India, traditionally known as an agrarian economy is facing a deep crisis in the agriculture sector that fails to raise alarm among the common public. It was in 2002 that the World Bank chalked out evident primary challenges posed against the growth of this sector, the foremost of which was the lack of new sustainable techniques that would strengthen the crops, lower the yielding costs, and help farmers reap profits off their harvests. It’s 2019 as I write, and the growth of the agriculture sector is going a downward hill, which for a brief period was also negative by 1.1% in 2004. While many measures have been taken by the government and general people alike, “Zero Budget Natural Farming”, a brain-child of the Padmashri awardee Mr Subash Palekar seems most viable. It is not just a theory but a time-tested scientific approach towards sustainable farming that has already made it to the Union Budget, 2019 and is being pushed in several states to deliver on the current Modi-led government’s promise of doubling farmer’s income by 2022.
Mr Subash Palekar, son of a farmer hailing from Belapur was inclined towards pursuing agriculture since a young age. He completed his Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) in Agriculture from Nagpur university in 1972. Upon graduating, he returned to his hometown Belapur brimming with new-age ideas he had learnt in his curriculum which he wanted to implement in his farm. However, his father insisted that they carry on with age-old chemical farming and not hamper their stable income. Mr Subash gave in to his father’s wish. For a decade or more, their produce was outstanding and ever-increasing. However, by 1985 Mr Subash Palekar began to notice a slump in the yield that only worsened with each harvest. He began to extensively research on what exactly could have gone wrong since they barely made any change in their methods.
His three-years of comprehensive research concluded that the use of chemical fertilizers over the years havocked fertility of the soil, thus disturbing the production. Besides, chemically-grown crops also led to long-term health hazards on consumption. Punjab is a fantastic case study in this regard. Once touted as a pioneer in the Green revolution that was looked upon with hope to fulfil the food production needs of the entire nation, the majority of its soil has been chemically poisoned thus affecting its agricultural growth. A test on water from the well of Faridkot, Punjab at the University of Exeter by the Environment Advocacy Group, Greenspace in 2009 found hazardous levels of nitrates in the water. Is it a surprise, that Punjab is among the states with highest cancer rates? So much so, that it has a special inter-state train called the “Cancer Express”!
Startled by his findings, Palekar began to look out for alternate farming methods. From 1986 to 1988, he dedicated himself in his quest to research about modern farming, when he stumbled upon the study of forest vegetation. Unlike farms, forests nurture and sustain by themselves guided by the natural cycle, all the while remaining healthy. He began to study forest ecology, and experiment its techniques on his farm. From 1989 to 1995, he tried and tested various methods based on his primary idea of self-sustainability until he found success. He consolidated his successful experiments into one technique that he named “Zero Budget Natural Farming”.
He found that trees in forests that are huge, and rich with fruits, are strong without any manual fertilization in place. He took this as proof that plants can grow healthy even without chemicals. He says that the reason we do not witness such healthy growth in our domestic farms is that the micro-organisms that break down natural compounds and into absorbable nutrients are destroyed by the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. Ploughing, especially by tractors also play a role in ruining these micro-organisms. His experiments brought forth that cow dung is an excellent resource to revive these lost micro-organisms in the soil. Not just any cow dung, but the dung of local Indian cows, which by the way are rapidly declining in numbers. One gram of cow dung has anywhere between 300 to 500 crore nutritional micro-organisms. Mixed with cow urine, jaggery, and dicot flour it works like a magic revival potion for the soil and health of the plants. He claims that the cow dung of the black coloured Kapila cow is the most effective. The fresher the dung, and older the urine, the better it is. A cow that gives comparatively less milk has higher nutritional dung. His methods not just help in reviving the lost fertility of the soil and produce healthier plants, but also free farmers from the clutches of poverty due to its zero-cost and ecologically harmless implementation. Besides, it also encourages cattle-breeding among farmers, thus making it another potential source of income for them.
After successfully implementing his method on his farm, instead of keeping it to himself, or having a patent on it, he decided to teach this technique to his fellow farmer friends. From friends, the list of his students grew up to 40 lakhs across the country. Mr Subash Palekar spends 25 days in a month teaching for a meagre cost that is usually under INR 1000. Government of Kerala, Andra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and a few others have requested him to spend 10 days in a month in their states and impart his valuable knowledge to their farmers. Realizing the potential in his technique, the government of India has decided to scale Zero Budget Natural Farming that is also a part of the Union Budget, 2019.
Even before the Government of India could confer him with the prestigious Padmashri award in 2016 for his innovation and contribution towards sustainable farming, he was lovingly titled as “Krishi ka Rishi” i.e. doctor of the farmers by his peers. Quoting his statement to Grin news,
‘A Padma Shri for a farmer? Can you believe it? Who would have ever thought this?’ But why not? After all, people from all professions have been known to win one of India’s highest civilian awards. Because in our country people think farmers are from another planet, farmers are aliens, the way farmers are discussed as if farmers are not like other human beings.’
Mr Subash Palekar deserves much more recognition for his invaluable contribution and innovative thinking. His greatness lies not in the fact that he came up with such a unique solution to the problem that refuses to budge despite many attempts; it is his greatness and humility that he refuses to charge the farmers, or the government to impart his knowledge. He denied taking even a penny from Rs 50 crores allotted by the Kumaraswamy-led Karnataka government in 2018 towards implementing his Zero Budget Natural Farming techniques in the state.
We hope his techniques find huge success and can truly help the environment as well as those millions of farmers who have lost hope in their holy profession.