‘do nothing farming’ – fukuoka’s wise words

Submitted by Guest on Wed, 2009-08-12 09:22

Blog kindly written by Carey Finn.

These days, organic farming is more popular than ever. With organic box schemes, growing organic sections in supermarkets, and an increasing awareness on the part of consumers, it looks like organic is here to stay, and will only grow further. Certainly, organic farming, especially when it incorporates principles of permaculture and biodynamism, is a massive improvement on modern agriculture with its poisons and exploitations.

But it should not be seen as the plateau – as Masanobu Fukuoka, a wise farmer from Japan said, we have many more steps to take to return to the source; in other words, we have a way to go before we are truly growing our food in harmony with nature...

Masanobu Fukuoka, a microbiologist who specialised in plant diseases, left his day job at the age of 25 and returned to his home farm on the island of Shikoku in Japan, where he practised natural farming, or ‘do-nothing’ farming, for fifty years.

His first book, The One-Straw Revolution, was published in 1977, and is about to be republished. Fukuoka considered the healing of the land and the healing of the human spirit as one and the same, and in his writings, he proposes a way of life, in which farming is one part, as a way in which the healing process can take place.

He defined natural farming as, “Farming as simply as possible, within and in cooperation with the natural environment, rather than the modern approach of applying increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the benefit of human beings.”

At the heart of natural farming is an understanding of the unity of existence; the ability to see the natural patterns in everything. It calls for a rejection of our reliance on scientific relativity, and it is incredibly humbling.

Natural farming encourages us to regard nature as our teacher; to learn, hear and observe nature, to grow. It calls for a shift in mindset, which is one of its distinguishing points from regular organic farming, as we realise that it is not we, as humans, who grow plants – nature grows plants, and has all the knowledge and resources to do so.

Fukuoka said that in farming, what we should do is simply watch closely, and thereafter what little we do, should be done with caution.

Fukuoka outlined four principles of natural farming: no cultivation (absolutely no plowing, digging or turning of the soil – simply allowing plant roots, microorganisms, insects and worms to do the work, and allowing seeds to germinate on the soil surface, where they are exposed to oxygen); no weeding by tillage or herbicides (respecting and controlling weeds only with straw mulch, clover and, in the case of rice, temporary flooding); no chemical fertiliser or prepared compost (using, rather, a leguminous ground cover of clover, returning straw to the fields, and adding a small amount of chicken manure where necessary – from his own chickens); and no dependence on chemicals – including pesticides.

Fukuoka talked of ‘farming among the weeds’, and his writings challenge the idea that the earth needs to be bare and ‘clean’ for crops to grow. He suggested that weeds check soil erosion – meaning that by cultivating land, we actually cultivate weeds – the moment we stop, they become redundant.

His own crops grew among clover and other plants, and he achieved yields equal to and even greater than the other farmers in the area.

He also emphasised the importance of returning to the soil everything grown in the fields, except the grain itself. “Treat one strand of straw as important, and never take a useless step,” he said.

Natural farming needs no machines, or chemicals, no pruning or clipping, and very little weeding. As a result, input costs are much lower than in conventional farming, but yields are consistently higher. However, abruptly ceasing the use of fertiliser, pesticides and so on may not work – many cultivated plants are ‘addicted’ to them and will not be able to cope ‘in the wild’.

You may need to find stronger, less cultivated varieties, such as heirloom seeds, and some crops may need to be left in favour of others. It may take several years for your land and plants to adapt, but the fantastic thing about natural farming is that once you begin, you will actually reverse the damage done by modern agriculture, and the soil will be rehabilitated.

The methods of natural farming practised by Fukuoka may not work identically in South Africa, or another country, which is why farmers need to be guided by the underlying principles, and observe natural patterns closely.

Fukuoka explained that even from season to season, methods may need to be adapted, as nature, in perpetual motion, will never be exactly the same in any two years. He emphasised that although natural farming requires a lot less of us than modern agriculture, it does not mean doing nothing at all. “To disrupt nature (even slightly) and then abandon her is harmful and irresponsible,” he said.

Natural farming, sometimes also called no-till, no-dig farming, or rishi kheti (agriculture of the sages), is not a new idea entirely. Sanskrit literature reveals that many sages grew their food without ploughing, believing it to be healthier, and not harmful to the soil.

The Indians in North America did not plough either, and according to The One-Straw Revolution, ploughing was not practised in Japan until about 400 years ago. Fukuoka pointed out that where people have ploughed, healthy soil turns to sand. His writings on natural farming guide us to a way of farming that will preserve, and even restore, the earth, indefinitely.

Natural farming is the natural progression for us now, the evolution of organic (or perhaps the devolution) – the next step that will take us to wholly sustainable agriculture. And it’s not just about farming – it’s a way of life that rejects the 9-5 system we live in, and it teaches that there is a spiritual dimension to everything.

Fukuoka wrote that these days, we eat and live with our minds, not our bodies. “Food is life, and life must not step away from nature,” he said. He firmly believed that natural farming was the way that humans should be going, and wrote encouragingly that farmers everywhere in the world are at root the same farmers. “Let us say that the key to peace lies close to the earth,” he said.

Masanobu Fukuoka died in August 2008 at the age of 95.

You can read more about natural farming at: http://fukuokafarmingol.info/

pic: jardinpotagerurbain.wordpress.com