Sunday, August 17, 2008

Remembering a great man: Masanobu Fukuoka

Sadly, natural farming innovator Masanobu Fukuoka passed away yesterday, Saturday, August 16, 2008, at his home in Iyo, Ehime Prefecture, Japan of old age. He was 95.

Fukuoka authored a number of books including One Straw Revolution: The Natural Way of Farming and The Natural Way of farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy, both of which are available in English. Fukuoka taught us to observe nature and work with it rather than trying to impose our desires on the land. He also popularized the use of seed balls, which has been used in agriculture and in re-greening projects.

The father of the permaculture movement, Bill Mollison, spoke very highly of Mr. Fukuoka and said that, before hearing of Fukuoka's work, he could not see a way to produce grains sustainably, and had not thought they could be incorporated into permaculture.

Around the world, Fukuoka's work resonated with people and it continues to be adopted and applied to different conditions around the world. His work and his teachings remain a great inspiration to us and we will miss him.


8 comments:

Mary said...

I read the One-Straw Revolution with wonder. I am thankful to the Rodale Press for distributing it in the U.S. In these times, with a recent promotion of chemical no-till in the Economist, I am more aware of how earth-shaking and important Fukuoka's keen observations were. His documented yields, along with that of the Amish, prove the value of high-production, low-input farming. We need more examples to compete against those who would poison the soils and call themselves green.

He was the first I know of to discuss tilling with plants such as daikon.

The use of nitrogen-fixing tree legumes was another practice beautifully illustrated by his work.

If ever there is a library to honor the saints of Earth-Care souls, I would nominate Fukuoka among the most important, along with George Washington Carver, whose work on nitrogen-fixing, tilth-enhancing plants was also monumental.

I hope those in his native land understand how he was loved and appreciated around the world.

max@ecologicalsolutions.com.au said...

I was lucky to meet Fukuoka on a couple of occasions ( at one time in a hotspring of all places) He was a very humble man and I will never forget how he was able to spread seed with a flick of his fingers and cut grass with a sickle with an elegant move of his wrist.
Sad to see people with so much wisdom leaving this planet.

mol

Stephen Bartlett said...

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Masanobu Fukuoka's work, thought and farm had a life-changing impact on myself and my family. In 1987, February, my wife Ada and I traveled from China where we were teaching to Japan to visit my brother, on one condition: that he arrange for us to visit Fukuoka. We had read the One Straw Revolution with facination. To make a long story short, we spent about a week in Iyo, mostly alone in the thatched up, except for a young Norwegian vegan woman helping Fukuoka with his pine tree disease research.
We spent the days from dawn to dusk harvesting oranges with Fukuoka's son, in exchange for food, which we cooked over bamboo in the hut hearth. We didn't see the Old Man until Sunday when we were resting in the spongey soiled orchard surrounding the hut. Fukuoka came and hat a fit, belaboring us verbally, declaring that we were not serious, not sufficiently committed yet to the task of defending the earth. He showed us the roots of diseased pine seedlings, saying the earth was being unbalanced, that life itself could be destroyed by the ambitions and stupidity of humanity. We were psychologically shocked by his verbal attack, as he stormed off, saying we should come to his own hut once we had finished eating our breakfast, rice again, that was cooking over the smokey fire. Only reluctantly did we go over to his hut later that morning. But Fukuoka was a changed man: welcoming us warmly into his hut for tea. He spent the whole afternoon with us telling us stories, timing them once with the explosion of a section of bamboo which he neglected to cut a hole into to release the overheated air. He did calligraphy in our books and we learned a lot. The next morning after we helped his son pack the oranges into boxes destined for health food stories in Tokyo, we went for a slide show at Fukuoka's house in town at his invitation. He showed us aerial photos of the US northwest, of clearcuts and gully erosion and told us we should remedy this situation. Then he did something remarkable. He handed me three seed heads of his rice, 750 grains, to smuggle into China, to "make up in a tiny way for the death and destruction the Japanese had caused to the Chinese people." Then he jotted down in old Chinese characters the name of a man we should share the seeds with. Miraculously, upon our return to Yangzhou, in Jiangsu Province China, we discovered that the man was one Prof Huang, plant breeder at the small agricultural college we were staying at. Not only did this seed improve the career of Mr. Huang, but that seed variety we hand carried to Yangzhou became a major seed variety in the province for its high yield, vigor and disease resistance. This lesson of the power of seeds and the importance of keen observation of the natural world spurred me to actually go into farming myself. I bought a 10 acre farm in the Dominican Republic, my wife's homeland, where we lived for several years in the 1990s raising our three baby children and eeking out a living off the land. I tried to apply the philosophy of agriculture I had learned from Fukuoka, with some considerable success. Today these same principles have turned some urban plots here in Louisville, Kentucky into highly fertile places of abundance and nourishment.
It saddens me that Fukuoka has left this world, but I am certain that his example lives on in many, many people. I am just one example of that. Natural farming is the future. Peasants and family farmers the world over share some of that vision. See www.viacampesina.org for more information about the world wide movement of ecological farmers struggling for democratic control over local agriculture. Peace through "Do Nothing" farming!

Thanks to Masanobu Fukuoka. I will light a candle to him and his spirit tonight.

Stephen (Esteban) Bartlett
sbartlett@ag-missions.org
502 896 9171 in USA

DJEB said...

Stephen, thank you for sharing your incredible story!

And thank you Mary and max/mol!

vegetablej said...

What a moving and wonderful story from Stephen. I so regret that I just discovered the man and his work; when I was in Japan I lived very near Ehime and think I may have seen him on a few occasions passing through my local station.

Thankfully, his writing is a wonderful legacy. I discovered a virtual Library where you can get both of the works mentioned. Apparently the books are out of print. Here's the url:
(Scroll down to the titles of the books.)

http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/01aglibwelcome.html

DJEB said...

Some friends and I had hoped to see him when I was living in Japan, but I heard that by that time, he had stopped taking visitors. Too bad.

Prasad said...

Pl let me the how he died.

DJEB said...

Hello Prasad. Mr. Fukuoka was an elderly man (95 years old) and the reports I saw attributed his death to old age.