It has been claimed that Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), a burgeoning practice of farming in India based on low-inputs and influenced by agro-ecological principles, has the potential to improve farm viability and food security. However, there is concern that the success of the social movement fueling the adoption of ZBNF has become out of step with the science underpinning its performance relative to other farming systems. Based on twenty field plot experiments established across six districts in Andhra Pradesh (SE India), managed by locally based farmer researchers, we present the first ‘on the ground’ assessment of ZBNF performance. We show that there is no short-term yield penalty when adopting ZBNF in small scale farming systems compared to conventional and organic alternatives. In terms of treatment response, we observed differences between agro-climatic zones, but in this initial evaluation we cannot recommend specific options tuned to these different contexts.