Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The One Straw Revolution

Mr. Masanobu Fukuoka is one of the key names in the creation of the permaculture movement. He himself would not see it that way. Several countries had a figure stand out in this field. They were visionaries that were decades ahead of their time. In Australia there is Bill Mollisson, in Austria Sepp Holzer and in Japan it was Masanobu Fukuoka. They are legends, rightfully so.

Already in 1975 he wrote the classic book "The One Straw Revolution" sometimes nicknamed "Zen and the Art of Farming". This book is an easy read, just some 100 pages. I had heard and read a lot about him and his techniques. I had some preconceived notion what the book would be about. But it harbored a few surprises for me. His point of view is that we cannot and will not know or understand nature. "When [we] think [we] are beginning to understand nature, [we] can be sure that [we] are on the wrong track." Basically his beliefs are that we cannot truly understand anything. Another key opinion is that he sees nature as something highly connected. Nothing can be seen in isolation. However, our world and society are too complex. He experienced that many scientists came to study his fields but each looked at it only from one very specific angle according to his research speciality. He knew that such a narrow-sighted approach would not lead to insights or results. According to his thoughts it would require scientists, researchers, politicians, artists, poets, philosophers, men of religion, and farmers to gather jointly to talk things over together.

He was on a search of effective farming that is simple. He always asked himself what can I remove from typical agriculture while still keeping it effective. Slowly and with many tries and failures he reduced agriculture to the bare minimum input while not losing and even increasing health and output. In his way of farming external energetic input is at a minimum. He says that putting "doing nothing" into practice is the one thing the farmer should strive to accomplish. The farmer is freed from useless or even countrproductive chores and free to take a midday nap or write poetry.

His method, he calls it no-method, is based on four principles.

  • no cultivation: no plowing or turning of the soil
  • no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost: For fertilizer Mr. Fukuoka grows a leguminous cover of white clover, returns the threshed straw to the fields, and adds a little poultry manure
  • no weeding, no herbicides: Straw mulch, a ground cover of white clover interplanted with the crops, and temporary flooding provide effective weed control in his fields.
  • no pesticides, no chemicals: The sensible approach to disease and insect control is to grow sturdy crops in a healthy environment (rather than weak - often laboratory made - crops optimized for size or color).

I liked this phrase a lot: "Before researchers become researchers, they should become philosophers. They should consider what the human goal is." He certainly views farmers as philosophers. "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." As you can see "The One Straw Revolution" is not only a book on agriculture or permaculture, it is a book on life. "In nature, there is life and death, and nature is joyful. In human society, there is life and death, and people live in sorrow." Isn't it time we change our objectives?

PS: Just found this video "The One Straw Revolution" that brings the book in context with Larry Korn , translator of the book, who worked for the old master for a total of 2.5 years. Here I also found the reference to the web site www.onestrawrevolution.net. More videos and links are to be found there.

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