Paddy farm­ers in Andhra Pradesh em­brace Zero Bud­get Nat­u­ral Farm­ing to con­serve wa­ter

Paddy farm­ers of Andhra Pradesh are sav­ing wa­ter, en­ergy and money by adopt­ing Zero Bud­get Nat­u­ral Farm­ing

Down to Earth - - Contents - N S SURESH and AR­JUN SHANKER

AGRI­CUL­TURE IS both the cause and vic­tim of wa­ter scarcity. Ex­ces­sive use of wa­ter threat­ens the sus­tain­abil­ity of liveli­hoods de­pen­dent on wa­ter and agri­cul­ture, says the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion. In In­dia, the Green Revo­lu­tion had a phe­nom­e­nal im­pact on In­dia’s food pro­duc­tion, but it also ren­dered the land in­fer­tile, led to ex­ten­sive wa­ter con­sump­tion and ag­gra­vated ground­wa­ter loss. As per the

Cen­tral Wa­ter Com­mis­sion, the coun­try’s agri­cul­ture sec­tor al­ready con­sumes over 83 per cent of the avail­able wa­ter re­sources. And the de­mand will grow.

In the re­cent past, there has been a global de­mand to shift to sus­tain­able farm­ing sys­tems, such as Zero Bud­get Nat­u­ral Farm­ing (ZBNF). In­dia, too, in­tro­duced ZBNF in its Union Bud­get 2019-20. As the name sug­gests, it is the adap­ta­tion of an an­cient prac­tice

which re­duces farm­ers’ di­rect cost and en­cour­ages them to use nat­u­ral in­puts, such as cow dung and cow urine. The in­puts help man­age soil nu­tri­tion, fer­til­ity, pests and seeds. The tech­nol­ogy re­quires less till­ing and com­pletely re­jects the use of in­or­ganic fer­tilis­ers, pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides. It is also wa­ter-ef­fi­cient. Of late, all these ben­e­fits have been pop­u­larised, but in 2019 a group of re­searchers tried to quan­tify it.

At the Cen­ter for Study of Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy and Pol­icy (CSTEP), re­searchers con­ducted an ex­ploratory study in Andhra Pradesh to com­pare ZBNF and non-ZBNF tech­niques in paddy, ground­nut, chilli, cot­ton and maize farm­ing. The com­par­i­son was made on six pa­ram­e­ters— wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and en­ergy con­sump­tion, green­house gas emis­sions, yield and net rev­enue. The study was con­ducted in West Go­davari, Prakasam, Viziana­garam and Anan­ta­pu­ramu districts dur­ing kharif sea­son, en­sur­ing vari­a­tion in agro-cli­matic zones, farm­ing tech­niques, pro­duc­tion and so­cial as­pects.

The study, pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary 2020, found the max­i­mum ben­e­fits of ZBNF in paddy farm­ing, with a sav­ing of 1,400 to 3,500 cu­bic me­tre of wa­ter per acre per paddy crop­ping pe­riod (one acre equals 0.4 hectare). This was ac­com­plished by in­creas­ing the time in­ter­val of ir­ri­ga­tion cy­cles—every eight to 10 days— un­like the con­ven­tional method which re­quires wa­ter­ing every five to six days. The wa­ter sav­ing was at­trib­uted to mul­ti­ple aeration prac­tice. This wa­ter man­age­ment method in­volves pe­ri­odic aeration of the soil be­tween wa­ter­ing pe­ri­ods.

Wa­ter con­sump­tion in paddy cul­ti­va­tion de­pends on the fre­quency and depth of ir­ri­ga­tion. Paddy farms un­der ZBNF were ir­ri­gated with only 2.54 cm to 5.7 cm deep wa­ter while those un­der non-ZBNF had to be wa­tered up to 12.7 cm. ZBNF ad­vo­cates mulching of crop residues to pro­mote mois­ture re­ten­tion in soil and in­crease hu­mus. It also in­volves waaphasa, or soil aeration, to re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion. The tra­di­tional flood ir­ri­ga­tion is plagued with in­con­sis­tent spread of nutri­ents with ex­cess wa­ter use, which can also drop crop pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Al­though the study did not ob­serve much im­pact on crop yield, mul­ti­ple aeration and re­duced wa­ter use showed other ben­e­fits. In just one crop sea­son, elec­tric­ity con­sump­tion of farms re­ly­ing on ground­wa­ter re­duced by 1,500-3,900 units per acre, and saved `6,000-16,000. Fur­ther, mul­ti­ple aeration hin­ders mi­cro­bial ac­tiv­ity and cuts meth­ane emis­sions by 88 per cent, com­pared to the con­ven­tional flood­ing prac­tice. This leads to an ad­di­tional sav­ing of fos­sil fu­els used for elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion and emis­sions re­duc­tion.


If all of In­dia’s paddy area—43-44 mil­lion ha—is brought un­der ZBNF, 150-400 bil­lion cu­bic me­tre of wa­ter can be po­ten­tially saved. The vol­ume is equiv­a­lent to stor­age po­ten­tial of 40 to 100 Tehri dams, one of In­dia’s big­gest dams lo­cated in Ut­tarak­hand. Ad­di­tion­ally, ZBNF can ad­dress sev­eral on-ground chal­lenges, such as ground­wa­ter-stress, wa­ter dis­par­ity in canal wa­ter us­age, and overuse of re­sources (flooded ir­ri­ga­tion).

In In­dia, 70 per cent of the farms rely on ground­wa­ter, which depletes re­serves. In wa­ter­stressed zones, tube­wells have to be dug up to about 300 me­tres.

ZBNF can avoid the cur­rent draw­ing of ground­wa­ter by 50 to 60 per cent, en­sure ad­e­quate ground­wa­ter re­serve, im­prove wa­ter ta­ble and re­duce fi­nan­cial and labour stress on farm­ers.

ZBNF farm­ing can also solve dis­putes be­tween farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties where up­stream farm­ers em­ploy canal ir­ri­ga­tion and end up guz­zling more wa­ter, leav­ing down­stream farms with in­suf­fi­cient vol­ume.

ZBNF does show wa­ter-sav­ing po­ten­tial and can ad­dress In­dia’s food and se­cu­rity in the long run, but deep in­ves­ti­ga­tion is re­quired to as­cer­tain if it can be repli­cated in the var­i­ous agro-cli­matic zones across the coun­try. As they say, Rome was not built in a day, sim­i­larly, ZBNF re­quires time and pol­icy sup­port so that the gov­ern­ment pro­vides mone­tary help for it to be adopted in all the states.


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