenge. It depends on
social capital, which comprises relations of
trust; reciprocity and exchange; common rules;
norms and sanctions and connectedness.
Where these new relationships and forms of
organization are nurtured, farmers are able to
benet from social learning, can spread new
ideas, share resources and collaborate to advo-
cate for their rights and entitlements.
(iv). Finally, redesign is knowledge-intensive and draws
on a wider variety of knowledge-bases than is
typical within conventional, high-throughput
systems. Redesign emerges from, and is supported
by double- and triple-loop learning. Double-loop
learning helps us to question the assumptions
behind the questions we ask, and can thus lead
to reframing. Triple-loop learning reconsiders
underlying values and beliefs. Double- and triple-
loop learning involves reconsidered norms and
transformed institutions (Armitage, Marschke, &
Plummer, 2008; Hill, 2015). Both are supported
by participatory and decentralized pedagogies.
Farmer eld schools, the use of new media, and
multi-stakeholder platforms, are all examples of
tools that are being used extensively alongside
scaled-up redesign initiatives. Nicholls and Altieri
(2018, p. 2) highlight how peer to peer knowledge
exchange has led to an unprecedented return on
agricultural technology investment.
Agricultural systems exemplifying these principles are
achieving scale worldwide. A recent global assessment
of 400 projects, initiatives and programmes worldwide
showed that of these, 47 exceeded the 10
scale (of
either hectares or numbers of practicing farmers).
Within this set, 17 exceeded the 10
scale and 14 were
above 10
. Overall, an estimated 163 M farms worldwide
(covering 453 M hectares, or 9% of the global total) have
redesigned their operations by implementing integrated
pest management, conservation agriculture, by steward-
ing biodiversity on and around farms, incorporating new
mixed farming elements, redesigning irrigation and crop
water management and intensifying production on
small patches of land or water (Pretty et al., 2018).
These initiatives show promise for transformation at
scale, and open up a new frontier in thinking about agri-
cultural intensication.
2. The emergence of alternative
agricultures in post-Green Revolution India
Productivity gains achieved during the Indian Green
Revolution (mainly focused on high-yielding wheat
and rice) have not averted a pervasive agrarian crisis
India. Farmers received free electricity to pump
groundwater, high yielding varieties of wheat and
rice, subsidized inputs and minimum support prices.
Output soared, but at a price: the northern Indian
heartlands of the Green Revolution are now perhaps
the most heavily irrigated region in the world,with
probably the largest rate of groundwater loss in any
comparable-sized region on Earth(Tiwari, Wahr, &
Swenson, 2009, p. 1). Some 1 M ha in NW India are
aected by irrigation-induced salinization and in the
state of Haryana, waterlogging and salinity cause
losses estimated at US$37 million annually (Datta &
de Jong, 2002).
At the same time, smallholders, those without
access to private tubewell irrigation, and those culti-
vating so-called resource poorfarms were largely
eclipsed from the state subsidized windfallexperi-
enced by more prosperous farmers (Stone, 2019;
Subramanian, 2015). Up to the late 1980s, invest-
ment in irrigation and ood control was twenty-
two times that dedicated to soil and water conserva-
tion in rainfed landscapes (Vaidyanath, 1994), which
remained unrecognized in mainstream planning.
The rst mention of rainfed dryland farms in the
national planning process in the 1980s was
accompanied by the admission that decades of
neglect had led to dryland areas being caught in a
vicious circle of high risk, low investment, poor tech-
nology and low production(Chhotray, 2011, p. 56).
Farmers in these landscapes continue to experience
hunger, poverty and malnutrition and are increas-
ingly vulnerable to a combination of climatic varia-
bility and economic development (Kumar,
Shivamurthy, & Biradar, 2016;OBrien et al., 2004;
Yadav & Lal, 2018).
A number of alternatives have emerged in
response to these crises, seeking to reverse rural
decline through revitalized, sustainable farming
systems. Encompassing a diverse array of state,
private and third-sector initiatives, grassroots
movements and hybrid forms, the nascent post-Green
Revolution transition to agricultural sustainability in
India does not constitute a homogenous nor internally
consistent whole. Forms, approaches and even under-
lying ontologies vary markedly, but in common is a
commitment to revitalizing smallholder agriculture
and the ecosystems on which it depends. Many
these initiatives may broadly be said to be forms of
sustainable intensication, some may qualify as
forms of redesign.
Emerging either in opposition to dominant agrar-
ian political economy, as a response to longstanding
marginalization, or to mitigate the social-ecological
externalities of conventional cultivation, these alterna-
tives take various organizational forms. These range
from organized development initiatives, farmer collec-
tives (e.g. for seed saving and sharing), formal certi-
cation schemes (most notably for organic
production) and a new wave of what Münster (2016)
terms neoliberal agro-entrepreneurship. There is
also a broad tradition of natural farming, propounded
by advocates such as Narayana Reddy (in Karnataka),
Shripad Dabholkar (Maharashtra), G Nammalvar
(Tamil Nadu), Partap C Aggarwal (Madhya Pradesh)
and Bashar Save (popularly referred to as the
Gandhi of Natural Farming, working in Gujarat).
Finally, in recent years there has also been a wave of
state-led initiatives to convertentire provinces to par-
ticular forms of (more) sustainable agriculture most
notably organic. The states of Sikkim, Karnataka,
Mizoram, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh,
Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and
Gujarat all have organic farming policies or regu-
lations. A total of 835,000 Indian farmers are certied
organic cultivators (amounting to 30% of the total
number of organic farmers globally, on 1.78 M ha of
land, representing an increase of some 290,000 ha
since 2017) (FiBL and IFOAM, 2019). In practice,
alternatives overlap and co-exist, with farmers devel-
oping and adopting components of dierent
packages in combinations best suited to their farms.
Driving these transitions have been a combination
of grassroots social movements (e.g. Khadse et al.,
2017) on the inuence of these dynamics on the
spread of ZBNF in Karnataka, the formation of hetero-
geneous networks transcending conventional net-
works (e.g. Basu & Leeuwis, 2012, on the spread of
the system of rice intensication (SRI) in Andhra
Pradesh) and the engagement of conventional
actors such as state agricultural universities and
Many alternatives actively position themselves in
terms broadly consonant with redesign, inasmuch
as they aim towards vibrant rural lifeways and seek
to fundamentally re-vision farmersrelationship with
the land and with the market. Münster characterizes
these initiatives as a form of protective double-move-
ment,aiming to regenerate rural society from the
consequences of the commodication of land (nonhu-
man nature) and labour (human nature),or as ways to
repair or rework the metabolic rift brought about by
capitalist agriculture (Münster, 2016, p. 222). Most
promote low external inputforms, advocating ecolo-
gically integrated techniques and the development of
local food markets to reduce farmersdependency on
market inputs that are external to the local farm
system theoretically reducing expenses while low-
ering the ecological burden of agriculture(Brown,
2018, p. 3).
3. Zero budget natural farming and its
spread in Andhra Pradesh
ZBNF is a system developed in the 1980s by Indian
farmer, agricultural scientist and extension agent
Subhash Palekar who established ZBNF after a
period of self-study of the Vedas (the oldest of the
Hindu scriptures), organic farming and conventional
agricultural science, testing methods on his own
farm. The phrase Zero Budgetrefers to the aim of
achieving dramatic cuts in production costs by
ending dependence on external synthetic inputs and
agricultural credit. It is not meant to signify zero
costs. Instead, as practicing farmers clarify, it is
meant to signify that the need for external nancing
is zero, and that any costs incurred can be oset by
a diversied source of income(ABZNF 2018 quoted
in Khadse & Rosset, 2019, p. 9, emphasis added). The
phrase Natural Farminginvokes the agroecological
basis on which these cuts are to be achieved. The prac-
tice consists of four principles, referred to by ZBNF
practitioners as the four wheelsof ZBNF (Table 1).
In addition to these, ZBNF farmers also reduce or
avoid the application of synthetic pesticides, relying
instead on homemade preparations for controlling
fungus and insect pests, sourced from locally available
trees and plants such as neem, chili, garlic and
tobacco. Finally, farmers are encouraged to plant live
fences, use trenches for water harvesting and design
elds using a ve layermulti-cropping model, inte-
grating trees with crop plants in a canopyformation
wherein each plant is able to access the right amount
of sunlight (Khadse & Rosset, 2019; La Via Campesina,
2016; Palekar, 2019). While ZBNF remains the most
widely used term to describe these practices, there
has been recent discussion amongst policy-makers
and leading practitioners of a potential change in ter-
minology to Chemical FreeNatural Farming or even
Community ManagedNatural Farming to better
reect farmer practices and avoid misunderstanding
regarding input costs. In this paper, we retain use of
the term Zero Budgetin order to reect existing
usage, and in the absence of any formal or widely
accepted change in terminology.
