By Suma Varughese
The spontaneous applause that greeted the bright eyed wispy haired little Japanese man dressed in a white kimono-like formal wear as he entered the unpretentious office of the Bombay Union of Journalists (BUJ), in India, was eloquent testimony of the love and reverence that Masanobu Fukuoka, 83, commands all over the world
And not without reason: Fukuoka is author of The One-straw Revolution, an extraordinary document that distills the deepest of philosophical and spiritual truths into a practical approach to farming that he calls natural or do-nothing farming. Since its publication in 1978 in English, the book has shot up to cult status, mandatory reading among advocates of alternative living. Fukuoka is a recipient of the Deshikottam Award presented in 1988 by the Vishwa Bharati University in Santiniketan, India. His second visit to India was in March 1997.
His book has been translated into Indian languages and published by Madhya Pradesh’s Friends Rural Society, influencing hundreds of farmers. In Nagpur, an Indian town, a group of 10 farmers have formed the Fukuoka Society. Scores of others have selectively grafted his methods on the more popular system of organic farming. Natural farming cannot work everywhere, argues Kisan Mehta, 72, president of Mumbai based Prakriti, an organization committed to a sustainable society based on natural living and sustainable agriculture. In places like Saurashtra and the Kutch, desert regions of India, which enjoy no rain, nature cannot regenerate herself without external support.
Fukuoka’s philosophy has influenced leading health activists such as Vijaya Venkat, who unhesitatingly calls him “the greatest philosopher of all time”. “He simply says to do nothing intelligently.” She says, giving me the courage to practice the same principle in nutrition.
Kavita Mukhi, who runs Nature Option, a health food shop in Mumbai, India, feels the same: “Nature knows best. That’s his message. He is a simple and beautiful man. When in Mumbai, Fukuoka’s simplicity and benevolence won over all those to whom the book is not just an agricultural manual but a work of art and even a religious and philosophical text. Fukuoka sees our present alienation from nature and our reliance on technology as both needless and self destructive. When we lose the remaining 3 per cent of greenery on the planet, we will lose our feeling of joy.”
Quoting a scientific prophecy that Earth will last only 20 more years, he reiterates the urgency of restoring wholeness to this planet and its inhabitants. Fukuoka chanced upon this revelation when he was 25 years old. Confronted with the proximity of death through a severe attack of pneumonia, he was shaken out of the complacency with which to rebuild his confidence in life. Early one morning, after a sleepless night under a tree, came a flash of satori. In this world, there is nothing at all . Something one might call true nature stood revealed. What Fukuoka instinctively understood and which in its starkness echoes Advaita Vedanta or Taoism was the illusion of existence. God was all, and God alone ran the show. Humankind’s attempt to control or even understand life was futile and self destructive.
Determined to demonstrate the practical value of the realization at a time when humankind was hurtling in the opposite direction, he resigned his job as a research scientist in 1938 and returned to his father’s farm. His plan was to restore the land to the condition that would enable nature`s original harmony to prevail, which, he was convinced, was all that was truly necessary.
Through 30 years of refinement, his do-nothing farming was able to do away with the need for soil cultivation, such as ploughing or tilling, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, weeding, pruning, machinery or compost, yet produce yields of rice or barley equivalent to that produced either by traditional or chemical agriculture.
He says: “If a single new bud is snipped off a fruit tree with a pair of scissors, that may bring about a disorder which cannot be undone…Human beings with their tampering do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired, and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them.”
Fukuoka’s agricultural approach is simplicity itself. He grows two seasonal crops, rice in summer, barley and rye in winter, using just the straw of the preceding crop, a cover of clover and a sprinkling of poultry manure for fertilizer. Instead of planting seeds and transplanting seedlings as in traditional rice cultivation, he broadcasts mud pellets containing seeds on unploughed soil, sufficiently loosened by nature’s own undercover agents, the human earthworm and others of that ilk.
The use of white clover reduces the amount of water required to a mere one week initially. Weeds are allowed to sprout, controlled by nature’s checks and balances, including natural predators, which also take care of pests. ‘Nature, left alone, is in perfect balance,’ asserts Fukuoka with proven confidence. Each rice stalk yields 200 to 300 grains, which compares very favorably with the yield of other forms of cultivation; labor time is cut to one-fifth.
More important, the top soil fertility increases with time, in contrast to the decreasing or gradient levels found in chemical and traditional agriculture. Given these unbelievable advantages, one might ask why the world still hesitates to throw overboard its top-heavy systems in favor of such simplicity. The reason is that, paradoxically, do-nothing farming is the most challenging of all methods, for it demands nothing less than the farmer’s total presence of mind. The farmer must grow his crops differently each year in accordance with variations in weather, insect populations, the condition of the soil and many other natural factors.
Nature is everywhere in perpetual motion; conditions are never exactly the same in any two years. Preconceived notions, preset formulae cannot apply. What is needed is the yogi’s ability to stay in the present. Which brings us to the hitch in do-nothing farming. Enlightenment is a prerequisite! Simplicity, finally, is the highest and most difficult state of mind to attain.
Meanwhile, the world heedlessly hurtles towards more and more complexity. Fukuoka’s present battle is against the popularization of the US-based Super Rice, in which he sees a sinister plot to control the world through the control of the grain markets. Touted as a high-yielding hybrid variety which can be seeded by helicopter broadcasting. Fukuoka fears that is domination may well be total, particularly forgiven the fact that hybrid seeds cannot be recultivated.
All crusades are led by backbenchers, by visionaries and pacifists way behind the frontlines and way ahead of the first bullet. An ardent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he sees as his spiritual mentor, Fukuoka looks to India for a greater acceptance of farming in more natural and less combative manner than the rest of the world has known or shown. In the land of peace, may peace come to land.
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