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...if modern agriculture continues to follow the path it's on now, it's finished. The food-growing situation may seem to be in good shape today, but that's just an illusion based on the current availability of petroleum fuels. All the wheat, corn, and other crops that are produced on big American farms may be alive and growing, but they're not products of real nature or real agriculture. They're manufactured rather than grown. The earth isn't producing those things... petroleum is!
—Masanobu Fukuoka, Mother Earth News interview, 1982
Masanobu Fukuoka (福岡 正信 Fukuoka Masanobu February 2, 1913 – August 16, 2008) author of The One-Straw Revolution, The Road Back to Nature and The Natural Way Of Farming, was one of the pioneers of no-till grain cultivation. His system is referred to as "natural farming", Fukuoka Farming, or the Fukuoka Method.
Trained as a microbiologist in his native Japan, he began his career as a soil scientist specializing in plant pathology. At age 25, he began to doubt the wisdom of modern agricultural science. He eventually quit his job as a research scientist, and returned to his family's farm on the island of Shikoku in Southern Japan to grow organic mikans. From that point on he devoted his life to developing a unique small scale organic farming system that does not require weeding, pesticide or fertilizer applications, or tilling.
The timing and circumstances of Fukuoka's conversion from Western agricultural science, parallels the new movement in the 1940s to organic farming and gardening in Europe and the US, led by pioneers like Lady Eve Balfour, Sir Albert Howard, and J.I. Rodale (founder of Rodale Press). However Fukuoka himself believed that he was going a step further than organic farming:
"The problem, however, is that most people do not yet understand the distinction between organic gardening and natural farming. Both scientific agriculture and organic farming are basically scientific in their approach. The boundary between the two is not clear." (The Road Back to Nature page 363)
Fukuoka practices a system of farming he refers to as "natural farming." Although some of his practices are specific to Japan, the governing philosophy of his method has successfully been applied around the world. In India, natural farming is often referred to as "Rishi Kheti."
The essence of Fukuoka's method is to reproduce natural conditions as closely as possible. There is no plowing, as the seed germinates quite happily on the surface if the right conditions are provided. There is also considerable emphasis on maintaining diversity. A ground cover of white clover grows under the grain plants to provide nitrogen. Weeds (and Daikons) are also considered part of the ecosystem, periodically cut and allowed to lie on the surface so the nutrients they contain are returned to the soil. Ducks are let into the grain plot, and specific insectivorous carp into the rice paddy at certain times of the year to eat slugs and other pests.
The ground is always covered. As well as the clover and weeds, there is the straw from the previous crop, which is used as mulch, and each grain crop is sown before the previous one is harvested. This is done by broadcasting the seed among the standing crop. Also he re-introduced the ancient technique of seed balls (粘土団子,土団子,土だんご,Tsuchi Dango (Earth Dumpling). The seed for next season's crop is mixed with clay, compost, and sometimes manure, and formed into small balls. The result is a denser crop of smaller but highly productive and stronger plants.
Fukuoka's method and philosophy is about small scale farming, yet he claims "With this kind of farming, which uses no machines, no prepared fertilizer and no chemicals, it is possible to attain a harvest equal to or greater than that of the average Japanese farm." (The one-straw revolution page 3).
"If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork."
"When a decision is made to cope with the symptoms of a problem, it is generally assumed that the corrective measures will solve the problem itself. They seldom do. Engineers cannot seem to get this through their heads. These countermeasures are all based on too narrow a definition of what is wrong. Human measures and countermeasures proceed from limited scientific truth and judgment. A true solution can never come about in this way."
"Natural farming is not just for growing crops, it is for the cultivation and perfection of human beings.
"Giving up your ego is the shortest way to unification with nature."