ZBNF has so far been adopted most prominently in
the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Adoption
in Karnataka has been achieved through a grassroots
social movement, initially spearheaded in 2002 by
the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (an organizational
member of La Via Campesina) (Khadse et al., 2017).
Palekars teachings initially received a mixed response
from farmers, until early adopters began showcasing
success to peers (Khadse & Rosset, 2019). Training
workshops grew in number and size, with an esti-
mated 200 workshops having been organized over
the last 15 years in the state (Khadse & Rosset,
2019). The state governments of Himachal Pradesh
(Government of Himachal Pradesh, 2018) and Karna-
taka have since allocated funds to support the
spread of ZBNF and the state governments of
Rajasthan, Meghalaya, and Gujarat have all expressed
an interest in setting up programmes for ZBNF.
Precise gures for numbers of farmers adopting ZBNF
across the country are unavailable, partly because learn-
ing, teaching and practice are not centrally organized by
any single agency, and partly because farmers tend to
adapt the package, adopting one or two elements
(Khadse et al., 2017). What is clear is that farmers are
enthused by the method. In Karnataka for example, an
estimated 60,000100,000 farmers have attended 60
training camps organized over the last decade (ZBNF
leader cited in Khadse et al., 2017).
In contrast to the bottom up, grassroots organiz-
ation of ZBNF elsewhere, Andhra Pradesh has made
ZBNF the central pillar through which to execute
state agricultural and rural development policy. The
formal roll out of ZBNF-focused extension in Andhra
Pradesh was foreshadowed by a number of initiatives
designed to help farmers (particularly smallholders)
transition to more sustainable and viable agricultural
livelihoods. Before turning to the specics of the
ZBNF programme, we briey describe these initiatives,
which contained within them a number of institutional
innovations now supporting the spread of ZBNF.
Andhra Pradesh is located in southeastern India,
and has been known as IndiasRice Bowlon
account of its tracts of irrigated paddy cultivation
within the basins of the Godavari, Krishna and Penna
rivers. Further inland, rainfed dryland farming predo-
minates, with farmers relying to varying extents on
protective irrigation from mainly private sources.
Across the state, some 62% of the population is
employed in agriculture and allied activities, cultivat-
ing around 8 M ha of cropped area and generating
just over a quarter of the states GDP. In addition to
rice, the state is also a major producer of fruit, eggs,
and aquaculture products. The adoption of Green
Revolution innovations contributed to signicant
yield growth for important food staples rice, ground-
nut and lentils. However, from the 1990s, yields began
to decline. Conventional high-throughput systems
began to be recognized as costly and increasingly
ineective. By the early 2000s, small farmers (those
cultivating <2 ha) were spending 35% of their
Table 1. The four wheels of ZBNF and their intended impacts (adapted from La Via Campesina, 2016).
Wheel and practices Intended Impact
Bijamrita (Seed treatment)
The application of a homemade seed treatment consisting of cowdung and urine to
seeds and seedlings.
Protection from seed and soil-borne disease
Increase soil carbon
Activate nutrients
Jivamrita (Liquid and solid inoculants)
The application of an in-situ culture of water, cow manure and urine (from the
indigenous variety, Bos indicus), unrened cane sugar, legume our and
uncontaminated/ virgin soil (to introduce local soil microbiota).
Improve soil condition
Increase activity of soil biota including microbes and
Increase soil organic matter
Prevent harmful fungal and bacterial growth
Acchadana (Mulching)
Soil mulching (avoiding tillage), straw mulching (the application of straw to the soil)
and live mulching (intercropping with, e.g. nitrogen-xing crops).
Improving soil condition, particularly topsoil
Adding organic matter and fertility
Increased activity of soil biota (including microbes
activated by Jivamrita) and soil insects.
Whapasa (Soil aeration)
Building up of soil humus
Reduced overreliance on irrigation and improved
aeration and soil moisture prole
cultivation expenditure on synthetic pesticides and
fertilizers (against a national average of 30%) (Govern-
ment of India, 2005).
The signicance of this is two-fold. First, high
expenditure on synthetic inputs is a key driver of
indebtedness. In the early 2000s, small farmers in
Andhra Pradesh earned just $154 annually from agri-
culture and related sources (with an average annual
income of $440 and average expenditure on cultiva-
tion of $268) (Thallam et al., 2009). As a result, some
82% of farm households in the state were indebted,
with an average outstanding loan amount of $660
per farmer (more than twice the national average of
$280) (Centre for Economic and Social Studies,
2007). Second, this model of farming came with a
high ecological footprint, with the state recording
amongst the highest rates of consumption of syn-
thetic pesticides in India, with application rates of
0.87 kg a.i./ha (against a national average of 0.3 kg/ha).
Responding to these challenges, a number of
grassroots and civil society initiatives emerged in the
early 2000s, attempting (in the rst instance) to
eect a transition away from synthetic inputs. NGOs
such as the Centre for World Solidarity helped
spread awareness of alternative, ecologically benign
methods of pest control. At the same time, farmers
began experimenting with alternative methods inde-
pendently, helping to create wider acceptance for
more participatory forms of knowledge creation and
innovation (Thallam et al., 2009).
A step-change was brought about when the
Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) (a
non-prot set up by the Government of Andhra
Pradesh) integrated Community Managed Sustain-
able Agriculture(CMSA) into its poverty reduction
programme. This was managed by community
institutions in the main, a pioneer initiative was
the creation of federated structures of womens self-
help groups (WSHGs) encompassing some 10 M
women, organized into just over 850,000 groups and
representing around 90% of all poor households in
the state. This institutional architecture helped drive
acomplete paradigm shift [away] from conventional
agriculture(Thallam et al., 2009, p. 11, parentheses
added), as well as signicant cost-savings for farmers
(Rao, 2012) in three (non-linear, loosely overlapping)
stages (Figure 1).
As part of these eorts towards sustainable agricul-
ture, Subhash Palekar was invited to conduct a
number of ZBNF training workshops in the state. At
around the same time, the Andhra Pradesh depart-
ment of agriculture set up a dedicated non-prot
organization, the Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS,
Farmers Empowerment Organisation) in 2014. The
RySS now acts as the single institutional mechanism
coordinating all programmes, schemes and activities
intended for farmers empowerment, encompassing
welfare, development, capacity enhancement, credit
ow, nancial support and allied empowerment activi-
ties(Government of Andhra Pradesh, 2019). The
spread of ZBNF is tightly woven into this mandate,
with the RySS designated by a formal Government
Order in 2016 as the Implementing Organisation
responsible for the roll out of ZBNF. The overall goal
is to reach 6 million farmers and convert 8 million hec-
tares (90% of the cultivated area) into ZBNF elds by
the end of the next decade, paying special attention
to conserving both farmer livelihoods and ecosystems.
The RySS estimates that around 580,000 farmers have
begun practicing ZBNF in the state by 2019, up from
163,000 in 20172018 (V Thallam 2019, pers. Comm.,
email dated 28th September, 2019).
4. Building social and human capital
Key to the scaling of ZBNF in Andhra Pradesh has been
the work done from the early 2000s to build a dense,
multi-layered community-based extension ecosystem.
This ecosystem is organized across 3 scales: a zone,
(consisting of approximately 80 households); a Gram
Panchayat (roughly analogous to a village-level
administration) and nally, a clusterof ve Gram Pan-
chayats (Figure 2).
Peer to peer learning is key: Community resource
persons(CRPs) are farmers who have been desig-
nated as community-level extension agents. The
CRPsmain role is to communicate ZBNF principles
Figure 1. Three-stage transition towards sustainable production in
Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh
(adapted from Thallam et al., 2009).
among potential adopters, fullling a detailed brief
requiring extensive engagement with farmers.
Khadse and Rosset (2019) highlight how
they [CRPs] have a full schedule of mandatory daily activi-
ties to ensure that they cover all of the SHGs [self-help
groups] assigned to them. In the mornings, they organise
a study circle in a specic village. In the afternoon they
visit farmerselds for troubleshooting. In the evenings,
they project videos related to the days learnings so that
farmers can engage in discussions. (p. 15, parenthesis
Farmer eld schools are held weekly, facilitated by
trained conveners, and include male and female
farmers engaged in ZBNF best practice.
Farmers transitioning to ZBNF in Andhra Pradesh
are thus embedded within a supportive network of
peers, practitioners and formally trained agronomists,
together forming a dense learning ecosystem
designed to support a knowledge-intensive transition
towards more integrated, complex agricultural
systems. Farmers are encouraged to experiment with
ZBNF, progressively deepening their practice. This
means that for some farmers, early adoption may be
restricted to simple input substitution using ZBNF
formulations in place of synthetic externally derived
inputs. Success with these then encourages further
experimentation, and farmers may move closer to
adopting the whole ZBNF package. RySS interim
targets and scaling plans estimate that a typical
farmer begins by experimenting with ZBNF on
approximately one quarter of land available, sup-
ported by a farm action plandesigned with the
local self-help group or village organization, transition-
ing to full-scale adoption across the entire farm in
approximately 3 years (RySS, undated).
