“The one straw revolution”

Masanobu Fukuoka
Masanobu Fukuoka

Born in 1914, Masanobu Fukuoka is the father of natural agriculture or “of non-doing”, as he himself defines it, since the aim of his research has always been to minimize human interventions on natural processes. He studied microbiology in Japan and began his career as a soil scientist, specializing in plant diseases. At age 25, however, he began to question the preconceptions of the science of agriculture. He then decided to leave his post as a scientific researcher to return to his family’s farm on Shikoku Island in southern Japan to grow mandarins. He thus began to dedicate his life to the development of a system of organic and environmentally friendly agriculture in competition with industrial agriculture.

Clay seed dough
Clay seed dough

In essence, Fukuoka’s method tries to reproduce the natural conditions as faithfully as possible. The soil is not plowed and the germination takes place directly on the surface, after mixing the seeds, if necessary, with clay and fertilizer (this allows to reduce the number of seeds needed). In intact soil, where ideally have been made to grow non-invasive plants that fix nitrogen (eg clover), which retain the soil and prevent the development of weeds, the desired cultivation is simultaneously cultivated. Antagonistic animals are introduced to fight infestations (eg carp, insectivorous in rice crops, or ducks to fight snails). The soil must be returned as much as possible of what it has produced, so the farmer must seize only the fruits and leave on the field all the scraps and remnants of the crop, which will act as mulch. The soil is always covered, thus reducing depletion by surface erosion, and the aerial part of the annual plants, after harvest, must be used for mulching. Also the lack of plowing, or in any case of artificial aeration of the ground, reduces the need for fertilization, since the bacteria that fix nitrogen in the soil are anaerobic.

“I have been studying alternative techniques for modern agriculture a few years ago. The main reason that pushed me in this direction is that I have never been comfortable with the use of pesticides and chemicals. Trying to study the topic a little, I realized that there is no substitute for these products in the modern agricultural system. Let me explain: pesticides and other chemicals are part of a unique “package” that also contains monocultures, the use of heavy vehicles and large plots exploited intensively.
The operators of this system will tell you that you can not do without. We could call this way of operating “industrial agriculture” or “market agriculture”. This type of agriculture has the characteristic of being very complex, it needs a lot of control on the part of man, as well as a great theoretical and technological effort on the part of the scientific world. Basically: if we want to abandon the chemicals, we must change the model of cultivation on a large scale.
The alternative to this agricultural world exists! It is already made up of various communities and individuals who in their own way seek a different approach to cultivation. We talk about: “natural agriculture”, “synergistic agriculture”, “permaculture”, “biodynamic agriculture” etc. The list is long.

Sometimes one is led to think that these are different worlds. At an intellectual level maybe they are, each of them has practices that, followed as if they were commandments, would make them different from each other. The thing I noticed instead is that beyond the reason, which dominates industrial agriculture, these practices respond to the same need of man to return to a way of cultivating that is more in contact with nature, and finally more to contact with ourselves. That’s why those who practice agriculture of this kind should not split up on terms, getting lost in the theory of agriculture.
What we are looking for with these agricultures does not need definitions. It is a way of doing where man has no control. He can observe and intuit, that’s all. The art of observing what nature offers us is a gift that is being lost.
The initial starting point of industrial agriculture is the desired result. This approach can not work simply because desire has no limits and follows the utopian myth of infinite growth.
Masanobu Fukuoka, argued that agriculture is a practice that comes effortlessly. Instead of asking ourselves: “what can we do more?”, We should ask ourselves: “what could we do less?”. Is not this perhaps the driving sentiment of new farming? So here comes a new agricultural system where: you do not work the land, do not fertilize, do not use chemicals. This is not due to a party but because it is simply a natural mode.
In my opinion it is useful to abandon judgments and expectations at first and learn to observe and experiment. Where expectations and judgments are abandoned is where intuition and creativity can arise, together with the vast world of natural cultivation. So we could also understand that there are no two equal points on earth. There is such a great variety of climates, land, plants and animals that there will not be two places with the same conditions, and everyone will be able to do agriculture in his own way. This is natural agriculture. “(Taken from http://www.italiachecambia.org)


Masanobu Fukukoa sows
Masanobu Fukukoa sows

“Before the end of the war, when I went up to the citrus grove to put into practice what I then thought was natural agriculture, I did not prune myself and left the orchard to itself. The branches tangled together, the plants were attacked by pests and almost one hectare of mandarineto dried and died.

