The author is postgraduate in Botany and experienced in IPR handling as well as agribusiness management with an MBA, lives in a farmhouse.
Zero budget natural farming
There is increasing interest for natural farming from the farmers’ on one side as well as consumers on the other. People are more and more concerned about the good quality of agricultural produce, balancing with profitability. To have a healthy environment, for a sustainable future and healthy food with good taste, naturally grown crops are the best.
The 'zero budget farming' is the latest trend among many farmers in Indian villages. Much more people are discussing and thinking on it forming hype all over. They may not be thinking exactly on 'zero budget', but on such kind of farming which is near-natural and yields well through some amendments. Because, adjustment is the best skill practised by farmers, because of which small scale farming is still surviving all over the world.
Managing the local inputs
Natural farming is a unique method of farming which requires absolutely no monetary investment for the purchase of key inputs like seeds, fertilizers and plant protection chemicals from the market. The farmers can grow hardy local varieties of crops without application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Since it is zero budget farming, no institutional credit would be required and dependence on hired labour is also reduced to a bare minimum. All that the system requires is the native breed of cattle, Bos indicus, which in any case forms an integral part of farming families in rural areas. It is claimed that one adult cow is sufficient to take up this method of farming on twelve hectares of land.
Indigenous and local inputs
The farmer can produce his seed or he may use seeds that are available with other farmers. More importantly, there is no place for externally purchased fertilizers and plant protection chemicals in natural farming. Dependence on hired labour is also reduced to a bare minimum as the system discourages intercultural operations. The whole philosophy behind this system is to make the farmer self-reliant, so that, he can be freed from the clutches of borrowed money and high-cost input purchases from the market.
Finding indigenous solutions for the utilization of farm spaces, seed treatment, manure, water conservation, insecticides and pesticides is the essence of this type of farming.
The clustered approach by farming communities
Farmers in locality form clusters and discuss their requirements and problems. Each one becomes a member of the cluster and volunteers to work on other member’s farm as well, thus solving the labour requirement problem. Labour requirement and payment of wages is a challenge in time-bound seasonal crops. This gives a solution through the exchange of manpower, even for field crops.
Mixed cropping and crop rotation
Natural farming followers advocate the cultivation of diverse species of crops, depending on site-specific agro-climatic conditions and local needs. A farmer’s primary aim is to feed his own family to eliminate hunger, make the community hunger-free and then get good market price for surplus production. Mixed cropping provides a buffer against total failure of a single crop and also widens the income source of farmers. There is stress on inclusion of leguminous crops to ensure replenishment of soil fertility. Crop rotation is also emphasized to discourage the build-up of endemic pests. In the scheme of mixed cropping, cereals, millets, leguminous crops, horticulture crops particularly vegetables and even medicinal plants can be included to make farming more lucrative. The system also advocates wider spacing of crops to facilitate intercropping. The basic nature of the land itself is to have biodiversity. Here the cropping gets the benefit of diversity for nutritional security of the dependents.
Some other valuable natural resources have to be accomplished before going for large scale natural farming. Now, it is a challenge for the scientists and local leaders to simultaneously reduce the farmer's burden with zero budget inputs, and provide them with newer dimensions of technologies for production enhancement, pest, and disease-free environment, processing and marketing possibilities to increase market value or give sufficient prices, export it for a premium price, especially for the natural farming products. Here is an introduction to some of the components of natural farming.
Natural farming aims to enrich the soil and soil microbial diversity and thereby making the soil dynamic. These farmers do not believe in direct manuring to the plants but making the soil release its nutrients through solubilisation and enrichment. These not only promote microbes but also earthworms thereby making the soil loose and aerated.
Seed Treatment with seed priming concoction
Indigenous cow dung
Indigenous cow’s urine
Soil from the surface of the field
The above mixture termed as a natural seed primer used to treat seeds, seedlings or any planting materials such as cuttings. The planting material has to be simply dipped in the concoction, taken out and planted. The concoction protects the crop from harmful soil-borne and seed-borne pathogens during the initial stages of germination and establishment.
Growth promoting concoction
Indigenous cow dung
Indigenous cow’s urine
Flour of any pulse
Mix all these well and ferment for 48 hours. Unidirectional stirring is required, once in every 12 hours. At the time of application, it has to be diluted 10 times. If you want to maintain this, without bringing any more raw materials, save one litre of the original mixture and dilute it with an equal amount of water for use after 15 days. After 15 days also, use half of it and dilute ten times and apply to crops. The remaining half will make your future culture. Like this, you may manage for the entire season.
Growth promoting concoction is to be provided once in a fortnight or at least once in a month. It promotes immense biological activity in the soil and makes the nutrients available to the crops. The concoction is not to be considered as a nutrient for the crop but only an agent to promote biological activity in the soil.
Solid formulation of the concoction is also useful for future use. For preparing a solid mixture, 100 kg local cow dung, 2 kg jaggery, 2 kg pulse flour, a handful of soil from the bund, all mixed well with some cow’s urine are required. This mixture is dried and powdered to apply with 10 times of farmyard manure. The solid form gets activated in the field during irrigation.
Mulching or covering with organic residues or green mulching reduces compactness of the soil and consequently labour requirements, suppresses weeds, promotes humus formation and enhances the water holding capacity of the soil. Mulching enhances the biological activity and replenishes the nutrient base of the soil. Adequate mulching keeps the top and subsoil moist and enhances the water holding capacity of the soil and also reduces water loss due to evaporation so that the crop will be better equipped to tide over drought conditions. Most important of all, mulching adds organic carbon to the soil, which is the most essential requirement of natural farming.
Handling dirty materials safely
When it comes to handling biological materials, such as cow dung and cow’s urine, you may maintain personal hygiene and cleanliness of surroundings by proper planning and using protective materials. An unhealthy and improperly handled mixture produces very unhygienic products. Always keep the concoctions and raw materials properly covered to prevent insects and foul smell due to fermentation. Those who cannot handle these materials with care can obtain pure isolations and microbial consortia and natural crop care products now available in packaged containers available in user-friendly ways. However, instead of using poisonous and soil harming agrochemicals, bioagents and biofertilizers are healthy options.
In natural farming, there will be fewer problems with pests and diseases due to natural dynamics. However, in case if there is such a problem, there are various natural farming biological crop protection concoctions available for pests and diseases.
When the plant root zone soil is naturally dynamic, the harvest will be healthy and nutritious”
In the event of an outbreak of insects and diseases the farmer can himself prepare homemade pesticides and use it on the crops.
Buttermilk fermented for five days
Insecticide – 2
Tobacco leaf powder
Green chillies paste
As a matter of prominence, the cow is in the centre of the circle, delivering key inputs for natural farming, that too indigenous cow. Up to recent times, farmers have given up local breed of cows and are having Jersey, Holstein or crossbred cows, with milk yield in mind. However, taking into account the number of presently available indigenous cows, their gestation periods, safety and security of cow farming, it will be a Herculean task for mass implementation of the natural farming programme.
Natural Farming in Tropical South India
The entire world is looking for a natural and healthy life. In light of this, all the farmers, nurserymen and gardeners can follow natural farming practices to the possible extent according to their local circumstances. This would be the best contribution to the sustainable farming future. Even those, who are doing terrace garden and vertical farming can adopt natural farming practices with suitable arrangements to keep their venture in tune with the current times.
Prateek Jain from Madhya Pradesh, India on January 03, 2020:
Wonderful article sir..
Prantika Samanta from Kolkata, India on October 20, 2019:
An interesting read and this is going to benefit a lot of people.