Five Gram Panchayats together make a cluster,
each of which is additionally supported by a desig-
nated multipurpose extension ocer, a Natural
Farming Fellow, and Community Resource Persons
(CRPs), including one dedicated to social mobiliz-
ation. Natural Farming Fellows are graduates who
undertake a 2-year Fellowship during which they are
resident in a village, practicing ZBNF as a role model
farmer(Figure 2), assisting in the spread of ZBNF
within the villages that form a cluster (Figure 2), and
working on a selected thematic area (RySS, 2019a,
2019b). CRPs are local residents who may be regarded
as exemplarZBNF farmers, implementing all aspects
of ZBNF, who play a leading role in promoting
farmer-to-farmer learning and acting as advocates
Figure 2. Institutional-levels supporting ZBNF roll-out in each zone, gram panchayat and cluster (adapted from RySS, 2018a).
for ZBNF (a function termed social mobilization
within the RySS) (RySS, 2019b).
The planned roll out aims to replicate this architec-
ture across each of Andhra Pradeshs 12,924 Gram
Panchayats, at an estimated cost of Rs. 10,000,000
(US$ 140,100) per Panchayat (translating to around
Rs. 25,000 (US$ 350) per household). ZBNF sub-com-
mitteesare formed at every level of village and local
government administration up to district level,
holding monthly meetings. Community-based moni-
toring is carried out by womens self-group
members, who inspect elds (with budgets provided
for these inspections). Finally, village shops and
hiring centres are set up to act as knowledge centres
and supply points for ZBNF inputs, and equipment.
Local hiring centres contain low-HP machines such
as pulverisers, power weeders and sprayers.
Since the inception of the programme in 2016,
there have also been four further mega-trainingpro-
grammes in Andhra Pradesh organized with Subhash
Palekar, each hosting thousands of farmers, local
extension ocers and RySS sta. Community
Resource Persons continually acquire new skills
through human-mediated digital extension videos
on ZBNF practices followed by farmer group discus-
sions after video sessions. In order to facilitate this,
they are trained in using smart phones (as well as
ICT to monitor farmersprogress).
5. ZBNF outcomes for crops, incomes and
farm ecosystems
The literature on the impacts of ZBNF impacts, and
draws mainly on data collected outside Andhra
Pradesh. Khadse et al. (2017) surveyed 97 farmers in
Karnataka in 2012, asking farmers to rank changes to
general crop yields, income and production costs on
a three-point scale (increase, decrease or no change).
78.7% of their respondents stated that yields had
increased, 85.7% reported improvements to income,
and 90.9% reported that production costs had
decreased. In Andhra Pradesh, internal surveys
carried out by RySS of crop yields show higher yields
under ZBNF conditions and notable increases in
farmer income (mainly through reduced production
costs). Crop-cutting experiments conducted in 2017
showed that 88% of farmers surveyed (n= 1614) had
beneted from an increase in yields and decrease in
costs, with yields increasing across crop types and in
some cases, outpacing average state yields for
Andhra Pradesh (RySS, 2018b).
We analyzed data from crop-cutting experiments
conducted by RySS amongst farmers who took up
ZBNF in 2016. Crop-cutting was conducted during
the 2017 kharif (monsoon) season, on 1531 ZBNF
and 1531 non-ZBNF plots. Data were sent to the UK-
based team as an Excel dataset. This was cleaned,
checking for errors or data gaps, and then saved to
a database on IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows,
version 25 (IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., USA) in advance
of analysis. These data cover food crops (rainfed and
irrigated cereals, legumes and horticultural crops)
and cash crops (irrigated and rainfed cotton) across
all 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh. To facilitate paired
comparisons between ZBNF and non-ZBNF con-
ditions, crop cuttings were taken from two 5 × 5 m
samples (10 × 10 m for cotton), one from crops
grown using ZBNF practices, and the other using con-
ventional practices. This control sample was taken
either from a section of a ZBNF farmerseld where
conventional practices were being used (most
farmers stagger the adoption of ZBNF), or from an
adjacent eld where the same crop was being culti-
vated using conventional practices (subject to match-
ing for soil type, seed variety and irrigation regime).
The majority of the sample were smallholders cultivat-
ing <1 ha each of land.
Across the sample, a MannWhitney U Test (as the
data were non-parametric) showed a statistically sig-
nicant dierence between ZBNF and non-ZBNF crop
yield: (ZBNF (Md = 13.21), non-ZBNF (Md = 12), U =
956250.5, z = 8.82, p< 0.001). ZBNF yields were
higher than non-ZBNF yields across all districts
except one (the district of West Godavari, where
yields were 7% lower, likely due to anaerobic soil due
to water logging, which is a normal phenomenon in
the delta region). All crops except irrigated maize
and irrigated cotton show higher yields under ZBNF
relative to a non-ZBNF control (see Figure 3 for yield
dierences that attained statistical signicance with
the MannWhitney test). Costs of cultivation under
ZBNF conditions were lower, and net incomes higher,
than non-ZBNF for all crops (Figures 4 and 5). Irrigated
crops achieved slightly larger reductions in costs of cul-
tivation relative to rainfed crops (28% against 24%,
determined by calculating total reductions across all
irrigated crops versus all rainfed crops).
Previous models of agricultural intensication in
India have relied either on the heavy abstraction of
groundwater or intensive water use of surface water.
India is the worlds largest consumer of groundwater,
with some 10 million wells supporting up to 70% of
Figure 3. Yields (t/ha) under ZBNF and non-ZBNF for key kharif season crops, 2017 (* signicant at p< 0.05 and ** signicant at p< 0.001).
Figure 4. Cost of cultivation under ZBNF and non-ZBNF crops (000 Rs/ha), kharif season 2017 (* signicant p< 0.05, ** signicant at p< 0.001).
Table 2. Mann-Whitney U Tests for dierence in yields, cost of cultivation and income between ZBNF and non-ZBNF across a sample of rainfed
crops (n= 678 pairs).
ZBNF compared with non-ZBNF ZBNF Actual Non-ZBNF Signicance
Yields (t/ha) +16.5% 4.80 4.12 P< 0.001
Cost of cultivation (000 Rs) 23.7% 22.9 30.0 P< 0.0005
Gross income (000 Rs) +14.2% 80.6 70.6 P< 0.001
Net income (000 Rs) +50.0% 54.0 36.0 P< 001
the countrys agricultural production (Fishman, 2018;
Shah, 2008). New models of intensication are thus
required; methods that do not work for rainfed crops
without requiring irrigation intensication are unlikely
to be sustainable over time. In light of this it is
encouraging to note that rainfed crops within the
sample (n= 678 pairs; representing farmers of
rainfed paddy, maize, groundnut, nger millet and
cotton) fare better under ZBNF methods than non-
ZBNF controls (Table 2).
While the RySS continues to collect data from crop-
cutting experiments annually (thus allowing future
longitudinal assessments), independent evaluations
of changes to crop yields are also forthcoming (most
notably from multi-site trials being conducted by the
Indian Council of Agricultural Research).
6. Farmer testimonies on outcomes for farm
ecosystems and household transitions
Field observation, farmer testimonies and reports from
extension workers, are so far the primary source of
information on broad changes on and ofarm in
Andhra Pradesh. Natural Farming Fellows, Community
Resource Persons and other RySS stahave been col-
lecting farmer testimonies since the rst adoption of
ZBNF. In 2018, some of these were transferred to the
UK-based co-authors, anonymised, and saved as a col-
lection of short, qualitative testimonies on the themes
of biodiversity, resilience to climate shocks, and crop
health. It should be noted that these do not necess-
arily represent a systematically collected body of
generalizable evidence, but have been purposively
collected and presented to show that under favour-
able circumstances, farmers have experienced positive
outcomes across a range of farm health indicators
beyond increases to crop yields and incomes.
(i). Crop health and resilience to climate shocks: both
farmers and extension workers report better plant
health and vigour in ZBNF elds (Boxes 1 and 2)
amongst a range of horticultural and arable
crops, including after ooding (Figure 6) and dry
spells. RySS workers attribute this to deeper and
larger root systems and more robust plant struc-
tures in plants raised under ZBNF conditions.
RySS workers and ZBNF farmers in the districts
of Ananthapur, Kurnool and Vishakapatnam, for
example, reported greater resilience to cyclone
damage (Figure 6) as well as dry spells (with
yields maintained under ZBNF conditions during
the 2016 drought as well as dry-spells in 2017).
The generalizability of these outcomes should
be established through further studies that use
stratied random sampling across the landscape
and assess the performance of ZBNF elds follow-
ing a range of dierent types and severities of
climate shock.
