The Natural Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the country’s top body of farm scientists, has criticised zero-budget natural farming, calling it an “unproven” technology that will not bring tangible gain to either farmers or consumers, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday.

Zero-budget natural farming relies on the idea that over 98% of the nutrients needed for crops for photosynthesis are supplied naturally through air and water. The remaining 2% are taken through the soil by the action of microorganisms. Therefore, farmers must apply microbial culture, a seed treatment solution, watering through the plant’s canopy and cover them with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves.

The academy’s criticism came even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification on Monday that India is focusing on zero-budget natural farming to improve farm incomes. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had also highlighted the importance of this method while presenting the Union Budget in July.

“The government should not needlessly invest capital and human resources towards promoting ZBNF,” Natural Academy of Agricultural Sciences President Panjab Singh said. “We have given our recommendations in writing to the prime minister and it reflects the view held by the scientific community.”

The academy had organised a brainstorming session on zero-budget natural farming last month. Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research Trilochan Mohapatra and NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand attended it. However, Subhash Palekar, the man behind the farming technique, did not attend the meeting, the academy said.

“In all, there were about 75 experts that included scientists, policymakers, progressive farmers, NGOs and fertiliser, seed and crop protection chemical industry representatives,” Singh said. “We reviewed the protocols and claims of ZBNF and concluded that there is no verifiable data or authenticated results from any experiment for it to be considered a feasible technological option.”

However, Palekar told The Indian Express that the academy does not have the expertise to validate his method of farming. He added that the method is “seed-agnostic” and can be used to grow Indian, hybrid or genetically modified crops.

“They [the academy] have neither spoken to me nor the farmers who are practising it,” Palekar said. “The academy should also have taken into consideration my schedule before calling me. Farmers organise workshops that I cannot cancel just to attend this meeting.”

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