It brings down cultivation cost drastically and ensures that the produce is nutritious, healthy

Chemical-free agriculture based on the zero budget natural farming (ZBNF), using India’s traditional farming practices, is showing encouraging signs of acceptance among farmers, especially apple growers in Himachal Pradesh.

ZBNF was originally promoted by Maharashtra-based agriculturist and Padma Shri recipient Subhash Palekar, who developed it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution’s methods driven by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and intensive irrigation. In Himachal Pradesh, the natural farming drive is being run under the name of Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF).

The non-chemical low-cost climate resilient SPNF technique is being promoted for agriculture and horticulture crops in the hill State as part of the Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana (PK3Y), launched by the State government in 2018. According to the data shared by the State Project Implementing Unit (SPIU), PK3Y, as many as 1,33,056 farmers are partially or fully practising natural farming in Himachal Pradesh on 7,609 hectares. They include 12,000 apple orchardists. There are a total of 9.61 lakh farmers in Himachal Pradesh.

Inputs at home

“Since 2018, people have started adopting the SPNF technique, and earlier there was no area under the natural farming technique. Under the SPNF the farmers are not at all dependent on market for any input for their crops and make all the farm inputs at home with ‘desi’ cow dung and urine, jaggery and some locally resourced leaves,” said Executive Director, PK3Y, Rajeshwar Singh Chandel.

“Over the years people have been using excessive chemicals on agriculture and horticulture crops in Himachal. So much that 3-4% samples of fruits and vegetables at times have been found to have insecticides and fungicide residue more than the permissible limits. This has been a serious concern and even the farmers are keen to shift to the natural farming technique, which brings down the cost of cultivation drastically and ensures the produce is nutritious and healthy. It is good for their own health as well because they don’t have to spray chemicals now. The number of people adopting SPNF is gradually rising — an encouraging sign,” he said.

Multiple crops

Mr. Chandel added that scientific studies in the State shown that the SPNF technology had reduced the cost of cultivation in apple crop by 56.5%, while the net returns in apple crop had increased by 27.4%. “The incidence of Scab and Marssonina Blotch in apples is also lesser in natural farming as compared to conventional practices. More so, the farmers are able to take multiple crops on the same farm by adopting the SPNF,” he said.

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