(ii). Biodiversity: no systematic biodiversity assess-
ments have been conducted following the adop-
tion of ZBNF, but farmers and extension workers
have been using text messaging and WhatsApp
to share photos of insects and other fauna noted
on ZBNF elds. One systematic comparison
Figure 5. Net incomes under ZBNF and non-ZBNF crops (000 Rs/ha), kharif season 2017 (* signicant at p< 0.05 and ** signicant at p< 0.001).
between ZBNF and non-ZBNF elds occurred in
2018, nding a dierence in earthworm numbers
and castings between ZBNF and non-ZBNF elds
across 480 samples taken from all 13 districts in
Andhra Pradesh. ZBNF elds hosted an average
of 232 earthworms per square metre, compared
with just 32 on non-ZBNF elds (RySS, 2018c
unpublished data). ZBNF farmers also report a
number of earthworms on ZBNF plots (Figure 7),
as well as benecial insects (pollinators and pest
antagonists), including honeybees, lacewing
bugs (an antagonist to aphids, leafhoppers,
whiteies and mealybugs) and ladybugs in
various crop types and agro-climatic zones.
Box 1. Farmer testimony on the impact of ZBNF practices
on crop quality (*name changed).
Kamal*, a farmer from Anantpur district has been practicing
agriculture for 15 years. He has just over 2 hectares of land, on
which he has mainly been cultivating Papaya for the last 5
years. He was inspired by his interaction with a Community
Resource Person in 2017, and began practicing ZBNF. He has
been learning about the method through regular attendance of
his local farmer self-help group, which has also given him access
to credit with three loans.
At rst, he began by preparing Ghanajeevamrutham and
Dravajeevamrutham on his own. He avoided the use of any
synthetic fertilizer and used drip irrigation. Over the rst 7
months, the entire papaya plantation has changed dramatically.
He has observed a number of changes to the papaya trees,
including dense leaf-growth, budding within 2 months and a
greater number of fruit per tree. In the rst cutting, he has been
able to fetch a higher than average price at market due to the
quality of the fruit. Kamals papaya eld attracts farmers from
surrounding villages and his success has inspired a number of
other farmers to take up ZBNF.
Box 2. Farmer testimony on improved farm health after the
adoption of ZBNF, improved yields and higher income
(*name changed).
Mr. Kumar* had initially leased out his land on lease. The tenant
farmer indiscriminately used synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Kumar was dismayed by the condition of the soil and cancelled the
lease agreement. He decided to practice natural farming on his
eld after he learned about its benet and underwent a training
programme over one week. After undertaking natural farming
practices he observed the following changes in his eld:
(i) Soil: Improved porosity and increased numbers of
(ii) Income: Intercropping of sugarcane with chilli, eggplant,
tomato and coriander provides
(iii) A year-round income.
(iv) Insects & pest control: He is maintaining 12 hens and 5
turkeys, to help control insects and pests in the eld.
(v) Mulching: He uses residue of previous crops
(vi) Value addition: Sugarcane to jiggery, paddy to rice
(vii) Marketing: Consumers come directly to his elds to buy his
(viii) Cattle: He has his own cattle shed through which he uses
cow dung and cow urine in his own elds along with selling the
surplus to the villages to create awareness about natural farming.
In addition to new crop types and rotations,
farmers have added new elements to elds to help
control insect pests. The addition of bird perches,
yellow plates, pheromone trap crops and the use of
friendlyinsects, all introduced during earlier eorts
Figure 6. ZBNF paddy eld (left) and non-ZBNF paddy (right) after cyclone damage, Vishakapatnam district, (2017) (Source: RySS Natural Farming
Fellows 2017).
for community managed sustainable agriculture, con-
tinue to be used by ZBNF farmers. Farmers have also
begun experimenting with adding elements indepen-
dently, keeping small free-ranging poultry, like hens
and turkeys, and allowing them to forage through
elds as a means of pest control. Crop diversity has
also clearly increased, with farmers specically encour-
aged to take up polycropping. Further work will need
systematically to assess biodiversity improvements on
and around ZBNF farms, and the pathways through
which change occurs.
(iii). Household transitions: in order to capture farm-
system and household-level change we asked a
small number of ZBNF farmers to describe house-
hold and landscape level change over the last
three years (from adoption of ZBNF in 2016 to
the present) (Figure 8(a and b)). This data was col-
lected remotely by RySS-based Natural Farming
Fellows following a template for participatory
rural appraisal (PRA) provided by the UK-based
co-authors. Ethical approval was obtained from
the Departmental ethics review panel at the
Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin
University prior to data collection. Ethical review
covered the methods used to collect, store and
analyse these participatory data. Before conduct-
ing the PRA, the UK-based research team pre-
pared a simple random sampling list of farmers
covering all crops and districts, after which a
subset of 34 individuals were purposively
selected based on their availability and willing-
ness to participate.
In July 2018, a two-day exercise was conducted
with the selected farmers, who were asked to follow
a single instruction: to graphically illustrate signicant
changes to their farms, households or wider commu-
nities since the uptake of ZBNF. We did not predeter-
mine what aspects of change farmers should illustrate,
leaving it to them to represent what they felt was most
important. Descriptions were captured through draw-
ings on one A5-sized sheet per farmer, with the
support and facilitation of local Natural Farming
Fellows. The drawings thus obtained consist of
resource maps of local villages and elds; social
maps illustrating new webs of relationships support-
ing crop cultivation, harvesting, storage and sale;
food plates illustrating new dietary regimes; income
and expenditure cycles and value chains. Figure 8(a
and b) provide a gurative example. Drawings were
scanned and sent electronically to the UK-based
team, who were debriefed on each drawing during a
conversation conducted over Skype. Key themes are
summarized in Table 3. Further work is necessary to
assess how these various outcomes play out over
time and across a stratied sample of ZBNF farms.
7. ZBNF transitions as a form of redesign
Agricultural system redesign constitutes a fundamen-
tally social, cultural and institutional challenge rather
Figure 7. Earthworms on ZBNF plot (Source: RySS Natural Farming Fellows 2018).
than either a set of technologies or practices (Hill,
1985). Within this section, we reect on the ways in
which ZBNF is consonant with the concept of rede-
sign. An important qualication is the lack of any uni-
formity in ZBNF practiceeither in general or within
the structured uptake of the package designed by
RySS by Andhra Pradeshs farmers. Farmers adopting
the method following attendance of Palekars training
camps have adapted the method to suit the practical-
ities of their individual farms, and may adopt a suite
of methods agroecological or otherwise alongside
Palekars prescribed inputs and farm designs (Khadse
et al., 2017). Methods may also change year by year,
depending on external drivers (weather and prices)
or imperatives at farm and household level. The
resulting complex of results and impacts across the
state is likely to be extraordinarily complex, and
complicates eorts to discuss generalZBNF practice
and outcomes. Farmers adopting ZBNF in Andhra
Pradesh through structured support from RySS,
though arguably part of a more formalized pro-
gramme, nevertheless also adopt the method pro-
gressively (Khadse & Rosset, 2019), leading to a
broad range of farm regimes across the landscape.
Nevertheless, our aim at this stage is to discuss under-
lying principles, rather than evaluating ZBNF practice
against a set of xed criteria.
First, ZBNF both as advocated by Palekar and as
practiced specically in Andhra Pradesh is radical,
going beyond incremental change within existing
agricultural systems. Proponents aim to fundamentally
transform farm systems, and with them, rural liveli-
hoods. Palekar specically discusses changed norms
and subjectivities: the internal and external change
Figure 8. (a and b) Resource (eld) map representations on the evolution of cropping systems on a rainfed farm in Kurnool district, between 2015
and July 2018.
Table 3. Key themes from farmerstestimonies on ZBNF outcomes for farms and households.
Crop health and resilience Farmers reported greater crop resilience to dry spells and other climate shocks. Annotations with
income gures showed that losses of some high value crops due to pest attacks or climate shocks
were adequately oset by stable yields in other crop types, an outcome enabled by the RySS
model of encouraging more complex crop mixes. Incomes were held stable despite crop losses,
due to signicantly lower production costs.
Greater crop diversity and more complex
cropping patterns
Farmers illustrated transitions from monocropping to polycropping, with the progressive addition,
year on year, of new crops and crop mixes, the design of new rotations and more complex
cropping patterns. One farmer illustrated a transition from 1 crop type in 201610 in 2018,
representing a signicant increase in productivity but also human and natural capital.
Food plates Farmers illustrating food plates drew a greater number of food types as well as greater quantities of
Health Farmers illustrated a transition from periods of ill health to better health, smiling faces illustrated
positive aect.
Incomes Farmers illustrated improvements to housing, with transitions from katcha (rough, thatched)
housing to pukka (permanent, concrete or mortar) housing.
simultaneously(Palekar, 2010). ZBNF farmers are seen
to be enacting new moral imperatives (Khadse et al.,
2017) and are encouraged by Palekar to undergo no
less than a change of personality and of the culture
of farming, with a new ecological rationality: a new
mindset which involves a curiosity about ecosys-
tems, renewed pride about being a farmer and a
focus on a good life(Münster, 2014, p. 25). Münster
(2018, p. 755) describes how Palekars training
camps act as revival meetings in which farmers are
repeatedly invited to stand up, raise their right arm
and solemnly vow to transform themselves from
being a demon destroyer of natureto a saint pro-
tector of nature”’.
