Zero Budget Natural Farming comes to Bangladesh

April 2017: Millenials aren’t the only one’s connecting on the Internet. It is how Rehmat Shahiudil Islam, a farmer from Bangladesh first came across Zero Budget Natural Farming, a natural farming movement from India. He read some blogs and watched videos, and after an initial fascination with the subject decided to come to South India to attend a training camp in Karnataka early this year.

Rehmat Shahiudil Islam on a filed visit in India

ZBNF strives to end farmer’s dependence on debt by farming naturally, with nature, without any external inputs or chemicals. It aims to create self-reliance at the farm level so farmers never have to depend on any external entities – be they corporations or the government. The movement has thousands of practitioners at the national level.

It has spread in an organic farmer-to-farmer way, and through massive training camps where its principle teacher  Subhash Palekar– or guruji, as he is respectfully called by farmers, gives detailed classes.

“When I heard Palekar ji’s talks, I was convinced. I wanted to remove the poisonous chemicals from our food.  I wanted to stop our dependence on companies like Monsanto, I wanted to do something about global warming.”

Rehmat spent time studying Palekars lessons, and visiting farmers- “I met so many farmers in Shimoga, Chitradurga, and Davangere districts. When I saw their fields and their happiness with my own eyes, I had no doubt that ZBNF works.”

Rehmat with Subhash Palekar and ZBNF movement members on a farm visit

He is now in touch with other ZBNF farmers through Whatsapp and Facebook and can easily discuss any problems with them online.

Rehmat has a job in the real estate sector but plans to quit and practice ZBNF full-time as soon as he can. He purchased some land a few years ago and now is practicing ZBNF on it. “Everyone thinks I am crazy, but I tell them, just give me six months and I will prove myself. My family also questioned me in the beginning, but now they support me.” He is convinced that with each crop he will get better and learn by doing.

A farmworker stands beside mulched beds at Rehmat’s ZBNF farm in Dhaka

Bangladesh has some 16 crore farmers, almost half the population of the country, who have either very small holdings, or are landless. Unlike Rehmat, most of them do not have access to Whatsapp or cellphones and live in dire poverty. It remains to be seen how and if ZBNF can reach all of these farmers. Rehmat plans to take ZBNF to at least 16 farmers himself. “If I can even help 16 farmers to become poison-free (chemical free) myself, then it will be something.”

He also wants to translate Palekar’s books to Bangla language, which is the national language of Bangladesh. Palekar has published some 20 books in various Indian languages, which are a key resource for farmers to learn about the method.

Rehmat is already planning his next trip to India for another ZBNF camp. “There is so much to learn from the farmers here, I am very fascinated.”

– by Ashlesha Khadse (Amrita Bhoomi Center)