Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent

Andhra Pradesh Community-Managed Natural Farming

Framework for India’s Sustainable Agriculture Initiatives

Organisation of the case study

Organisation of the case study

This case study is a complementary document for the scalability framework. It provides a detailed account of how certain programmes scaled up and sustained in the long run. The anecdotal evidence of the success factors given here form the basis of the scalability framework.

An overview of each phase’s activities and success factors is presented in this case study. We have identified two phases for the programme, and each consecutive phase depicts either a shift or expansion in solutions, involvement of different stakeholders, and a variation in scale. The success factors are directly applied from the scalability framework without modifications. Please refer to the framework for theoretical clarity on terminologies.

Core success factors

The core success factors that enable scale, replication, and sustenance are as follows:


The Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming (APCNF) programme is implemented by the Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS), a not-for-profit body under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh. The programme aims to increase the adoption of natural farming practices among the state’s farmers to help them escape the debt cycle caused by high input costs linked to conventional agricultural practices. The programme picked up the remnants of a previous state project—the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) initiated by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), in the early 2000s, under the chairmanship of T Vijay Kumar, who went on to head the state’s agriculture department. Additionally, in 2015, the Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) initiative in Andhra Pradesh played an important role in the uptake of APCNF.

In the past six years, the decision-making and implementation agency has slowly expanded from RySS leadership to community leaders, specifically the women-led self-help groups (SHG). The community resource persons (CRPs) have also become a pillar of programme implementation. Currently, the programme covers over 6 million farmers (APCNF) in 13 out of the 26 districts in the state.

natural farming in andhra pradesh

Phase 1: Formerly known as the Andhra Pradesh Zero Budget Natural Farming

In 2014, the Government of Andhra Pradesh formed RySS specifically to ensure farmers' welfare. T Vijay Kumar converged RySS with the natural farming programme in the state. In November 2016, the state government issued an order to scale up natural farming to reach 6 million farmers by 2024. The objectives of the programme were to ensure a reduction in cultivation costs, improve soil fertility and crop yields, and increase crops’ ability to withstand prolonged dry spells and excess rains. RySS was appointed as the implementing agency under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister and co-chairmanship of Vijay Kumar. At this time, the Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) movement, started by Maharashtrian farmer Subhash Palekar, was vigorously practised in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. Taking inspiration, RySS adopted the principles of ZBNF into its programme. The pilot was launched in 615 gram panchayats1 (715 villages) out of the total 13,000 gram panchayats in Andhra Pradesh. The Andhra Pradesh natural farming programme's precursor, the CMSA, had already been implemented in 2004 in these villages. Out of the 40,000 farmers who enrolled in the new pilot, most were already practising non-chemical farming. These farmers turned into the pilot’s champions, responsible for technically training fellow community members and monitoring natural farming activities in their villages, and were accountable to the RySS staff.

Timeline: 2015/16–2018

Scale: 3,015 villages, 5,23,000 farmers in 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh

Key Drivers: RySS, Agriculture Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh

Key activities

Government-level engagement

  • Creating institutional channels for implementation: The state government formed RySS in 2014 to promote farmer welfare. In 2015, T Vijay Kumar was deputed to the Agriculture Department and picked up the threads of CMSA’s work. He established RySS as the dedicated agency implementing natural farming in AP. The institution could autonomously source funding to implement and scale the programme. However, it was not completely independent of government structure, as the Chief Minister was also its chairperson.

  • Convergence with government programmes: The programme converged with state agricultural extension services, such as Rythu Bharosa Kendras (RBKs) to reach the maximum number of farmers and ensure that it was not seen running parallel to the government. RBKs are mandated to assist farming activities through information dissemination and advisory services. They became the one-stop shop for farmers to learn natural farming.

  • Convergence with national schemes for programmatic costs: The programme obtained a part of its funding from national schemes such as Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY). These funds were directed towards organisational costs and SHG engagement. Most of the programme expenses were administrative in nature to enable societal engagement.