Proponents and practitioners (particularly self-
identied ZBNF purists) also explicitly position
ZBNF in stark opposition to mainstream agronomy
and the dominant system of knowledge politics
that advances it. Palekar calls on farmers to
boycott all the techniques of Agricultural Univer-
sities(Münster, 2018, p. 757) and he is also
opposed to alternatives that, in his view, make
insignicant or incremental adjustments. Organic
agriculture, for example, is criticized by Palekar for
not being radical enough, on the basis that
farmers simply replace synthetic inputs with permiss-
ible alternatives (Münster, 2016) without actually re-
visioning their relationship to the land. For Palekar,
ZBNF is meant to drive a more fundamental cultural
challenge to mainstream agronomy and replaces the
common focus on accumulation or productivity with
a focus on autonomy, health and self-suciency
(Münster, 2016, p. 223). It is beyond the scope of
this paper to disaggregate these vibrant and conti-
nuing debates or to assess the relative merits of
various positions; here we seek to point out that
both ZBNF proponents and practitioners seek to
implement radical change that goes beyond incre-
mental improvements to farm eciency or input
Both zero budgetand natural farmingare meant
to signify substantial shifts in relations with markets
and nature. The rst, zero budget, signies no less
than a drive for complete independence from external
inputs (and thus from input suppliers and, ostensibly,
the entire constellation of capital, credit and indebted-
ness so central to farmerscontemporary livelihoods).
In this sense, Palekar and ZBNF proponents seek to
engage with key structural drivers of farmer poverty
and agrarian distress, actively engaging with the
root causesmentioned by Hill (1985). Natural
farmingis about more than permissible inputs.
Instead, ZBNF farmers are encouraged to (re) concep-
tualize their farms as vibrant and intrinsically abun-
dant ecosystems, which simply need to be
stewarded respectfully. For example, Palekar com-
pares the sustainable farm to the self-sucient
forest, which needs no external inputs in order to
For many farmers, Palekars trainings are the rst
time they come to explicitly understand the agroeco-
logical basis of sustainable cultivation (Khadse &
Rosset, 2019). In doing so they report undergoing a
paradigm shift, realizing that soils are not an empty
medium requiring external fertilization, but inherently
fertile and abundant, only needing to be stewarded
appropriately. Farmers also report a new sense of per-
spective as to their capacities and the need for a more
than humanapproach: From Palekar he (the farmer)
claims to have learned that there are many things
humans cannot do(cited in Münster, 2018, p. 756).
Alongside this comes new aective relationships
between farmers and their cattle, wherein indigenous
variety cows are treated like a pet; cuddled,
stroked, caressed, and admired for [their] beauty
(Münster, 2017, p. 25).
Finally, in Andhra Pradesh, RySS (2018d, p. 14) pos-
itions itself as an organization that seeks to drive trans-
formative benets for the economy, environment and
equity through sustainable agriculture. It explicitly
aims at:
Converting the agriculture sector of Andhra Pradesh to
100% regenerative agriculture, zero budget natural
farming through 6 million smallholders will deliver
transformative benets for the economy, environment
and equity. It will present a rst-of-its-kind blueprint
for sustainable commodities production that reverses
biodiversity losses and preserves ecosystem services,
providing an opportunity for reclaiming planetary
In all these ways, ZBNF discourses and material prac-
tices diverse, variable and evolving as they are
reect a key feature of Hills concept of redesign:
working outward from a core normative vision, a
focus on addressing root causesand going beyond
technics to transform systems in their entirety and
from within (including, quite explicitly, the active
involvement of the farmersinner life, a reconsidera-
tion of fundamental relationships between the
farmer, his land, and the rest of nature, and a rework-
ing of the knowledge politics which mediates this
A second key pillar of Hills concept of redesign is
its explicitly agroecological focus. Palekars vision
and ZBNF practice are clearly agroecological in
scope and biodiversity-focused (Khadse et al., 2017).
Palekar exhorts farmers to steward biodiversity on
and around farms and most notably within soil.
Within Andhra Pradesh, more complex cropping pat-
terns, including rotations, multi and polycropping
are building on-farm biodiversity, though more work
is needed in order to systematically assess the
inuence of ZBNF on non-cultivated biodiversity
both on and around farms.
Finally, redesign is a predominantly social and insti-
tutional challenge. It involves new relationships within
and between actors, all working collectively across
scales. ZBNF has clearly involved the building of
both social and human capital. Its spread has been
enabled through collaborative action across land-
scapes, peer-to-peer learning as well as collaborations
between experts and expert practitioners. Khadse
et al. (2017) describe how ZBNF in Karnataka has suc-
cessfully adopted a social movement dynamic that has
facilitated its spread. Within Andhra Pradesh, the state
roll out of ZBNF has of course proceeded through the
functioning of a formal public sector institution the
RySS, working in partnership with farmers via a
dense extension and farmer support networks. There
is thus a clear dierence between the narrow techno-
centrism that characterizes the formal extension
systems of which Palekar is so critical, and the more
participatory, farmer-led and farmer-focused forms
which have driven the spread of ZBNF both within
grassroots social movements and within the more
formal roll out in Andhra Pradesh. This hybrid model
has helped farmers to go beyond simple yield
increases, to additive and multiplicative improve-
ments across the farm (Box 2).
8. Lessons for wider transitions to
sustainable agriculture
The spread of ZBNF presents a relatively infrequent
example of a policy-led transition to sustainable agri-
culture being implemented at scale in India. In this
nal section, we discuss a few important lessons pre-
sented by the Andhra Pradesh experience and
outline a number of emerging questions requiring
further research.
The rst lesson centres on the role of clear policy
directives, accompanied by adequate nancing and
institutional support. Policy support is vital for
scaling sustainable agriculture (Garibaldi et al., 2019;
Mier y Terán Giménez Cacho et al., 2018; Pretty & Bhar-
ucha, 2014), and a number of notable redesign initiat-
ives that have achieved scale have done so as a result
of explicit policy shifts. The regreening of the Sahel, for
example, has been achieved by changing national tree
ownership regulations that allowed the spread of
agroforestry at scale (Godfray et al., 2010). Public
policy support has also been vital to the development
of social capital supporting sustainable agriculture
(e.g. Australian Landcare, community forest manage-
ment in India, Nepal and Vietnam, Mexican irrigation
user groups, and farmer eld schools in across Asia
and Africa) (Pretty et al., 2018).
Key to the sustained scaling of ZBNF in Andhra
Pradesh has been the layering of initiatives, allowing
for momentum and experience to build. Previous pro-
grammes on community supported sustainable agri-
culture have put in place an institutional architecture
on which the ZBNF programme is able to capitalize.
The RySS has been nominated as the single agency
responsible for all aspects of the roll-out of ZBNF
and its work is supported by funding from the
central and state government, as well as funding of
around Rs. 100 crore (just over US$14 million) from
private philanthropy (the Aziz Premji Foundation) for
technical support.
The second key lesson has been the emphasis on
farmer-focused, participatory extension, building
human capital (farmer learning) and two types of
social capital links between farmers (bonding
capital) and between farmers and expertsin the agri-
cultural research and innovation ecosystem (linking
capital). Here too, previous work has been vital. The
community-supported sustainable agriculture pro-
gramme initiated by SERP has been capitalized on,
and the RySS now coordinates a dense network of
farmer-led and farmer-focused groups extending to
the level of individual households. Farmers are able
to gain information, peer-support and troubleshoot-
ingfrom a range of facilitators (some of them fellow
farmers). This level of engagement sets ZBNF exten-
sionapart from conventional state-led extension
models in India and, we suggest, is likely to be a key
driver of sustained spread over time. It also provides
a key lesson for farmer-focused development initiat-
ives elsewhere in India, where the widespread
neglect of dryland smallholders in formal skills pro-
vision, public agricultural extension and state liveli-
hood support (Gajjar, Singh, & Deshpande, 2019) has
been a key driver of continued vulnerability.
At present, public modes of knowledge delivery
match neither the scale nor the complexity of the
social-ecological challenges facing smallholders, par-
ticularly in dryland systems. Extension services
remain xed in a transfer of technologymodel, are
not well matched to local social-ecological contexts,
and do not necessarily target socially or economically
marginalized farmers. They are also understaed, with
an estimated 100,000 extension agents in post (of the
1.31.5 million required) (Glendening, Babu, & Asenso-
Okyere, 2010). Where extension services are available,
farmers lack the opportunity for follow-up, and infor-
mation may be provided to farmers who are either
from privileged groups or those who are easiest to
reach (Cole & Fernando, 2012). Partly as a result, just
5.7% of Indian farmers report receiving information
from a public extension agent (Glendening et al.,
Yet, there is also a more cautionary lesson. Ambi-
tious policy initiatives at state level need to proactively
engage with gaps in knowledge provision and
exchange. In Sikkim, farmers who transitioned away
from synthetic inputs were not provided with
enough guidance on how to deal with crop pests,
and struggled to cope with decreased yields across a
variety of crops (Pandey & Sengupta, 2018). These
farmers call for more and better formal support and
training, and also restructured regulation and
markets that allow for protable sales (Taneja, 2017).
