Alternative Agriculture Library

Herb Market Report inteview:
Masanobu Fukuoka on The Natural Way of Farming
by Richard Alan Miller, c1986, c2010


This is the second exclusive interview which "The Herb Market Report" was fortunate in obtaining. This was taken during The 2nd International Permaculture Conference, held August 8-10 at the Evergreen State College, in Olympia.Masanobu Fukuoka

Masanobu Fukuoka is considered Japan's Master Farmer. His innovative thought, combining philosophy with agriculture, is outlined in his books, including THE ONE STRAW REVOLUTION and THE NATURAL WAY OF FARMING. Fukuoka teaches regenerative agriculture, and is a major inspiration to the permaculture movement.

His technical background includes training as a microbiologist. He worked for years as a plant disease specialist. Then he set about the task of rebuilding his father's farm, thereby evolving his unique method of natural farming. He speaks humbly of himself, but his methods have been embraced widely in the United States, particularly where rice is a major cash crop.

Fukuoka considers farming to be a spiritual path. This becomes quite evident, when like an oriental Buckminster Fuller; he begins scribbling cosmic glyphs on the blackboard and proclaims enigmatic truths. In Fukuoka's worldview, "There is no wide and narrow on the earth; there is no slow and fast in the blue sky."

Fukuoka's "green philosophy" can serve as an inspiration to all of us who feel a deep love for the land. His Zen perspective on farming is best summarized by the following quote:

"Ever since I began proposing a way of farming in step with nature, I have sought to demonstrate the validity of five major principles: no tillage, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding and no pruning. During the many years that have elapsed since, I have never once doubted the possibilities of a natural way of farming that renounces all human knowledge and intervention. To the scientist convinced that nature can be understood and used through human intellect and action, natural farming is a special case and has no universality. Yet the basic principles apply everywhere."

Like many a man-with-a-mission, Fukuoka-san declined an interview with his translator as intermediary. He preferred instead to expound his philosophy from the heart. He weaves together the opposites, relating the pragmatism of the most down-to-earth farmer with the lofty contemplations of a mystic. The sublime beauty of the resulting tapestry is evident in the photos he brings of lands currently being regenerated in Ethiopia and Somalia.

When Fukuoka began his discourse you could sense the sincerity and immediacy of his message. Human attitudes have a tremendous impact on our common environment. He challenges us all to refine our consciousness. Standing at the blackboard in traditional Japanese garb, Fukuoka starts his talk with a calligraphic flourish. Like a martial arts master, he seems to combine serenity with an acute alertness. Beginning from a still center he drew an upwardly-expanding spiral....


"Nowadays, everybody in the world is going in the direction of an ever-broadening spiral. Everyone seems to think 'the bigger the better," 'more is better.' People think they can grow a lot in a large field or a small field. The city culture started from using the scythe, soil, and hammer. That was the beginning of civilization. Now, people think large machines are better. I wonder if that is true! Humanity has made a lot of progress. They climb up the mountains, higher and higher. What do you think is at the end? If the upward spiral reaches the limits of growth, things fall apart at the end. They separate.

"Even with humanity's knowledge, like physiology, science and construction, the trend is toward creating 'experts,' trained specialists with a narrow band of knowledge. [He draws a branching line on the board], In the beginning it just separated into two things, and then it branched out into four things, and eventually to eight things, and so on. This progression is also separation.

"Humanity's progression of development is also separating, just branching out and branching out. The more specialized the knowledge, the more the whole picture is lost, and things start to fall apart. [He draws a balloon]. This is the world of humanity's head. I think humanity's world is like a balloon and it will eventually explode. Knowledge is falling apart. Very few people are trying to prevent this, including hippies and other conscious people.

"In farming or agriculture the center is home farming, the garden or little-site agriculture. The ever-increasing upward spiral is large-scale agribusiness. Against the modern technological agriculture, organic agriculture is starting from the bottom, also permanent agriculture, what we call permaculture. Those movements are trying to go smaller and smaller.

"Big people have big farms and a lot of money, big house, and they think that is a happy life. But there is also another way ~ living in a small cabin in the mountains with a smaller garden. The things you have in a small house are light and wind, water, fire and earth. These are the basic five elements. Some people think this is O.K., like hippies or Indians or those who have a great spirit in their minds. They think this is fine. But is this also O.K.?

"To me, these two different ways (trying to get bigger or trying to get smaller) are also the same thing. It’s all in the world of the head - a head-trip. So say 'protect nature.' Some say the little-sized garden is 'good.' All they are doing is expanding the world of humanity's knowledge.

"Some people are going really fast; some are acting as brakes to slow them down. Many think large chemical agriculture is destroying nature. Other people, like hippies, are trying to protect nature. Those are the same! It's all their head- trips or intellect. If it stays like this, this world will keep expanding and things will eventually fall apart [entropy].