  • Deputing officers from the Agriculture Department: Extension officers from the Agriculture Department were trained and capacitated to act as mentors for the programme at the block level.

Community-level engagement

  • Partnerships with civil society organisations (CSOs): RySS staff engaged on-the-ground CSOs to understand the sustainable agriculture models already in practice or with the potential to scale up. The CSOs are constantly engaged in experiments and research in the field and have built a repository of additional knowledge. Through their networks, RySS could hire field staff and community resource persons (CRPs), while CSOs facilitated farmer and staff training. In the areas without such CSO networks, the RySS staff established their own presence, hired CRPs, and formed community cadres to mobilise the community

  • Community interaction and engagement: RySS used diverse modes of communication to create buy-in from the community. They noted that the most effective methods were peer-topeer interaction, SMS in local languages, video conferencing, and screening movies on the work of champion farmers.

  • Creating a community cadre: RySS hired professional farmers from within and outside the villages they worked in as community resource persons (CRP) to practise and introduce natural farming to the community. All CRPs were accountable to the district administration of the programme areas. CRPs became responsible for farmer outreach, knowledge dissemination, technically supporting other practitioners, and collecting field data to present to the RySS executive staff. They also helped APCNF support farmers transitioning to natural farming by handholding them for three to five years and to train field functionaries of the Agriculture Department. As more farmers transitioned, the best of the lot were made junior CRPs, called iCRPs. Each village gained a cadre of iCRPs to assist other first-time farmers and conduct outreach activities. Much of the initial engagement happened only with male farmers. However, due to limited response and low conversion rate, RySS changed its approach in 2017 and partnered with women SHGs. The SHGs became another vertical of community outreach, along with the CRPs. They were responsible for farmer mobilisation, connecting CRPs to the interested farmers, providing loans to SHG federation members and farmers who needed financial support to implement natural farming. SHGs also monitored farmer activities and ensured adherence to natural farming guidelines. Finally, to attract the youth, APCNF started a fellowship to onboard fresh graduates in agriculture-related degrees. Natural Farming Fellows (NFF) would lease land to practise, experiment, and demonstrate natural farming techniques to their community.

  • Evidence generation for the community: The programme developed proof of concept for natural farming solutions to ensure their alignment with the farmer needs. They generated evidence to show the increase in crop productivity of natural farmers, their improved land productivity due to biomass use, and the initial decreased costs, and easy availability of input materials for these farmers.


  • Ensuring diverse sources of funding: The programmatic costs were covered by funds from central schemes. The technical costs were covered by philanthropic funds, initially from the Azim Premji Foundation. The Foundation allowed RySS the necessary flexibility to allocate funds to design experiments and evolve natural farming techniques. Then, in 2017, the state government partnered with Sustainable India Finance Facility—a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme, European bank BNP Paribas, and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) that is geared towards leveraging private finance for the public good (Sustainable India Finance Facility)—to scale up natural farming in Andhra Pradesh.

Programme design

  • Building on precedents: The CMSA had set a precedent to natural farming in the state, proving its feasibility to the Agriculture Department. Additionally, T Vijay Kumar tapped into the momentum of the Subhash Palekar-led Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), which was gaining momentum in Karnataka. He invited Palekar to give a talk on ZBNF principles, helping conceive the natural farming programme for Andhra Pradesh.

Success factors

Institutionalisation at the government level

  • Enable government ownership: The programme created buy-in of the Agriculture Department and the Andhra Pradesh government by framing the right kind of value proposition. In a state with prevalent financial distress among farmers, it evidenced improved farmer welfare, successful policy precedents from Karnataka and other states, and from the CMSA itself to show programme feasibility

  • Enable pathways for government support: The programme converged with national schemes, such as the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), as well as state departments and agencies like the Rythu Bharosa Kendras (RBKs) to maximise the pathways through which the government could show support.

Sync between the solution and the enabling environment

  • Bring suitable change to the enabling environment: Through strategic on-ground, state, national, and international partnerships, the programme created an enabling environment for the adoption of natural farming solutions. RySS engaged in dialogues with diverse state governments and, through their on-the-ground partners, created positive pieces of media, such as videos based on their work. They used these media as evidence of their impact and to convince more government officers to come on board.

