THE BANYAN TREE: VOLUME II : BRINGING CHANGE - APPROPRIATE NUTRITION : ITS ROLE IN HEALTH

( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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1-Appendix 2 : Natural Farming

During the International Science Congress held in January 1987 at Pune University, agricultural experts from different parts of the world had assembled to give presentations on different aspects of hi-tech farming. Each expert came one after another, to put forth and expound on his particular interest and field, giving impressive and complicated statistics and methodology. At the end of it, a diminutive, elderly, simply dressed, Japanese came forward and stunned the audience with his concept of Natural Farming, which he called The Do-Nothing Farming’.

Fukuoka, the author of the book The One-Straw Revolution 1, explains how he started going about developing this new method of agricultural practice. As he says, "The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask, ‘How about trying this? or How about trying that?’ bringing in a variety of techinics one upon the other . This is modern agriculture and it only results in making the farmer busier. My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant natural way of farming which results in making the work easier instead of harder. ‘ How about not doing this ? How about not doing that ?’ and that was my way of thinking. I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was not need to plough, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticides. When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are really necessary. The reason that man’s improved techniques seem to be necessary is that the natural balance has been so badly upset beforehand by those same techniques that the land has become dependent on them."

Herein lies the essence of Fukuoka’s philosophy, and the source of it. Natural farming, as he defines it, is "Farming done as simply as possible, within and in cooperation withthe natural environment, rather than the modern approach applying increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the benefit of human beings.

Natural farming is not as easy as it sounds, as Fukuoka himself learned the hard way. It is not easy, because in order to do natural farming one must first undo all the repercussions of years of so called "artificial" or scientific or hi-tech farming, which according to him is merely ‘tampering with nature’. He found this at great cost of his father’s fields.

Around 1937, Fukuoka resigned from a promising career as a microbiology researcher and decided to experiment on his father’s farms. His father was growing tangerines at that time, and Fukuoka moved into a hut on the mountain and began to live a very simple, primitive life. He thought that if here, as a farmer of citrus and grain, he could actually demonstrate his realisation, the world would recognise his truth. So he settled on the mountain, and everything went well until the time hat his father entrusted him with the richly bearing trees in the orchard. He had already pruned the trees to ‘ the shape of a sake cups’ so that the fruits could easily be harvested. When Fukuoka left the abandoned in this state, naturally the result was that the branches become intertwined, insects attacked the trees and the entire orchard withered away in no time. His conviction had been that crops grow themselves and should not have to be grown. He had acted in the belief that everything should be left to take its natural course, but found out the hard way that if you apply this way of thinking all atonce, before long things do not go so well. This ‘abandonement’, is not natural farming, he realised.

Ofcourse the outsome of this was that his father was furious with him,and told him in no uncertain terms that he must rediscipline himself, take a job somewhere, and return when he had pulled himself back together. He took up a job as Head Researcher of Disease and Insect Control at a Testing station. For eight years he wroked there, and during all this time pondered the relationship between scientific and natural farming agriculture, and whether his conviction that natural farming was superior, had any basis . At the end of eight years he took up farming anew.

But is second experiment at natural farming also turned out to be a disaster. His idea of natural farming was to just leave the citrus orchard to itself. He did no pruning. Naturally again the branches became tangled and the trees were attacked by insects and almost 2 acres of mandarin orange trees withered and died.

All this time, the question at the back of his mind, was ‘What is the natural pattern?’ He wiped out another 400 trees before he finally arrived at the answer. Which is that before you can take up Natural farming, you have first undo years of unnatural farming and gradually restore the field and its surrounding eco system to its original harmonious state. For example, in abalanced rice field eco-system, insect and plant communities maintain a stable relationship. Dragon flies and moths fly up in flurry. Honey bees buzz from blossom to blossom.

Part the leaves and you see insects, spiders, frogs, lizards and many other small animals bustling about in the cool shade. Moles and earthworms burrow beneath the surface. Here it is not uncommon for a plant desease to sweep through the areas, leaving the crops in these fields unaffected. This by the way, is not some imaginary meandring. It is a description of his own rice fields in Japan, as described in his book The One Starw Revolution.

To put it briefly, his method of natural farming is based on four principles, which are as follows.



  1. No Cultivation : It means no ploughing or turning of the soil. For centuries, farmers have assumed that the plough is essential for growing crops. However, noncultivation is fundamental to natural farming. The earth cultivates itself naturlly by means of penetration of plant roots and the activity of micro-organisms, small animals and earhtworms.
  2. No Chemical Fertilizer or Prepared Composte : People interfere with nature, and try as they may, they cannot heal the resulting wounds. Their careless farming practices, drained the soil of essential nutrients, and the result is yearly depletion of the land. If left to itself, the soil maintains its fertility naturally, in accordance with the orderly cycle of plant and animal life.
  3. No Weeding by Tillage or Herbicides : Weeds play their part in building soil fertility and in balancing the biological community. As a fundamental principle, weeds should be controlled, not eliminated. Straw mulch, a ground cover of white clover interplanted with the crops, and temporary flooding provide effective weed control in my fields.
  4. No Dependence on Chemicals : From the time that weak plants developed as a result of such unnatural practices as plowing and fertilizing, disease and insect imbalance became a great problem in agriculture. Nature left alone, is in perfect balance. Harmful insects and plant diseases are always present but do not occur in nature to an extent which requires the use of poisonous chemicals. The sensible approch to disease and insect control is to grow sturdy crops in a healthy environment. When all is said and doen, Fukuoka and Gandhiji seem to be saying the same thing. In fact all we have said in regard to the ten myths and their cure, were also Gandhi’s views.

In India natural farming is doen on a small scale at Rasulia Friends Rural Centre, Hoshangabad, M.P.

Just as we see balance in the human body brings health -- so also balance in the agricultural techniques can also restore health to the land instead of relying on all the hi-tech answers which are further upsetting the balance of nature, Fukuoka pleads for listening to and responding to nature’s wisdom.

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