"In this world, this person and the other person talk, and nothing is said. There's a distance between those who have a western and eastern philosophy. They cannot talk anymore than President Reagan and Gorbachev can talk; that is the same thing. They think they talk about war and peace, but why do you they cannot solve the problems? They have to get back to the center, to our origin or they won't be able to talk, and find out.

"Where can they find the common ground to talk? In order to do that, you have to jump off from the world of humanity's knowledge. No thinking! You have to enter from the world of thinking to the world of Nothingness. Outside of the five elements, that is the world of religion.

It expands and humanity goes down and down, into a confused world. It's not that you know things if you know or understand more. The more you pile up the books, the more you get confused and at that point you are really away from true nature. You just get confused. That is the world of culture or civilization, the world of the head or intellect.”

On True Nature:

"Natural farming is not right or left, not more or less, not west or east. The world has not 'big' or 'small,' slowness or fastness. That is the world of true nature. Natural farming starts by catching the true nature. True nature is the world of Truth. You can almost say the world of Truth is the world of God. Everything starts from God; we call this center God.

"I like to think and talk what humanity should do right now! I went to Africa last summer. Eighty years ago Ethiopia and Somalia used to be forest like the State of Washington. During the last 80 years all around this land became a desert. [He pauses to show photos of arid landscapes, and the startling changes wrought by his regenerative program].

"Even though there is a lot of greenery here, in Washington, if things go like this, and we lose 3% of greenery from the earth, we will have an acute oxygen shortage. People will lose their lives. There is no time for biological research or assembling data. There is only one way to turn the desert into True Nature. [He draws an airplane on the blackboard]. Instead of using airplanes to drop bombs, or using the Space Shuttle, I would like people to loose those things to sow seeds from the sky. Use your airplanes constructively.

"The large farms of the United States are made from oil. The corn growing there is made from oil [i.e. petrochemicals]. People in the U.S. are destroying 2 ton of soil to grow 1 ton of crops. You have to keep in mind that it is not that you're destroying your own place, but also other countries, like Africa. The hybrid seeds of the U.S. are trying to control the world, but also this is strangling your own neck. This invasion of seeds can be turned around; even the airplane used to drop the bomb can be used for peace.

"Most developed, specialized technology is the least developed technology. Genetic scientists just look at fragments of the plant, the genes. There is no life in just one spot of an entire plant. It is a mistake that one variety of corn is planted in a large field. To mix everything, like trees^ fruit, vegetables, and grains, so everything is growing together, that becomes the Garden of Eden.

"My natural farming has no distinction of trees, leaves, roots. Now scientists just see the leaves and fruit instead of seeing the whole plant, especially the root. The farmer just sees the fruit. Some people just see the rice. That is why the soil is depleted.

"If there is a mountain [there is, as he sketches one out] some people plant on the west, some on the east. Some people plant trees; some grow rice. People try to make this mountain green through different means, but it makes no sense. Some people say there ought to be a forest to enjoy. They try and catch the beauty of nature.

"Some people make a highway and try to climb up by car; so many people can enjoy nature. They say it's not good that one or two hippies only can enjoy nature. Some say the road destroys the cedar trees so it's better to build a rope bridge. Others say helicopters are better. Everyone has ideas on the same theme; to make this mountain green. But if they all try different things, what do you think is going to happen?

"Whether you consider those who try to protect the greenery or those who try to destroy the greenery, everything is destroying it. Knowledge is trying to stay away from nature. The center 9 worlds of the God) is True Nature.

"In their thinking they are trying to go back to that point, but they all go back to the head-trip. They are just catching the false or imitation God. You can't reach Buddha or Christ from the top of a mountain. Everyone is saying it's good to climb up there, but God is even above that! Just around the mountain is the world of intellect. People can learn what Buddha or Christ said but they cannot see the God. The God doesn't exist in front of you. It's not the nature we are seeing. It's not just above us; the God is behind us.

"In the ancient times many people were in touch with God. They just forgot. They knew when they were babies. Babies have the most wonderful brain. Humanity forgot to see the God when they ate of the fruit of Knowledge. God didn't forget humanity; but humanity forgot God. You just have to remember!

"I'm just a man God was trying to catch fifty years ago. I'm just a man that escaped from God. I escaped from God because it was too much responsibility, so I thought I'd be just fine as a simple farmer. So I betrayed the God. So in terms of knowledge I don't have very much. I'm not even at the foot of the knowledgeable. But I know foolish I am; I know that I don't know anything! That's why I didn't say anything for 30 years, and then seven years ago when I came to the United States I started talking to people. I was going to end my life as a small farmer without saying anything.

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Special thanks to Ron Febus and lona Miller for helping organized this interview.

THE HERB MARKET REPORT for the herb farmer and forager (Vol. 2 No. 10 October, 1986)

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