Andhra Pradeshs initial success with ZBNF has
enthused policy makers in other states as well as at
national level. Going forward, it is important that
farmer-focussed ZBNF programmes are informed by
the institutional and organizational innovations
implemented by the RySS, which enables farmers to
work within a rich learning ecosystem, supported by
peers and more conventional experts.
This brings us to the third key lesson: the impor-
tance of farmer-led and farmer-focussed knowledge-
exchange. While RySS stateacha formalized
version of ZBNF to farmers, it is clear that RySS aims
to give farmers scope to experiment with the
methods, adapt them and adopt ZBNF progressively
(the explicit provision for a three-year transition,
built into interim RySS targets, is one example). One
emerging tension is the need to communicate key
elements of ZBNF technique versus engaging farmers
with the more advanced or abstract principles animat-
ing ZBNF practice (Khadse & Rosset, 2019). On the one
hand, RySS has created a participatory learning eco-
system to facilitate collective learning through face-
to-face interaction with peers and other experts,
through exposure to video and other media, and
through direct engagement with Palekars training
camps. On the other hand, interviewees reveal that
it is not possible to start with high complexity con-
cepts at the rst go(Khadse & Rosset, 2019, p. 15).
Instead, farmers begin by using ZBNF as a form of
input substitution before moving on to more
advanced practices and engaging with the underlying
A key set of questions for further research centres
on the need to design evaluations that take into
account diverging levels of engagement and types
of adoption across dierent farms. Evaluations of
agroecological packagesinvolving multiple com-
ponents is dicult, as these are often adapted to
suit the particular needs of farmers and communities
(Milder, Garbach, DeClerck, Driscoll, & Montenegro,
2012). Outcomes from standardized or simplied prac-
tices in eld trials may not therefore correspond with
outcomes from the methods used by farmers. In the
context of sustainable intensication, evaluations
must also go beyond impacts on yields. Improvements
to environmental variables are even more challenging
to assess, as outcomes are highly sensitive to initial
conditions, as well as the parameters timescales and
any weightings used (Elliot, Firbank, Drake, Cao, &
Gooday, 2013). These considerations should inform
on-going evaluations of ZBNF, underway across India
via the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR),
with a view to informing further policy making at
national level (Tiwari, 2019). Beyond trials on research
stations, assessing outcomes for practicing farmers is
complicated by the fact that ZBNF like other initiat-
ives is layeredon top of an existing array of prac-
tices and technologies. In Andhra Pradesh for
example, farmers may have previously experimented
with organic production, or may be using some
elements of the system of crop intensication such
as wide spacing and a revised irrigation schedule.
These may have had impacts on soil health or biodi-
versity prior to the implementation of ZBNF, and this
will be dicult to separate outin evaluations.
Anal set of questions around centres on the need
for longitudinal assessments. Redesign initiatives are
not static, as contexts continually change. Multidisci-
plinary longitudinal assessments are needed to
explore how practice and outcomes change over
time, either progressing towards greater sustainability
or reverting to older forms of management. Unin-
tended consequences may also unfold, particularly
over time, and especially if underlying norms and
values remain unchanged (e.g. see Bharucha, Smith,
& Pretty, 2014 on the long-term outcomes of decen-
tralized watershed management). Redesign inno-
vations specically seek to re-vision the underlying
status quo, but beyond a certain scale, all innovations
must engage with existing power relations and incum-
bent actors who can thwart, dilute or co-opt them
(Brown, 2018). Alongside longitudinal assessments of
ZBNF outcomes for farmers and landscapes, there
will thus be a need to track how the underlying prin-
ciples of ZBNF are being implemented as the
package is formally adopted by state-led institutions
and is adopted by existing programmes.
The authors wish gratefully to acknowledge funding from Anglia
Ruskin University, which supported a Research Assistant position
for Sol Bermejo Mitjans at the Global Sustainability Institute. We
would like to thank Pavan Sukhdev for collegial support through-
out the project and colleagues at the RySS, particularly Vijay
Thallam, for providing the authors with data, sending infor-
mation on ZBNF and engaging constructively with the research
for this paper. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for
their advice and feedback on an earlier draft of the paper.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
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... Ingredients can include desi cow dung and urine, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), gram (legume) flour and topsoil from a native 'virgin' soil (uncontaminated soil) 3. Achhadana: mulching using cover crops or dry crop residues applied to the soil surface. Examples include paddy straw and groundnut husks (Ghosh 2019;Keerthi et al. 2018) Adoption of ZBNF has been reported to increase yields in 79% of farmers surveyed (n=97) in Karnataka (Khadse et al. 2018), and 88% of farmers surveyed (n = 1614) in Andhra Pradesh (Bharucha et al. 2020) compared to 'non-ZBNF' management techniques. ZBNF inputs have also been observed to increase growth and yield of chilli (Gangadhar et al. 2020), peppers (Boraiah et al. 2017), rice, groundnut (Bharucha et al. 2020), maize (Vinay et al. 2020) banana, gram legumes (Galab et al. 2019) and cotton (Korav et al. 2020) compared to non-ZBNF agricultural practices. ...
... Examples include paddy straw and groundnut husks (Ghosh 2019;Keerthi et al. 2018) Adoption of ZBNF has been reported to increase yields in 79% of farmers surveyed (n=97) in Karnataka (Khadse et al. 2018), and 88% of farmers surveyed (n = 1614) in Andhra Pradesh (Bharucha et al. 2020) compared to 'non-ZBNF' management techniques. ZBNF inputs have also been observed to increase growth and yield of chilli (Gangadhar et al. 2020), peppers (Boraiah et al. 2017), rice, groundnut (Bharucha et al. 2020), maize (Vinay et al. 2020) banana, gram legumes (Galab et al. 2019) and cotton (Korav et al. 2020) compared to non-ZBNF agricultural practices. However, these studies do not always include statistical analysis to support their conclusions and do not always describe what they define as 'non-ZBNF'. ...
... The third claim put forward by ZBNF promoters is that ZBNF practices enhance the activity of soil biology, and larger earthworm populations are an indicator of this. Higher earthworm abundance has previously been observed in ZBNF fields compared to non-ZBNF fields (Bharucha et al. 2020). In our research, earthworm abundance was indeed significantly and considerably higher in the ZBNF treatment than the conventional or organic treatment in all three seasons (Fig. 3f), along with earthworm biomass (Supplementary information, Figure S3) likely a result of mulching. ...
Full-text available
Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a grassroot agrarian movement and a state backed extension in Andhra Pradesh, and has been claimed to potentially meet the twin goals of global food security and environmental conservation. However, there is a lack of statistically evaluated data to support assertions of yield benefits of ZBNF compared to organic or conventional alternatives, or to mechanistically account for them. In order to fill this gap, controlled field experiments were established in twenty-eight farms across six districts, spanning over 800 km, over three cropping seasons. In these experiments, we compared ZBNF (no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers, home-made inputs comprising desi cow dung and urine with mulch) to conventional (synthetic fertilisers and pesticides) and organic (no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers, no mulch, purchased organic inputs, e.g. farmyard manure and vermicompost) treatments, all with no tillage. Comparisons were made in terms of yield, soil pH, temperature, moisture content, nutrient content and earthworm abundance. Our data shows that yield was significantly higher in the ZBNF treatment (z score = 0.58 ± 0.08), than the organic (z= −0.34 ± 0.06) or conventional (−0.24 ± 0.07) treatment when all farm experiments were analysed together. However, the efficacy of the ZBNF treatment was context specific and varied according to district and the crop in question. The ZBNF yield benefit is likely attributed to mulching, generating a cooler soil, with a higher moisture content and a larger earthworm population. There were no significant differences between ZBNF and the conventional treatment in the majority of nutrients. This is a particularly important observation, as intensive use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers comes with a number of associated risks to farmers' finances, human health, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution. However, long-term field and landscape scale trials are needed to corroborate these initial observations.
... Outcome of the UEFS cultivation and farmers' messages: Recent studies reported the shifting of farmers from conventional farming to organic and natural farming (NF), especially in the SI states namely Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana (Nayana and Veni 2020). Farmer's survey in these states reported better plant health, vigour and climate resilience in fruit crops integrated organic and NF system even under dry spells, flooding and cyclone situations (Bharucha et al 2020). Apart from increased incomes, farmers also experienced encouraging outcomes across a range of farm health indicators, agro biodiversity and sustaino-resilence of the agroecosystem (Bharucha et al 2020). ...
