“Green revolution has repercussion like overuse of pesticide. Now focus should be given on continuous improvement of productivity without harming ecology. That can be done through organic farming or green agriculture.”
M. S. Swaminathan, Father of Green Revolution in India
Sustainable agricultural practises in India dates back to nearly 4000 years and was a widespread practice then. The ancient Indian text of Arthashastra mentions how farmers in that age had sound knowledge of soil fertility and crop sustainability (1). However, everything changed during Green revolution, Indians started using chemicals on their farm. The primary goal of the Green revolution was to improve food security in India; so, there was an over-emphasis on rice and wheat, which lead to a rise in mono-cropping. This caused over-exploitation of the groundwater, resulting in a steep fall in groundwater level (2). Moreover, as the green revolution involved costly technologies, it was only accessible to wealthy farmers, which further increased inequality. This use of technology also rendered several people unemployed.
India has a significantly low proportion of the world’s land area, but it supports 18% of the world’s human population and 15% of its livestock population. Despite having a low proportional land area, India ranks second in terms of farm yields. This excessive output has resulted in severe soil degradation. The rapid depletion in soil fertility has happened due to improper agriculture practices, deforestation, and excessive use of artificial (3). Thus, it is more critical to shift towards sustainable farming. Even though there is easy to fix the issue of soil degradation immediately, it is possible to reduce the negative impact that humans have had on the earth with time.
M.S. Swaminathan has constantly been advocating for a shift from the agricultural practises of the Green revolution to the Evergreen revolution. According to him, “Evergreen revolution refers to productivity improvement in perpetuity without ecological and social harm. The evergreen revolution involves the integration of ecological principles in technology development and dissemination.” Because of Green revolution, the use of chemical fertilisers has become a very common practice, since using chemical fertilisers like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) increases crop yield even though it depletes soil fertility (4). The Green revolution has already caused too much damage to nature; we need a new revolution of the Evergreen revolution, the second Green revolution. The aim would be to produce “more from less”; less land, less pesticide and less water but more output.
Zero Budget Natural Farming: An Evergreen Revolution
“Zero Budget Natural Farming” (ZBNF) is a chemical-free agriculture method based on traditional Indian practices and is the Evergreen revolution that Swaminathan was talking about. Subhash Palekar, the creator of this system, contends that unlike chemical farming, ZBNF would need zero external inputs; thus, production costs would be reduced or even become zero. One of the primary reasons for the high indebtedness among the farmers is the input cost of purchasing chemical fertilisers. Therefore, by reducing the input cost, small farmers will be able to come out of the vicious cycle of debt. Moreover, Palekar suggests making natural fertilisers like Jeevamrutha (5) and Bijamrita (6) in their own farm instead of using any artificial fertilisers. These natural fertilizers would require just one Desi Cow for 30 acres, thus making the whole farming truly “Zero Budget”. He also encourages farmers to go for inter-cropping to increase their income (7). In 2019 Budget session, realising the importance of chemical-free farming, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman talked about promoting ZBNF.
Several state governments like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh have already started taking measures to adopt this practice at a large scale. Andhra Pradesh, in particular, has been at the forefront in adopting ZBNF. It has institutionalised ZBNF. The practice was adopted as a major state program in 2016 and aimed to cover 60 lakhs people by 2024-25. It was so successful that in the very second year, 163,000 farmers adopted ZBNF at least partially on their farms, covering over 972 villages (8). Looking at the positive impact in Andhra Pradesh Niti Aayog has asked all the states in India to adopt these practices. This will also help in reaching the ambitious goal of double the farmers’ income. In addition to that, by moving to a more sustainable form of agriculture, India would also address the Sustainable Development Goals of 3, 12, 13 and 15(9).
However, as organic farm practices are adopted, there is a need to embrace a region-specific method. A single farming strategy for India as a whole will not work. There cannot be a one size-fits-all approach, so each state must develop its own policies in adopting organic farming. In India, more than 80% of farmers are small farmers, and they will not be able to afford the transition cost of shifting to organic farming from a chemical farming system (10). Therefore, the government must come up with policies to provide incentives for the transition. Policymakers must also be cautious that India’s food security is not compromised when the farming system is transforming.
Agriculture contribution to the Indian GDP in 2021 was 20%, but it employed more than half of the workforce. There is a disproportionate amount of labour force employed in the agriculture sector compared to its contribution to the economy. There is large-scale disguised unemployment as the industry, and the service sector has not been able to absorb the rural population. Thus, it is important to generate employment in the rural sector itself. The integration of sustainable agriculture with sustainable rural development and modern technologies would address jobless growth in India (11). Both M.S Swaminathan and Subhash Palekar argue that this shift to sustainable agriculture would not just ensure an increase in employment but also improve farm productivity. Thus, it is critical that the government make policies encouraging sustainable agriculture in India to bring a positive change in the life of our Annadatas.
1 P. K. Sofia, R. Prasad, and V. K. Vijay, “Organic farming tradition reinvented,” Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 139–142, 2006.
2 Li, Meijuan, Jiaen Zhang, Shiwei Liu, Umair Ashraf, Benliang Zhao, and Shuqing Qiu. “Mixed‐cropping systems of different rice cultivars have grain yield and quality advantages over mono‐cropping systems.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 99, no. 7 (2019): 3326-3334.
3 Bhattacharyya, Ranjan, Birendra Nath Ghosh, Prasanta Kumar Mishra, Biswapati Mandal, Cherukumalli Srinivasa Rao, Dibyendu Sarkar, Krishnendu Das et al. “Soil degradation in India: Challenges and potential solutions.” Sustainability 7, no. 4 (2015): 3528-3570.
4 A.R.Sharma and B.N.Mitra, “Complementary effectoforganic material in rice-wheat crop sequence,” The Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 163–168, 1990.
5 Jeevamrutha is a mixture of fresh desi cow dung and aged desi cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil — on farmland
6 Bijamrita is used to treat seeds, while concoctions using neem leaves and pulp, tobacco and green chillies are prepared for insect and pest management.
7 Palekar’s most famous intercropping system is a five-layer model in which five types of crops with varying heights and rooting patterns are cultivated together at the same time. For example, oranges, Lemon, Papaya, Moringa and Chili are grown together in just one Acre.
Khadse, Ashlesha, and Peter M. Rosset. “Zero Budget Natural Farming in India–from inception to institutionalization.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 43, no. 7-8 (2019): 848-871.
8 Saldanha, L. F. “A review of Andhra Pradesh’s climate resilient zero budget natural farming.” Environment Support Group (2018).
∙ SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing
∙ SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production
∙ SDG 13 Climate Action
∙ SDG 15 Life on Land
10 Sørensen, Claus G., Niels A. Madsen, and Brian H. Jacobsen. “Organic farming scenarios: operational analysis and costs of implementing innovative technologies.” Biosystems engineering 91, no. 2 (2005): 127-137
11 Kesavan, P. C., and M. S. Swaminathan. “Strategies and models for agricultural sustainability in developing Asian countries.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 363, no. 1492 (2008): 877- 891.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.