Seven Permaculture Learnings From Masanobu Fukuoka
Masanobu Fukuoka was a Japanese Microbiologist who developed the « do nothing » concept in permaculture. Inspired by Taoism and Zen philosophies, he applied their principles to farming.
Using only natural methods, with almost no human intervention and without machines, fossil fuels, fertilizers, chemicals…etc., Masanobu Fukuoka was self-sufficient and his rice yields were as high as the most productive farms in japan.
The quality of the food he produced was very high and yet he was able to sell it at a low price. He explained that his pricing reflects his costs which were low, and that he didn’t want high quality food to be accessible only to rich people.
While Masanobu Fukuoka’s book is full of spiritual, life and farming learnings, we retained seven lessons from his book: ‘The One-Straw Revolution’.
Learning 1 – What is the « do nothing » in permaculture?
Masanobu Fukuoka considers Nature as the source of everything and an immutable point. Deviating creates pollution and destruction.
For Masanobu Fukuoka, « do nothing » applied to permaculture means observing what is natural, as opposed to what is non-natural. Agricultural techniques developed by humans result in non-natural states, which are imbalanced and then corrected by Nature.
“To the extent that trees deviate from their natural form, pruning and insect extermination become necessary.”
“Almost everyone thinks that “nature” is a good thing, but few can grasp the difference between natural and unnatural.”
To make his work easier, Fukuoka was always wondering « how about not doing this », instead of « how about trying this » as modern farmers do.
“I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide. When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are really necessary.”
Learning 2 – What are the principles of the « do nothing » method?
“The earth cultivates itself naturally by means of the penetration of plant roots and the activity of microorganisms, small animals, and earthworms.”
- Not to plow: deep soil turning has been introduced by modern agriculture. However, natural farming does not need plow.
- Not to fertilize: with chemical fertilizers, trees grow taller but soil is depleted and loses its vitality.
- Not to weed: weeds are important for soil fertilization and need to be controlled rather than eliminated.
- No to become dependent of chemicals: Nature is always in equilibrium. Insects and diseases usually appear but would never reach a point in which chemicals are needed. Killing natural predators is inopportune, because the resulting damage will be greater in the long-term. Masanobu Fukuoka explains that people think that chemicals are needed to control three main rice diseases. However if farmers stop using improved varieties of rice, adding nitrogen, and reduce water quantities for irrigation, then solid roots will develop, diseases will disappear and chemicals won’t be needed anymore.
- Spread straw: The basis of the method to grow rice and wheats in winter: scattering straw maintains the soil structure, and enriches it to the point that prepared fertilizer becomes unnecessary. Straw prevents weeds and keeps sparrows away.
Learning 3 – What are the limits to the scientist method?
Masanobu Fukuoka gave two main critiques aimed at the methods used by scientists. methods.
First, he thinks scientists develop methods that are theoretical but impossible to realize in practice. Indeed, natural factors are infinite and conditions are not only permanently changing but also different from a place to another, and even from a year to another. Geography, topography, the state of soil, its structure, texture and drainage, sunlight exposure, insects’ rapports, seeds varieties, culture methods,…etc.: they need to be considered altogether, which makes the experimentation of a scientific method impossible to realize.
Second, with a lot of humor, Masanobu Fukuoka criticizes researchers who invent farming techniques that end up destroying the environment, and then look for innovative solutions to solve the problems they created in the first place.
“Before researchers become researchers, they should become philosophers. They should consider what the human goal is, what it is that humanity should create “.
Today, farmers use chemicals several times during the growth season. Consequently, microorganisms and organic matters die, soil is destroyed and crops become dependent of chemical fertilizers (external nutrient matter). Therefore, using scientific methods became necessary not because natural fertilization is insufficient, but because natural fertility has been destroyed.
Alternatively, by spreading straw, growing shamrock and returning to soil organic matter, soil has all nutrients needed for rice and winter wheat growth each year in the same field.
Learning 4 – Why natural farming goes against government planning?
Once, Mister Fukuoka was invited to a congress taking place in Japan to discuss with other specialists pollution questions. Since the discussion during the congress was about technical rapports with no tangible conclusions, Masanobu Fukuoka raised his voice to urge building a concrete plan solving pollution problems.
He explained that the direct answer to pollution is to stop using chemicals in the agriculture sector. If crops can grow without chemicals, fertilizers and machines, large chemical corporations become useless. As corporations and politicians’ power rely on the investments on fertilizers and machines, Masanobu Fukuoka said he does not understand how these people (corporations and government officers) could discuss any measure against pollution. After his intervention, the president of the congress said « Mister Fukuoka you are disturbing the congress ».
Learning 5 – How to solve pollution in the food industry?
Chemically processed food is sold primarily in response to consumers preferences. Consumers demand large, shiny, evenly shaped and perfect products; producers sell those products at a price reflecting consumer preference. Also, consumers’ willingness to pay high prices for food produced out of season has contributed to the use of artificial methods and chemicals at large scale.
Masanobu Fukuoka wonders: why is it that important for a consumer to get a fruit or a vegetable one month before season? To have a perfect look, a sweet taste and a fresh appearance, producers add 5 to 6 chemicals in the sorting center. The price for these fruits/vegetables are higher and, therefore, more producers would start using the same process. As a result, after 3 years the process is scaled and competition decreases prices. Consequently, farmers margin decreases as well: they sell cheaper, have more costs and more work. Also, consumers eat fruits/vegetables full of chemicals and not fresh at all. Is this modernization?
Food Masanobu Fukuoka produced had a real natural taste and was more nutritious. Normally, his products should have been sold at a premium price, but he refused to make an excessive profit. He did not want natural foods to be reserved to rich people. He felt that producing his food required less labor and less equipment, and therefore less costs. For natural food to become widely popular, it must be available at a reasonable price.
Learning 6 – What is natural food?
Whether it is vegetables or fruits, wheat or animals, any food that has been removed from its primitive state, obtained chemically or in a completely engineered environment, is unnatural. For example: eggs from caged chickens or cucumbers in winter. Food that has remained close to its wild state has its natural taste and a higher nutritional value.
According to Masanobu Fukuoka, food that grows naturally nearby, including fish, is the best to consume (best in terms of environmental impact and health).
To eat natural food, one must accept to only eat what is growing naturally nearby. Meat and other imported food are luxuries because they require more energy and resources than traditional, locally grown vegetables and grains.
If people continue to eat imported food and meat, years after, there will be a food crisis that will be due to the extravagance of human desire, and not of insufficient food production.
Learning 7 – What is the goal of farming?
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
A farmer looking for profit is an industrialist who does not sell natural food but food resulting from synthesis. According to Masanobu Fukuoka, such type of food is not nutritious and alter the chemical composition of the human body.
A farmer’s goal should not be to make profits. Rather, s/he should grow the food he needs: one grain of rice becomes a thousand grains of rice, one row of turnips makes enough turnips for a whole winter. A farmer’s life on a small farm may seem primitive, but by aiming for such a life, spiritual growth becomes possible.
To conclude, as opposed to other agricultural methods that aim to use nature efficiently to achieve a goal, wild farming inspired by Taoist and Zen philosophies, does not seek victory, nor defeat. Practicing “non-action” is the only thing farmers should try to accomplish. It is a method without a method, by acting in a spirit that aims neither to win nor to oppose.