[permaculture] Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural Farming and Permaculture

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Sun Sep 30 17:30:53 EDT 2012


http://www.permaculture.com/node/140
Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural Farming and Permaculture
  Type:
 Food
  author or publications:
 Larry Korn
  Description:

Masanobu Fukuoka is a farmer/philosopher who lives on the Island of
Shikoku, in southern Japan. His farming technique requires no machines, no
chemicals and very little weeding. He does not plow the soil or use
prepared compost and yet the condition of the soil in his orchards and
fields improve each year. His method creates no pollution and does not
require fossil fuels. His method requires less labor than any other, yet
the yields in his orchard and fields compare favorably with the most
productive Japanese farms which use all the technical know-how of modern
science.
  Full Text:

Masanobu Fukuoka is a farmer/philosopher who lives on the Island of
Shikoku, in southern Japan. His farming technique requires no machines, no
chemicals and very little weeding. He does not plow the soil or use
prepared compost and yet the condition of the soil in his orchards and
fields improve each year. His method creates no pollution and does not
require fossil fuels. His method requires less labor than any other, yet
the yields in his orchard and fields compare favorably with the most
productive Japanese farms which use all the technical know-how of modern
science.

How is this possible? I admit, when I first went to his farm in 1973 I was
skeptical. But there was the proof - beautiful grain crops in the fields,
healthy orchard trees growing with a ground cover of vegetables, weeds and
white clover. Over the two-year period I lived and worked there his
techniques and philosophy gradually became clear to me.

I had not heard of permaculture at the time, but I can see now that
Fukuoka's farm is a classic working model of permaculture design. It is
remarkable that Fukuoka and Bill Mollison, working independently, on two
different continents with entirely different environmental conditions
should come up with such similar solutions to the question, "How can people
on live this planet sustainably and in harmony with nature." Both claim
that the principles of their system can be adapted to any climatic area.

Mollison and Fukuoka

Perhaps Fukuoka, in his book The One Straw Revolution , has best stated the
basic philosophy of permaculture. In brief, it is philosophy of working
with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation
rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and
animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a
single-product system.

--Bill Mollison in Permaculture 2

Mollison and Fukuoka took entirely different routes to get to essentially
the same place. Permaculture is a design system which aims to maximize the
functional connection of its elements. It integrates raising crops and
animals with careful water management. Homes and other structures are
designed for maximum energy efficiency. Everything is made to work together
and evolve over time to blend harmoniously into a complete and sustainable
agricultural system.

The key word here is *design*. Permaculture is a consciously designed
system. The designer carefully uses his/her knowledge, skill and
sensitivity to make a plan, then implement it. Fukuoka created natural
farming from a completely different perspective.

The idea for natural farming came to Fukuoka when he was about twenty five
years old. One morning, as he sat at sunrise on a bluff overlooking
Yokohama Bay, a flash of inspiration occurred. He saw that nature was
perfect just as it is. Problems arise when people try to improve upon
nature and use nature strictly for human benefit. He tried to explain this
understanding to others, but when they could not understand he made a
decision to return to his family farm. He decided to create a concrete
example of his understanding by applying it to agriculture.

But where to begin? Fukuoka had no model to go by. "'How about trying this?
How about trying that?' That is the usual way of developing agricultural
technique. My way was different. 'How about not doing this, and How about
not doing that?' - this was the path I followed. Now my rice growing is
simply sowing seed and spreading straw, but it has taken me more than
thirty years to reach this simplicity."

The basic idea for his rice growing came to him one day when he happened to
pass an old field
which had been left unused and unplowed for many years. There he saw
healthy rice seedlings sprouting through a tangle of grasses and weeds.
>From that time on he stopped sowing rice seed in the spring and, instead,
put the seed out in the fall when it would naturally have fallen to the
ground. Instead of plowing to get rid of weeds he learned to control them
with a ground cover of white clover and a mulch of barley straw. Once he
has tilted the balance slightly in favor of his crops Fukuoka interferes as
little as possible with the plant and animal communities in his fields.

This is not to say that Fukuoka did not experiment. For example, he tried
more than twenty different ground covers before noticing that white clover
was the only one which held back weeds effectively. It also fixes nitrogen
so it improves the soil. He tried spreading the straw neatly over the
fields but found the rice seeds could not make their way through. In one
corner of the field, however, where the straw had scattered every which
way, the seedlings emerged. The next year he scattered the straw across the
entire field. There were years when his experiments resulted in almost a
total crop loss, but in small areas things worked out well. He closely
observed what was different in that part of the field and next year the
results were better. The point is, he had no preconceived idea of what
would work the best. He tried many things and took the direction nature
revealed. As far as possible, Fukuoka was trying to take the human
intellect out of the decision making process.