Since then I always had a question in mind: “What is the natural form?”. To get to the answer I was forced to sacrifice another 400 plants and finally today I can say: “The natural method is this”. I have to admit that I had my share of failures during the forty years I have dedicated to research, but now I can get the same or better harvest, in every respect, compared to those cultivated in a conventional way.

And more importantly: my method is successful with a minimum amount of work and with significantly reduced costs, and at no time during the cultivation process is the smallest use of polluting products, all without depleting soil fertility.

The “non-action” method is based on four fundamental principles:

1. No processing, no plowing or overturning of the ground. For centuries, farmers have believed that the plow was essential to increase crops. Yet not working the land is of fundamental importance for natural agriculture. The earth works by itself thanks to the action of penetration of the roots and the activity of microorganisms and microfauna of the soil.

2. No chemical fertilizer or compost. Dull agricultural practices deplete the soil of its essential nutrients causing a gradual depletion of natural fertility. Left to itself, the soil naturally retains its fertility, in accordance with the natural cycle of plant and animal life.

3. Neither herbicides nor harrows. Spontaneous plants have a specific role in the fertility of the soil and in the balance of the ecosystem. As a basic rule they should be checked (for example with straw mulch or white clover cover), not completely eliminated.

4. No use of chemicals. Since the time when weak plants developed as a result of unnatural practices such as plowing and fertilizing, diseases and insect imbalances became a major problem in agriculture. Nature, let it be, is in perfect balance. Harmful insects and pathogens are always present, but they never take the upper hand to the point where it is necessary to use chemicals. The most sensible attitude for disease and insect control is to have vigorous crops in a healthy environment. “(Article taken from Terra Nuova – April 1999)

Original book
Original book

“He is a forerunner, sustainability has practiced, experimented and has become philosophy, way of life. It fights aridity and desertification by spreading semi-essential essences that could adapt to a specific area, protected by a clay capsule to protect them from insects, rodents and birds. Then leave it to nature. What will sprout will be the best for that geographical area.
So it is rebuilding the vegetation in desert areas in India, in the north of Greece, on 10 thousand hectares around Lake Vegoritis, and also in an experimental area in Cisternino, in the province of Brindisi, Italy. The problem of desertification is crucial for our generation and for the next, in terms of food and thinning of livable surfaces. Apocalyptic scenarios are emerging, along with decades of agricultural supersfructuring and the consequent climate changes.

“When I was in the desert of the United States – says Fukuoka – I perceived that rain does not fall from the sky but rises from the ground. Deserts are not formed because there is no rain; on the contrary, rain does not fall because the vegetation has disappeared “. He has dedicated fifty years of his life to natural agriculture and fifteen years to combat desertification. “Even if all this may seem like the illusion of a peasant who has tried in vain to return to nature and alongside God, I still want to become the one who plants this seed. Nothing would make me happier than to meet other like-minded people. ”

And its seeds are already sprouting. Here and there there are small communities of people who have married another rhythm of life, another time, fleeing the fictitious needs imposed by society. Also in Cisternino a foundation was established, called Bhole Baba, it has made available its land that the founders themselves cultivate and in these days they host Mr. Fukuoka, you want to take care of the wounded land. Up to now what results did you get on the field?

Coupons in Somalia, Ethiopia and Tanzania. We have also managed to create small vegetable gardens, and in some cases, after six months, papaya and banana plants have appeared. But there is a worse desert, made of stones, which is found in Greece and in Italy. Here it is even more difficult. We started a sowing on 10 thousand hectares in Greece last year, which was attended by three thousand people from all the countries of Europe.

In your opinion how much time passes between the beginning of a process of greening and the birth of higher plants?

On average five years, but also depends on the quantity of seeds that are inserted in each clay ball “(article taken from” Terra Nuova “)

We must begin to stop behaving like slaves, and to do so we must first recognize that we are slaves, then we must rebuild our lives according to our real needs, those that we feel true within us, those that make us feel good and that make us feel others well. Doing more, to give a surplus, is an ethics that has deep roots in our history and that we should all study to understand why. If we want a better world, we must stop continuing to perpetrate this. That of “Fukukoa” is not the method, but one of many possible, so here we must only take inspiration from this, so that everyone can find his own.

by Daniel Evangelista