Agriculture and meditation: Masanobu Fukuoka

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Masanobu Fukuoka is considered the father of natural farming and is best known for his book “The Straw Yarn Revolution”. He devoted his life mainly to taking care of his land in Japan, observing nature and developing his own approach to agriculture, trying to free himself from the preconceived ideas stemming from previous knowledge and the judgments of conventional agriculture.

What was born with Fukuoka is a new agriculture: the agriculture of not doing, or natural agriculture, an approach that aims to minimize human intervention, to the point of not plowing, not fertilizing or even weeding the field.

It is not possible to enclose the thought of Fukuoka in an article, this text is intended to be an introductory track which sows in the reader the curiosity and the desire to confront the reflections of this great thinker and peasant.


Who was Masanobu Fukuoka

Masanobu Fukuoka was born in 1913 and studied as a soil microbiologist. He was a plant pathology researcher and worked for customs. After a serious illness, at the age of 26, he underwent an inner change that prompted him to quit his job as a technician and return to cultivate his parents’ land. He described the change as follows: Humanity knows absolutely nothing. Nothing has value in itself and every action is useless, meaningless “.

When he returned to his fields, Fukuoka tried to leave behind all the knowledge he had to observe nature as it was. He realized that natural processes provide many things that people care about, so he began to adopt farming techniques based on the idea of ​​working as little as possible. He understood that some traditional farming practices could be avoided: there was no need to till the soil, use fertilizers and chemicals, and kill weeds.

Abandoning the typical expectations and judgments of traditional agronomy, a new intuitive and creative agriculture was emerging. Fukuoka has adapted the cultivation method to its soil, its climate and also to its person. He developed incredible techniques for growing cereals: no tillage, no flooding, no transplanting of seedlings grown in the nursery, but only sowing and harvesting. In his life he planted everything, without causing so many problems, he planted in his hills which for many years were semi-arid and impoverished and gave new life to these lands, which became green and lush. He developed practices for cultivating the garden and the orchard, raising a few animals as well, with the usual “don’t” pattern.

The results were not seen immediately, there were several years of experimentation and failure, in fact Masanobu Fukuoka said wryly that he now knew everything that could go wrong in the garden: all by direct experience! But even failures are useful for improvement and the results came with time.

The quality of the environment and soil was improving dramatically, even attracting the attention of university professors and technicians who studied their fields, agreeing that fertility was steadily increasing.

What about manufacturing? It was good, even very good, for cereals, managing to have yields comparable, if not superior, to those of its neighbors using traditional techniques, as well as for the vegetable garden and the orchard. Sure, sometimes the shape and size of the fruit was not what the market had predetermined, but the taste was the best you could find.

Fukuoka’s life has changed a bit since 1975 when he published his first book The Straw Yarn Revolution. This little book gave him notoriety, many people were interested in his farm and his life, they asked him if the techniques he had developed were not, in fine, tools against desertification and in favor of soil conservation. He hadn’t thought about it, his techniques were just natural, “without purpose”. But he was very impressed by the problem of desertification and began to travel to see these phenomena in person and to teach natural agriculture as a tool to stop soil degradation processes.

Natural farming is the approach, not the method

There are many types of agriculture that originate from a common sense of caring for the land and protecting natural resources. We talk about biodynamic agriculture, synergistic agriculture, permaculture,… So many methods, very useful tools to achieve an objective. When we talk about natural farming, we are not referring to the technique to achieve a goal, but to something that precedes it.

Natural farming merges a very practical activity, perhaps the most practical, namely farming, with individual research. You could call it a spiritual or a philosophical quest, depending on how you want to look at it: it’s basically about starting to listen to yourself. A journey to discover our own needs, those of the land, of our community, in a vision that does not separate or fragment reality.

Masanobu Fukuoka criticized a highly technical or scientific view of nature and agriculture. I have noticed that this aspect of his thinking is often overlooked by permaculture advocates and more generally by Westerners. There is the fear of being labeled anti-scientific, of not being grateful for what science and technology have done well. But it is not about that.