His vegetable growing also reflects this idea. He grows vegetables in the
spaces between the citrus trees in the orchard. Instead of deciding which
vegetables would do well in which locations he mixes all the seeds together
and scatters them everywhere. He lets the vegetables find their own
location, often in areas he would have least have expected. The vegetables
reseed themselves and move around the orchard from year to year. Vegetables
grown this way stronger and gradually revert to the form of their semi-wild
ancestors.

I mentioned that Fukuoka's farm is a fine model of permaculture design. In
Zone 1, nearest his family home in the village, he and his family maintain
a vegetable garden in the traditional Japanese style. Kitchen scraps are
dug into the rows, are crops rotated and chickens run freely. This garden
is really an extension of the home living area.

 Zone 2 is his grain fields. He grows a crop of rice and one of barley
every year. Because he returns the straw to the fields and has the ground
cover of white clover the soil actually improves each year. The natural
balance of insects and a healthy soil keep insect and disease infestations
to a minimum. Until Bill Mollison read The One-Straw Revolution he said he
had no idea of how to include grain growing in his permaculture designs.
All the agricultural models involved plowing the soil, a practice he does
not agree with. Now he includes Fukuoka's no-tillage technique in his
teaching.

Zone 3 is the orchard. The main tree crop is Mandarin oranges, but he also
grows many other fruit trees, native shrubs and other native and ornamental
trees. The upper story is tall trees, many of which fix nitrogen and so
improve the soil deep down. The middle story is the citrus and other fruit
trees. The ground is covered with a riotous mixture of weeds, vegetables,
herbs and white clover. Chickens run freely. This multi-tiered orchard area
came about through a natural evolution rather than conscious design. It
still contains many of the basic permacultural design features. It has many
different plant and species, maximizes surface area, contains solar
sunlight "traps" and maintains a natural balance of insect populations.

Author Larry Korn with Fukuoka

Fukuoka invites visitors from Zone 4 anytime. Wild animals and birds come
and go freely. The surrounding forest is the source of mushrooms, wild
herbs and vegetables. It is also an inspiration. "To get an idea of the
perfection and abundance of nature," Fukuoka says, "take a walk into the
forest sometime. There, the animals, tall trees and shrubs are living
together in harmony. All of this came about without benefit of human
ingenuity or intervention."

What is remarkable is that Fukuoka's natural farming and permaculture
should resemble each other so closely despite their nearly opposite
approaches. Permaculture relies on the human intellect to devise a strategy
to live abundantly and sustainably within nature. Fukuoka sees the human
intellect as the culprit serving only to separate people from nature. The
"one mountain top, many paths" adage seems to apply here.

Natural farming and permaculture share a profound debt to each other. The
many examples of permaculture throughout the world show that a natural
farming system is truly universal. It can be applied to arid climates as
well as humid, temperate Japan. Also, the worldwide permaculture movement
is an inspiration to Fukuoka. For many years he worked virtually alone in
his work. For most of his life Japan was not receptive to his message. He
had to self-publish his books because no publisher would take a chance on
someone so far from the mainstream. When his experiments resulted in
failure the other villagers would ridicule his work. In the mid-1980's he
came to a Permaculture Convergence in Olympia, Washington and met Bill
Mollison. There were nearly one thousand people there. He was overwhelmed
and heartened by the number and sincerity of the like-thinking people he
met. He thanked Mollison for "creating this network of bright, energetic
people working to help save the planet." "Now," he said, "for the first
time in my life I have hope for the future."

In turn, permaculture has adopted many things from Fukuoka. Besides the
many agricultural techniques, such as continuous no-tillage grain growing
and growing vegetables like wild plants, permaculture has also learned an
important new approach for devising practical strategies. Most importantly,
the philosophy of natural farming has given permaculture a truly spiritual
basis lacking in its earlier teachings.

Fukuoka believes that natural farming proceeds from the spiritual health of
the individual. He considers the healing of the land and the purification
of the human spirit to be one process, and he proposes a way of life and a
way of farming in which this process can take place. "Natural farming is
not just for growing crops," he says, "it is for the cultivation and
perfection of human beings."

Text and images copyright 2003 Larry Korn

Contact information:

Larry Korn

P.O. Box 2384

Berkeley, CA 94702

(510) 530-1194

FAX (510) 530-1194


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