Institutionalisation at community level

  • Enable community ownership: The programme engaged champion farmers for community outreach and advocacy, peer-to-peer learning, and monitoring the adoption of natural farming. It grounded its interventions in the needs of the community—creating seed banks, market opportunity, and low-cost inputs. The programme also partnered with CSOs with an established on-ground presence, who became a source of additional knowledge for the programme, and with women SHGs to co-create and strengthen community ownership.

  • Create and maintain self-governing institutions: The programme enabled the participating farmers to experiment with models on their land and cocreate solutions with the staff, building their trust and sense of ownership.

Financial sustainability

  • Ensure flexibility in funding: The Azim Premji Foundation funded the programme’s technical costs, as they aligned with RySS’s vision. The Foundation had confidence in RySS’s ability to allocate funds as per programmatic needs.

  • Bring funding from diverse sources: APCNF designed the pilot to be relevant for funding from a range of government schemes. Additionally, international funding, through the UNEP, gave a significant boost for scaling up the programme.

Sustained leadership in the driving organisation

  • Sustained value proposition for the leadership: T Vijay Kumar built a strong foundation for the programme by networking and co-creating solutions with important decision makers. Meanwhile, RySS integrated prior champion farmers from CMSA and capitalised on the momentum of the ZBNF movement in Karnataka to build the programme.

  • Enable alignment between leaders, staff, and collaborators: RySS recruited skilled and experienced persons and created alignment within their staff and with their vision to nurture a decentralised leadership and drive the programme forward

Phase 2: Community-Managed natural farming

The process of community institutionalisation started in this phase. The decision-making and planning agency gradually shifted from RySS to SHGs through constant capacity building and innovative methods that enabled the community to own and advance the programme’s vision. The principles of natural farming evolved from the original four pillars of the ZBNF (La Via Campesina 2016) to 13 agroecological principles. These include traditional farming knowledge and practices and congruent practices, such as permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and conservation agriculture, which avoid the use of synthetic chemicals. The programme also expanded beyond only production-based interventions, shifting its focus to market linkages and consumptionbased interventions. Farmers were encouraged to first consume naturally farmed produce they grew to ensure their subsistence and market the rest through FPOs. APCNF capitalised on the growing international momentum for natural farming and documented evidence of its own success to acquire a loan from the German developmental bank, KfW, through the state government.

Timeline: 2018+

Scale: 3,700 gram panchayats covering approximately 750,000 farmers and farmworkers who have either completely or partially adopted natural farming.

Key Drivers: RySS, self-help groups

Key activities

Programme design

  • Expanding programme boundaries: In 2015, the programme’s key aim was to reduce the burden of high input costs for farmers. As national and international conversations changed, focussing on farmer and consumer nutrition, and as the demand for high nutritional value foods increased, the programme’s narrative also changed and evolved in tune with the times. The drivers incorporated new activities. All SHG members were encouraged to start natural farming kitchen gardens in their homes as the first step towards transitioning to natural farming. Once their families understood the benefits, and their nutritional needs were fulfilled, the members scaled up the natural farming techniques to farms. Then, the produce was marketed through the farmer producer organisations (FPOs), encouraging farmers to not look for premiums. The aim of this activity was to mainstream naturally farmed food, ensuring its accessibility and affordability in the market.

  • Developing scientific evidence: As the programme evolved and scaled up, it faced criticism with regard to the lack of documented empirical evidence on the benefits of natural farming. Therefore, RySS established an internal scientific committee to undertake a quantitative analysis on the socio-environmental impact of natural farming interventions. It partnered with scientific institutions, such as ICRAF, to develop and document empirical evidence of their impact.