Fukuoka argued that science, like the human intellect, fragments the world: things are no longer viewed as a whole. Applying this approach to all aspects of society and life leads us away from a deeper understanding.

This thought does not deny the effectiveness of the scientific method for the solution of many problems. But like any effective tool, science must also be used when needed and then put to good use. Agriculture touches all aspects of human life and requires broader interpretations, which cannot be reduced to mere technicalities. Obviously, for the solution of certain problems, the scientific method is fundamental.

Science is not synonymous with truth, it is not something to believe in, in which case it becomes a religion. It is a method by which one tries to prove the theses by experiments. Thus, by repeating the experiment several times under the same conditions, constant and consistent results are obtained. This is often not possible in complex systems like agricultural systems. Moreover, consistent results are not enough to satisfy human research: science will not tell us what is right or why. It is simply a tool. I like to think of it this way: a hammer is great for driving a nail, but you can’t use it to drive a screw.

I apologize for insisting on this, it is not the most popular argument of Fukuoka, but it should not be omitted to fully understand his point of view on agriculture.

Coming back to us, natural farming is first of all about observing yourself and what surrounds you, feeling what needs to be done and choosing the right tools.

The “principles” of natural agriculture

Fukuoka in the book The Revolution of the Straw Thread talks about the four pillars of natural agriculture which are:

  1. There is no tillage, that is to say there is no plow, there is no return of the earth.
  2. No chemical or compound fertilizers were prepared.
  3. There is no manure, there is no harrow, there is no herbicide.
  4. There is no chemical dependency.

“Pillars” make you think of the foundation, on which something is based. We can also start from these points, trust them and this is what is most often understood by natural agriculture. However, Fukuoka was very interested in communicating how he came to these techniques, what is the path to an intuitive understanding of agriculture. The “non-discriminatory” vision is the basis of natural agriculture.

In the notes of his book, edited by one of his students, Larry Korn, we can read that for Fukuoka it is for each farmer to find a way to cultivate in a “semi-wild” way, and that is where all the techniques and methods come into play. all the alternative schools are inspired by it.

Fukuoka and desertification

During the last ten years of his life, Fukuoka lived all over the world, observing the problem of desertification, confronting local people and experts, and teaching natural agriculture. In his latest book, he writes: Looking at all of this today, I realize that the almost 50 years I spent growing a natural farm have indeed produced methods against desertification. “.

Masanobu Fukuoka has traveled to the United States, Iraq, Iran, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines and several European countries including Italy. Finally, his research focused on Africa, the continent most affected by desertification. He did this in a great spirit of selflessness, he was deeply concerned about the problem of soil loss caused by careless farming techniques. Fukuoka traveled, always accompanied by officials and locals. Larry Korn, an American student who often accompanied him on his travels, said he was friendly and willing to listen and observe, he didn’t jump to conclusions immediately, but eventually gave his suggestions.

According to Fukuoka, nature was able to recover spontaneously: engineered or invasive solutions to stop desertification usually leave a situation worse than the initial situation, being effective only in the short term. However, he said that in many places the seeds that are the basis of the restart no longer exist, so in these cases it is necessary to resow life: Man’s only job (in the service of nature) is to collect microorganisms and seeds from various plants and spread them in similar places”, “in other words, without asking me if they are good or bad, I will mix a wide variety of forest plants, fruits, vegetables, fertilizing plants but also ferns, mosses and lichens. I will also understand soil microorganisms, such as fungi and bacteria “.

When the plants start to grow, their effect on the soil and the climate is incredible,” green will call another green “.

Masanobu Fukuoka was a great teacher, not only in agriculture, I recommend reading his books if only to consider his point of view.

“I believe that a revolution can only start with this thread of straw. At first glance, this rice straw may seem light and insignificant.

No one would think he has the power to start a revolution. But I began to understand the weight and power of this straw. For me this revolution is very concrete “. Masanobu Fukuoka

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