Friday, 10 September 2010

Book Review - "The One-Straw Revolution, and an Introduction to Natural Farming" by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuoka starts this little gem of a book in 1978 with a seemingly harsh remark by saying: “Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.” But after flying through the book, I tend to agree with him. He advocates a “do-nothing” type of farming which is not to say his style was idle or easy. But rather, it calls for doing less with the end result that nothing is out of sync with nature.

Generally Fukuoka was also a bit harsh in his evaluation of the medical and educational systems, and especially of scientists. He was a scientist himself before he devoted his life to natural farming and he draws an analogy between the role of the scientist in society to the role of discrimination in our minds which leads to narrow-mindedness. He discusses how technology based on science only serves to take us away from nature.

But Fukuoka advocates a gentle calm way of life and farming practice with four underlying principles, namely: no cultivation, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals. He points out that fertility increases when nature is left to itself and that this is beyond the reach of our imagination. He shares his simple techniques that allowed him to produce the same or greater quantities of crops as his neighbours who used the modern industrial methods, one of which was the use of strewing straw on his fields.

Fukuoka not only focuses on farming methods, but covers a wide range of related issues including diet, nutrition, the culture of food, confusion about food, the agri-food business and agricultural policy.  He calls for sweeping changes to the economic and social structures of our societies, which if there is, he says, will be because of a change in consciousness in people.

His many sayings throughout the book reflect his beliefs and I give a few of my favourites here:

If you try to do something, your efforts will never achieve the desired result.

Trying to capture the unknowable in theories and formalized doctrines is like trying to catch the wind in a butterfly net.

An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing.

There are countless variations.

In general, commercial agriculture is an unstable proposition.

Food is life, and life must not step away from nature.

Human beings can destroy natural forms, but they cannot create them.

What’s wrong with a growth rate of 0%?

Living is no more than the result of being born.

Just to live here and now – this is the true basis of human life.

To believe that by research and invention humanity can create something better than nature is an illusion.

Farming used to be sacred work.

The marriage is not bestowed, not received; the perfect pair comes into existence of itself.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

No matter how hard people try, they cannot improve upon naturally grown fruits and vegetables.

If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature’s productive power, but by the extravagance of human desire.

In all contentions there is neither right nor wrong, neither good nor bad.

Masanobu Fukuoka trained as a microbiologist and worked as a soil scientist specializing in plant pathology. After suffering an illness at 25, he had an enlightenment experience and decided to put his thoughts into practice. He returned to his family's farm on the island of Shikoku in Southern Japan to practice natural farming. He died at the age of 95 in 2008.

The book is available on Amazon

And in pdf form here

For more information click here

See also:  The International Institute for Ecological Agriculture