As part of the objective to eradicate poverty and to improve livelihoods of the poor, Government of Andhra Pradesh has set-up an autonomous institution called Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), registered as a Society in the year 2000 in the state of Andhra Pradesh (prior to bifurcation).
SERP has been facilitating poverty reduction through social mobilization and improvement of livelihoods of rural poor in Andhra Pradesh.
As part of its mandate to work on livelihoods, SERP has identified agriculture as an important area of intervention because majority of the poor were dependent on agriculture.
One of the critical problems that was identified in agriculture was use of fertilizers and pesticides. This was addressed through a series of community driven programmes such as Integrated Pest Management program, Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) programme and Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA). CMSA was also replicated nation-wide through Mahila Kisan Sasakthikaran Pariyojana (MKSP).
Although early results showed encouraging results, there are some lessons learnt:
- Since SERP was involved with women Self Help Groups, all the interventions including the latest CMSA was focussed on women while the farming decision was predominantly taken by men.
- Early programs did not focus on saturation of a given village or gram panchayat or entire state. As a result, success stories were only in few pockets and not in entire state.
- There was no ownership from Agriculture department.
- Government commitment to reforming the agriculture.
Influenced by innovative approaches such as Zero Budget Spiritual Farming practiced by Padma Sree Awardee Shri Subhash Palekar, Government of India mandated Rythu Sadhikara Samstha to pilot the same in Andhra Pradesh and termed the name of the program Zero Budget Natural Farming. The program was led by Advisor to Government of India and Vice Chairperson of RySS, Mr T Vijay Kumar.
The lessons learnt from the previous programs were now to be addressed in the following manner:
- Men and women, instead of women only approach
- Full saturation approach covering entire Gram Panchayat
- Making sure Agriculture Department owns the project
- Government’s full commitment was another big corner stone.
Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives has agreed to provide initial support, in addition to the support provided by Government of India through Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana schemes.
A pilot was conducted in 2016 across 704 villages covering 48, 565 farmers. The pilot was successful with around 10,000 farmers adopting ZBNF practices and the remainder adopting it partially. The practices and the benefits recorded include improved yields, lower costs and better ability to withstand climate adversities – prolonged dry spells or heavy rains. A study of 285 crop yield experiments conducted in paddy fields observed that ZBNF farm plots had an average yield of 6417 kg/ha, compared to 5816 kg/ha in non-ZBNF farm plots.
Following the success of pilot, the programme is being scaled up to 500,000 farmers based on a tripartite agreement between RySS, the Dept. of Agriculture – Govt. of AP and the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative (APPI).
The scaling up of the programme is planned during the period 2017-2022 covering all the districts of AP.