  • Customisation of solutions: The research and experiments of NFFs and the scientific committee continue to improve the natural farming solutions offered to the farmers under the programme. Farmers further customise and apply natural farming solutions using a combination of new learnings and personal knowledge to their farms in context to their needs. There are multiple technical solutions relevant to different agro-climatic conditions in the state. Thus farmers are able to choose and customise according to their needs. One of the most successful interventions is PreMonsoon Dry Sowing (PMDS) (Jehne 2020). The concept was designed by the research committee and experimented by 12 NFFs under the supervision of the District Programme Manager.

  • Change in programme brand identity: The programme rebranded itself as CMNF and stepped away from its previous name (ZBNF) and brand due to emerging resistance to the programme from certain stakeholders. The leadership decided that it was in the programme's best interest to move away from politically sensitive discussions that could impact its on-ground success and benefits.

Community-level engagement

  • Evolution of the types of CRPs: As the programme scale increased, the extension services of the CRPs needed to expand to fit the community needs. In addition to their existing responsibilities, they gave training in digital literacy for data collection, data entry, and data analytics at the cluster level and the gram panchayat level. CRPs from the first phase were transitioned to positions at the cluster level and made Level 1 CRPs. Some gained expertise in certain thematic areas—marketing, health and nutrition, energy, and water. Champion farmers from the first phase transitioned to iCRPs to provide technical support and peer-to-peer learning in their villages. Currently, there is one iCRP for every 100 farmers, helping the programme shift from only professional CRPs to local CRPs.

  • Expanding the role of SHGs: The COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of a wellcapacitated community cadre. With no professionals on the ground, the champion farmers and SHGs kept the programme afloat. RySS has since expanded the role of SHGs. SHG members oversee all the monitoring reports by the iCRPs in their area and take the final call on the next steps with support from RySS. They have the mandate to chalk out a roadmap for transition to natural farming in their villages. However, till now, no SHG has initiated this work without a nudge from RySS This mandate, co-created by RySS and SHGs, comprises seven principles or sapt sutra—SHGs should meet to discuss the benefits and challenges of transitioning; all members should eat naturally farmed food; all members should have natural farming kitchen gardens; if members own land, they should practise natural farming; SHGs should provide members and farmers access to inputs; SHGs should provide financial support to those in need; through iCRPs, SHGs should communicate the benefits of natural farming to non-participating farmers. SHGs supported the interested farmers by setting up non-pesticide management shops to sell the required raw material and readymade inputs. They collectivised the produce that the community grew and the raw material for farming inputs that some farmers shared with them—jaggery, cow dung, cow urine, gram flour. The SHG members then shared these inputs with farmers who did not or could not afford to own cattle. They also connected farmers with CRPs for training, demonstrations, and other services

Government-level engagement

  • Continued narrative building at the political level: RySS leadership continues to build strategic champions within public institutions such as the NITI Aayog, among government officials and opposition parties. These moves have dissolved any resistance to the programme.


  • Pushing international buy-in: The programme officially partnered with the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, an autonomous organisation of the Department of Rural Development, Government of Andhra Pradesh, for programmatic funding for the SHGs. The state also received a performancebased loan from KfW, in 2019, worth EUR 90 million, to be released over five years to support approximately 720 gram panchayats.

Success factors

Sync between the solution and the enabling environment

  • Adapt the core solution: The SHGs started reporting data on farmer records and cropping patterns, among other details, to the Rythu Bharosa Kendras (RBKs)2 that the programme converged with in phase 1. Through the RBKs, APCNF expanded the flow of information and materials to farmers. As APCNF expanded in Andhra Pradesh, it customised its solutions according to the diverse levels of rainfall and socio-economic conditions across the state and came up with the highly successful Pre-Monsoon Dry Sowing (PMDS) solution.

Sustained leadership in the driving organisation

  • Enable alignment between leaders, staff, and collaborators: As the programme expanded, and the role of CRPs increased, RySS leadership created an effective structure of communication and information flow between the executive staff and the ground staff. Therefore, CRPs were always kept in the loop to make decisions on the ground.