... Farmer's survey in these states reported better plant health, vigour and climate resilience in fruit crops integrated organic and NF system even under dry spells, flooding and cyclone situations (Bharucha et al 2020). Apart from increased incomes, farmers also experienced encouraging outcomes across a range of farm health indicators, agro biodiversity and sustaino-resilence of the agroecosystem (Bharucha et al 2020). Another study reported successful integration of UEFS like aonla ( ), bael Emblica officinalis ( ), ber ( spp.) and jamun ( Aegle marmelos Zizyphus Syzigium spp.) based cropping models to minimize the risk and enhance the yield and productivity in Arid and Semi-arid regions of India (Singh et al 2020). ...
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Southern India (SI) is bestowed with several threatened and near threatened (TNT) underutilized edible fruit species (UEFS) that contributes to food and nutritional security, particularly to the indigenous people. Unfortunately, information related to these natural products is fragmentary and least researched. The PRISMA Protocol was used to conduct a systematic review of the TNT-UEFS of the SI. The study confirmed that, of the total of 69 species of TNT-UEFS recorded, most of the species were reported to have medicinal, economical, and many other values, which need instant sustainable initiatives for conservation, consumption and cultivation. Among these species, 10 (14.5 %) were near threatened (NT), and 59 (85.5 %) were threatened. According to the IUCN Red List, the threatened species were further divided into three categories: Vulnerable (31 species), Endangered (20 species), and Critically Endangered (8 species). The provision of various ecosystem services is aided by integrating native and naturalized TNT-UEFS in various ecosystem restoration efforts through afforestation and reforestation. Consecutively, it helps India meet its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and neutralize land degradation by 2030. Hence, the study will provide baseline information for future research and be useful for policymakers to develop region-specific, scientific, and sustainable policies for SI.
... Green Revolution technology has been proved as a double-edged sword for the Indian agriculture system as well as for the entire globe. Although it intensified Indian agriculture from a food-scarce to a food-surplus country, it has also thrown several challenges in the form of declining factor productivity, depleting natural resources, low water, and nutrients, and adverse impacts on climate change as well as on human health [1][2][3]. Overuse of chemical fertilizers not only depletes soil nutrients but also reduces the yield and poisons the whole ecosystem [4]. In the past, several management practices, such as biofertilizers/biopesticide application, use of vermicompost, FYM, etc., have been intended to mitigate the negative impact of chemical fertilizers and pesticides [5]. ...
... In ZBNF, the cost of farming activities from external sources (fertilizers/pesticides) is zero as it does not require any credit on purchasing inputs, and crops are cultivated without chemicals exploiting natural resources, such as cow dung/urine, etc. [1,2,6,7]. ZBNF formulations, such as Jeevamrit, Beejamarit, and Panchgavya induce a multifold increase in microbial population and earthworm activity which enhances nutrient availability in soil, strengthens the resistance mechanism, and increases crop productivity [5,8,9]. Enhanced microbial population diversity index improves the stability and resistance of the soil ecosystem [10][11][12]. ...
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Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), utilizing natural resources, multiple cropping systems, and cow-dung-and urine-based products to improve soil biology, has been practiced by thousands of farmers in India. However, without any scientific proof, this traditional and ancient technique is mocked as a bugged theory in the scientific community. In the current study, we have investigated the effect of Jeevamrit-cow-dung-and urine-based formulation-on soil chemical and microbial properties of the ZBNF field coupled with metagenomic analysis and the economics of ZBNF. The percentage increase in soil properties, such as organic carbon, available phosphorus, and available potassium, was recorded up to 46%, 439%, and 142%, respectively, while micronutrients, such as Zn, Fe, Cu, and Mn, also increased up to 98%, 23%, 62%, and 55%, respectively, from 2017 to 2019. Whole genome metagenomic analysis revealed that Proteobacteria were dominantly present, and bacterial phyla including Bacillus, Pseudomonas, Rhizobium, and Panibacillus. On the other hand, Ascomycota was the dominating fungal phyla present in the soil sample. Further, functional analysis showed a high representation of genes/enzymes involved in amino acids and carbohydrate metabolism contributing to soil fertility, plant growth, defense, and development. Additionally, the cost-benefit ratio of ZBNF was double the farmer's practice when tested with the rice and wheat cropping system. The results from this study provide a new proof of concept and understanding of the potential of the ZBNF component, i.e., Jeevamrit, in improving soil properties.
... It is well known that the scaling of agroecological approaches has been shown to rely on horizontal peer learning. In India, the Andhra Pradesh Natural Farming programme plans to roll out agroecology to 6 million farmers in the state through a combination of farmer-based extension, government and NGO support and women groups (Bharucha et al., 2020). Participatory extension programmes are widely used to promote agricultural innovations and are found to be effective if properly implemented (Knook et al., 2020). ...
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Introduction Agroforestry plays a vital role in maintaining and developing the resilience and productivity of farms and landscapes. Scientific evidence from the Sahel region suggests that integration of trees and shrubs has the potential to improve temperature and moisture levels whilst providing bio-based fertilizer that contributes to increased yields of annual crops. However, little is known about the factors that influence the diffusion of agroforestry. This study examines joint decisions on the use of agroforestry alongside other complementary agricultural practices and disentangles agroforestry awareness from adoption and disadoption decisions. Methods Our analysis is based on a comprehensive farm-level dataset covering almost 3,000 farm households in Mali and Senegal. A large number of adoption determinants are utilized, with a special focus on information access, information flows and social groups. Results The findings suggest that extension access and training participation boost awareness of agroforestry-based soil fertility management, while information provided by public extension, NGOs and community members is strongly associated with higher adoption intensity. In the analysis of disadoption, farmer-to-farmers exchange in the community was found to be a key factor in the decision to maintain agroforestry use. Membership in cooperatives and youth groups appear to have a favorable effect on awareness and adoption in Mali, but less so in the Senegalese case. Similarly, only results from Mali show that adoption of agroforestry is accompanied by the adoption of other sustainable intensification practices and lower use of synthetic pesticides. Discussion We conclude that in order to support the transition to more widespread agroforestry-based soil fertility management, it is essential to strengthen public and NGO-based advisory systems that fully engage with local knowledge networks.
... However, sometimes it requires more labor engagement along with little loss in a few cases (Kumar et al., 2020). ZBNF is a redesigned agricultural system practiced particularly to reduce direct costs probably imposed on the farmers (hence 'zero budget') while boosting output along with soil health maintenance through the use of non-synthetic input resources available locally ('natural farming') (Bharucha et al., 2020). A substantial amount of nitrogen can be provided to the crops using the Jeevamritha system (liquid and solid together), the mulching of dried biomass, nitrogen fixation by heterotrophic microbes through Azolla, as well as the rotation of leguminous crops in the ZBNF system, according to the studies (Kumar et al., 2020;Smith et al., 2020). ...
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Synthetic fertilizers have been revolutionary in the way that the increased production of food crops has increased as a result of the application of synthetic fertilizers. Despite the fact that global N, P, and K consumption have increased from 64.9, 25.9, and 18.2 kg/ha in the year 2000 to 85.5, 33.2, and 20.4 kg/ha, respectively, they are still relatively low. Additionally, excessive use of inorganic fertilizers has also resulted in a deterioration of environmental systems, especially that of water resources. The presence of this toxic substance inside the human body is therefore due to the fact that it enters the body through the food chain and causes serious illnesses, such as cancer. For instance, in most countries, the maximum nitrate concentration for drinking water is restricted to between 45 and 50 mg/L. Besides promoting the use of chemicals and the application of fertilizers in farming, there should be a push to encourage the sustainable use of biofertilizers to protect the environment and human health. Composts that have been developed from various waste materials, such as poultry farms, dairy farms, and other sources, have proven to be very rich in N, P, and K. For example, compost generated from dairy farm wastes can provide a value of 45,100, 7300, and 9100 mg/kg of N, P, and K, respectively. In order to make the use of these biofertilizers in agriculture possible, it will be necessary to spread awareness among the farmers so that they can adopt the concepts of sustainable management in agriculture.
... The scaling up of NF may not only depend on the farming practices, but social factors such as social movements, public policies, markets, pedagogical processes, leadership, and discourse also play a key role [24][25][26]. Farmer-focused and farmer-led knowledge exchange is a key driver of the sustained spread of NF practice [27]. ...