Institutionalisation at community level

  • Create and maintain self-governing institutions: The programme created multiple levels of community cadre to ensure its resilience and continued evolution. SHGs took over implementation plans and became accountable for iCRPs in their area. They now had decision-making agency and the ability to co-create technical and service solutions, strengthening self-governance within the community.

Institutionalisation at government level

  • Enable government ownership: APCNF conferred with officials of various state governments to showcase their success and its relevance for state interests, such as climate-smart agriculture, health, and nutrition. It engaged the opposition party in Andhra Pradesh to create champions across the political divide. Different bureaucratic as well as political leaders saw value in the programme, creating demand for similar natural farming among other state governments and proving its feasibility to be scaled up to a national level.

Financial sustainability

  • Bring funding from diverse sources: It was important for the programme to capture global interest in natural farming, so as to tap into funding from international agencies, converge with national schemes, and create a diverse enough portfolio of funds to reduce financial risk.

Challenges ahead

  • Empirical evidence based on scientific methods: The programme had started with the aim of bringing farmers and SHGs on board. Thus, the evidence generation was targeted towards community members. As the APCNF started getting international traction, there was a wider call for assessing and documenting scientific and technical proof of the benefits of natural farming at the farm as well as the community level. Many independent institutes have developed evidence for natural farming. However, the programme is currently in its nascent stage of building and documenting empirical research.
  • Lack of financial stability: The APCNF is constantly converging with national schemes for its programmatic costs and receives national and international financial support via the state government to cover the technical costs. However, there is no fixed source of technical funds for APCNF in the long run.
  • Skill building: The programme needs further skill and capacity development at the community level for its sustainability.


Virtual interview, Swati Renduchintala, Project Executive, Andhra Pradesh Natural Farming, conducted over zoom. 2021, 2022.

Virtual interview, G.M. Muralidhar, Senior Consultant, Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, conducted over Zoom. 2021, 2022.


Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming (APCNF). https://apcnf.in (accessed December 8, 2022).

Bharucha, P., S.B. Mitjans, and J. Pretty. 2020. “Towards Redesign at Scale Through Zero Budget Natural Farming in Andhra Pradesh, India.” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 18 (1): 120.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2018. FAO’s Work on Agricultural Innovation. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/CA2460EN/ca2460en.pdf (accessed on July 10, 2021)

Government of Andhra Pradesh. Agriculture and Cooperation Department. November 2016. https://apcnf.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/GO-RySS-new.pdf.

ICRAF (World Agroforestry Centre) and RySS (Rythu Sadhikara Samstha). 2020. Reversing Desertification through a Climate Resilient Exemplar Landscape (CREL) in Andhra Pradesh, India. Available at: https://apcnf.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Engagement-Landscape-Andhra-Pradesh_Report.pdf (accessed on September 10, 2021).

Jehne, Walter. 2020. Scaling Pre-Monsoon Dry Sowing with Natural farming. Webinar. FAO. https://www.fao.org/agroecology/database/detail/en/c/1334274/.

Kumar, S., P. Kale, and P. Thombare 2019. “Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF): Securing Smallholder Farming from Distress.” Science for Agriculture and Allied Sector 1 (3).

Kumar, T.V. 2018. Letter to Mr Saldanha RySS Response. RySS (Rythu Sadhikara Samstha). 2019a. Andhra Pradesh Zero-Budget Natural Farming: A Systemwide transformational Programme.

Kumar, T.V. 2021. Andhra Pradesh Community-Managed Natural Farming: A System Wide Agro-ecology Transformation for People and Planet. Available at: https://aphrdi.ap.gov.in/documents/ITP/IAS_2019/Presentations/APCNF%20Overview.pdf.

La Via Campesina. 2016. 52 Profiles on Agroecology: Zero Budget Natural Farming in India. Food and Agriculture Organisation. https://www.fao.org/3/bl990e/bl990e.pdf.

Reddy, D.A. 2020. “RBKs of Andhra Pradesh—One-Stop Solution for the Needs of Farming Community.” Vigyan Varta 1 (3): 22–24 .

Saldanha, L.F. 2018. A review of Andhra Pradesh’s Climate Resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming Programme.” Available at: (PDF) A Review of Andhra Pradesh's Climate Resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming Programme (accessed on May 4, 2023).

Smith, J., J. Elucidate, P. Smith, and D.R. Nayak 2020. “Potential Yield Challenges to Scale-up of Zero Budget Natural Farming.” Nature Sustainability 3: 247–52.

Sustainable India Finance Facility. https://siffindia.org (accessed December 8, 2022).

UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). 2018. Andhra Pradesh to Become India’s First Zero Budget Natural Farming State. Available at: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/andhra-pradesh-become-indias-first-zerobudget-natural-farming-state.

Veluguri, D., J.B. Bump, N.S. Venkateshmurthy, S. Mohan, K.T. Pulugurtha, and L.M. Jaacks 2021. “Political Analysis of the Adoption of the Zero-budget Natural Farming Program in Andhra Pradesh, India.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 45 (6): 907–30.

Winowiecki, L., and Z. Hussain. 2021. From Fields to Landscapes: Establishing the Resilient Productivity of Andhra Pradesh. Available at: https://worldagroforestry.org/sites/agroforestry/files/Workshop%20Report_Virtual%20Andhra%20Pradesh%20Engagement%20Landscape_14_05_21_V2.pdf (accessed on September 10, 2021).


APCNF APCNF Andhra Pradesh Community Natural Farming
CMSA community-managed sustainable agriculture
CRP community resource persons
CSO civil society organisation
FPO farmer producer organisation
ICRAF World Agroforestry Centre
iCRP junior community resource person
NFF natural farming fellow
PKVY Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana
PMDS pre-monsoon dry sowing
RBKs Rythu Bharosa Kendras
RKVY Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana
RySS Rythu Sadhikara Samstha
SERP Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty
SHG self-help group

Annexure 1

Phase 0: Community-managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA)

The background of the Andhra Pradesh CommunityManaged Natural Farming is provided in this annexure. The activities and success factors mentioned here give context for APCNF Phase 1. The Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) was CMSA’s key driver under T Vijay Kumar’s leadership. This programme aimed to reduce the cultivation costs for farmers by applying nonpesticide management (NPM) techniques. At the time, Tamil Nadu was one of the highest pesticide-consuming states, farmers were facing the brunt of high input costs and low returns, and farmer suicides were soaring (Bharucha et al. 2020). There was an urgent need for the national government to act. NGOs such as WASSAN and the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) were developing a proof of concept for NPM intervention, which was enough for SERP to support a large pilot in Andhra Pradesh. This pilot, named the CMSA, trained existing SHGs in pest and soil management, and used CRPs to organise farmer field schools. After 2010, these practices were promoted in the state through centrally sponsored schemes, such as the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana but at a reduced scale from that of the CMSA (Veluguri et al. 2021).

Timeline: 2004–2010

Scale: 3,00,000 farmers by 2010

Key Drivers: SERP led by T Vijay Kumar

Key activities

  • Advocacy by CSOs: The idea of natural farming was initially proposed by WASSAN and the CSE. Their pilot programmes proved the feasibility of sustainable farming in Andhra Pradesh using NPM interventions. The CSOs approached T Vijay Kumar to showcase its feasibility and advocate for such a programme in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Government endorsement: Under T Vijay Kumar’s leadership, SERP, a state government society, adopted the CMSA pilot, aiming to relieve farmers from high input costs and debt cycles.
  • Ensuring financial support: Though SHG–bank linkage programme.
  • Knowledge dissemination through Farmer Field Schools (FFS): Through the FFS, the CRPs would demonstrate successful sustainable agricultural practices to fellow farmers.
  • Using the existing social capital: The pilot integrated the local SHGs with the programme management, including finance and administration.
  • Partnerships: The pilot partnered with other NGOs for technical assistance and implementation on the field.

Success factors

  • Advocacy by CSOs

  • Government interest and executive action

  • Evidence generation in pilots

  • Funding under central schemes

  • Community ownership

  • Harnessing pre-existing human and social capital