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The "Green Revolution" (GR) technology-induced agricultural intensification has transformed India from food scarcity to a food surplus country. However, this has also resulted into several adverse repercussions. Increased application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides with stag-nating/declining crop productivity has dovetailed with uncertain market conditions and climate change effects which has resulted in un-remunerative agriculture. Consequently, farmers have fallen into the debt trap due to the rising cost of crop production apart from health hazards due to serious exposure to harmful chemical pesticides. Natural Farming (NF), an agro-ecological approach to farming is believed to be an effective way to counter some of these challenges. The present paper presents field-level farmers' experiences of NF adoption in three states of India-Andhra Pra-desh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. The study was conducted during February-March 2019 by surveying 295 NF adopted and 170 non-NF adopted farmers. It was found that NF practice has been followed by some farmers for more than 10 years but others have adopted during the recent past. There is variation in the practice followed by the NF farmers. There are farmers who are using Farm Yard Manure (FYM). A solid form of jeevamritha (liquid concoction of microbial inoculants) called as ghanajeevamritha was also found to be used by farmers in Andhra Pradesh. It was observed that non-NF yields are superior to NF yield without FYM. In most crops, however, NF with FYM had a greater yield than NF without FYM and non-NF farms. There has been a decrease in the variable cost and a marginal increase in the market price of NF produce. The study suggests that natural farming may be seen as one of the alternative practices which has potential to rejuvenate the agro-ecosystem, besides cost saving for the individual farmers.
... We will likely see increased institutionalisation where the ideas of the storyline are reflected in institutional practices (Hajer 1993). Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) in India similarly started as a grassroots movement that motivated its members through discourse and other means (Bharucha et al. 2020;Khadse et al. 2017). It became institutionalised when the state of Andhra Pradesh developed public policies to scale ZBNF. ...
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Modern agriculture is underpinned by a colonial, industrial and productivist discourse. Agricultural practices inspired by this discourse have fed billions but degraded socio-ecological systems. Regenerative agriculture (RA) is a prominent alternative seeking to transform food production and repair ecosystems. This paper proposes that RA discourse is supported by a shared storyline binding diverse actors and discourses together—a discourse coalition. Consequently, multiple discourses contribute to the over-arching discourse of RA. A discourse analysis was conducted on texts from ninety-six organisations and complimented by twenty-two interviews in Australia and the USA. This analysis identified nine discourses contributing to RA discourse: Restoration for Profit; Big Picture Holism; Regenerative Organic; Regrarian Permaculture; Regenerative Cultures; Deep Holism; First Nations; Agroecology and Food Sovereignty; and Subtle Energies. This paper describes and examines these component discourses and discusses tensions that may make RA vulnerable to co-optation and greenwashing, diluting its transformative potential.
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Since the green revolution, India has seen an alarming rise in the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Use of chemicals excessively has a detrimental effect on the ecology, soil, human health and groundwater purity. The Zero Budget Natural Farming method was used in this case to reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In India, agriculture is a big sector. It is necessary for the survival and growth of the Indian economy. The majority of farmers rely heavily on inorganic, external chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, which over time deplete soil fertility and damage groundwater and other ecosystems that depend on water. The health of Indian farmers is seriously threatened by the ongoing use of pesticides and chemicals. Zero-budget farming has the ability to drastically cut costs associated with production. Low-cost farmers use mulching, soil safeguards, organic pesticides, and fertilizers. The four basic pillars of natural farming on a tight budget are Jivamrita, Beejamrit, Acchadana (Mulching), and Whapasa. Farmers with limited resources employ fertilizers, natural pesticides, mulching, and soil conservation techniques. Retaining crop wastes over time restores soil fertility and helps to maintain soil health. The control of pests and diseases is a crucial component of low-cost natural farming crop production techniques. To achieve food security in the face of climate change, a comprehensive system approach incorporating natural agricultural principles for sustainable agriculture is required. I have covered the idea, necessity, advantages, major pillars, principles, opportunities, and obstacles of adopting zero budget natural farming, as well as the aspects to scale up zero budget natural farming.
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The Green Revolution has dominated India's agriculture industry for more than 40 years. The economy has been impacted by the Green Revolution's increase in agricultural productivity and output.Now a day’s using conventional techniques in agriculture is like cancer to our soil and health as well. In addition to making the soil barren, it eventually causes the farmer to become insolvent. One such low-input, climate-resilient agricultural method is called Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), which encourages farmers to employ inexpensive, locally sourced, and readily available inputs rather than synthetic fertilizers and commercial pesticides. So ZBNF is beneficial for the small and marginal farmers because it needed low input cost, have high input use efficiency, recycle farm wastes.
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This paper delineates the growth of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) in India. From its origins as a peasant-led social movement in the state of Karnataka, to becoming institutionalized in a state program in Andhra Pradesh, ZBNF is attaining scale and reaching more and more peasant families. We look at some of the key factors that have triggered ZBNFs growth, as well as highlight some of the challenges and contradictions that may arise in the institutionalization process.
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This article explores how 'Zero Budget Natural Farming', an Indian natural farming movement centered on its founder and guru Subhash Palekar, enacts alternative agrarian worlds through the dual practices of critique and recuperation. Based on fieldwork among practitioners in the South Indian state of Kerala and on participation in teaching events held by Palekar, I describe the movement's critique of the agronomic mainstream (state extension services, agricultural universities, and scientists) and their recuperative practices of restoring small-scale cultivation based on Indian agroecological principles and biologies. Their critique combines familiar political-ecological arguments against productionism, and the injustices of the global food regime, with Hindu nationalist tropes highlighting Western conspiracies and corrupt science. For their recuperative work, these natural farmers draw, on one hand, on travelling agroecological technologies (fermentation, spacing, mulching, cow based farming) and current 'probiotic', microbiological, and symbiotic understandings of soil and agriculture. On the other hand, they use Hindu nativist tropes, insisting on the exceptional properties of agrarian species native to, and belonging to India. I use the idea of ontological politics to describe the movement's performances as enacting an alternative rural world, in which humans, other-than-human animals, plants, mycorrhizae, and microbes are doing agriculture together. Keywords: agricultural anthropology; alternative agricultures; naturecultures; critique; ontological politics; small-scale cultivators; India; Kerala; Subhash Palekar
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The food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. Here we show that between 2010 and 2050, as a result of expected changes in population and income levels, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. We analyse several options for reducing the environmental effects of the food system, including dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste. We find that no single measure is enough to keep these effects within all planetary boundaries simultaneously, and that a synergistic combination of measures will be needed to sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures.
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Higher efficiency rarely reduces water consumption
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A transition to an agriculture based on agroecological principles would provide rural families with significant socioeconomic and environmental benefits. If agroecology has such great potential to feeding the world, why it is not adopted more widely by farmers? Most research analyzing factors needed for scaling up agroecology focuses on the social and policy dimensions. Herein we argue that a key challenge for the amplification of agroecology lies in the translation of agroecological principles into practical strategies for soil, water, and biodiversity management to enhance production and resilience. We use old and recent case studies to understand how amplification of agroecology has happened, both in numbers of farmers and at a larger geographical scale. We focus on two main strategies that have proven effective in the past: (a) the revival of traditional agricultural systems which offer promising models of sustainability and resilience and (b) the creation of “agroecological lighthouses” from which principles radiate out to local communities, helping them to build the basis of an agricultural strategy that promotes efficiency, diversity, synergy, and resiliency. Such agroecological strategies must be complemented by policies and solidarity market arrangements to provide economic viability to the amplification of agroecology.
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The sustainable intensification of agricultural systems offers synergistic opportunities for the co-production of agricultural and natural capital outcomes. Efficiency and substitution are steps towards sustainable intensification, but system redesign is essential to deliver optimum outcomes as ecological and economic conditions change. We show global progress towards sustainable intensification by farms and hectares, using seven sustainable intensification sub-types: integrated pest management, conservation agriculture, integrated crop and biodiversity, pasture and forage, trees, irrigation management and small or patch systems. From 47 sustainable intensification initiatives at scale (each >104 farms or hectares), we estimate 163 million farms (29% of all worldwide) have crossed a redesign threshold, practising forms of sustainable intensification on 453 Mha of agricultural land (9% of worldwide total). Key challenges include investment to integrate more forms of sustainable intensification in farming systems, creating agricultural knowledge economies and establishing policy measures to scale sustainable intensification further. We conclude that sustainable intensification may be approaching a tipping point where it could be transformative.
The Green Revolution continues to be a touchstone in debates on food production. Accounts generally cite “high‐yielding” dwarf wheat and rice spreading through Asia and particularly India, resulting in lives saved, agriculture modernised, and under‐utilised workers moved off farms. This Commentary examines the forces that popularised this version of events and then reviews a significant new body of writing, comprising five major works by historians. The new work provides a fundamental rethinking of many key aspects of the revolution, including the motivations behind it, the merits of the agricultural science in India that it displaced, whether the new seeds actually led to increased food production, and how concepts of desirable plants changed. A rush of new books and dissertations by historians upends common thinking of the Green Revolution in India.
Ecological intensification aims to increase crop productivity by enhancing biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, while minimizing the use of synthetic inputs and cropland expansion. Policies to promote ecological intensification have emerged in different countries, but they are still scarce and vary widely across regions. Here, we propose ten policy targets that governments can follow for ecological intensification.