Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution

If you want to get an idea of the natural fertility of the Earth, take a walk to the wild mountainside sometime and look at the giant trees that grow without fertilizer and without cultivation. The fertility of nature, as it is, is beyond reach of the imagination.

– Masanobu Fukuoka, One Straw Revolution

Even before Mollison and Holmgren coined the term “permaculture” in the 70s, Masanobu Fukuoka was developing an ecocultural farming method involving no tillage, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding, no pruning and little labour. Trained in microbiology, he too aimed to work with Nature, using combinations of plants, polyculture, a system opposite to the modern method of monoculture. He published his now famous book, One Straw Revolution, in 1978.

Rejecting modern agriculture that shoved energy, capital and chemicals into the land to produce high yields, Fukuoka rightly saw these methods as contrary to Nature and he withdrew to his home village on the side of a mountain to seek alternative natural ways of farming.

As a scientist, Fukuoka was a good observer and experimentalist who developed a method that closed “the gap between agriculture and naturalism.” By allowing plants to self propagate and grow in a natural succession, Fukuoka claimed that food and fibres could be produced almost effortlessly, without cultivation and chemicals. His four principles are:

No cultivation – not tilling the soil avoids injuries to it, and its denizens, that reduce production

No chemical fertilizers, or even prepared compost – plants and animals that make the soil are allowed to do it naturally

No weeding by hoeing or herbicide – use the weeds and only control them when needed by natural means or cutting

No use of chemicals – insects and weeds, diseases and pests have natural controls that should be allowed to operate.

Europe, Fukuoka said, was beautiful, with lots of Nature preserved, but he sensed that desert was slowly encroaching. The mistake Europeans made in agriculture was: “Growing meat for the king and wine for the church. Cow, cow, cow, grape, grape, grape—everywhere.”

In short, loss of diversity. Doing this changed Nature, especially on the hill slopes, where soil erosion occurred. Only 20 percent of the soil in the valleys remained healthy, and 80 percent of the land was depleted, requiring chemical fertilizers and pesticides to be used. Agriculture under European civilization started by tilling the land, and that was the beginning of the mistake. True natural farming uses no cultivation, no plough. The enemy of the tree was the saw and axe. The enemy of the soil was cultivation and ploughing. Without these tools the world would be better off.

Good farming lets Nature run her course with minimal human intervention. Western-industrial society is in the mindset that the more intervention in the environment, the more productive that work required will be. In Nature, the earth is not tilled, and fertilizers, dead plants and animals, and fallen leaves, begin as mulches on the soil’s surface.

Leaves fall and decay. Twigs of trees are broken off by a strong wind. The trunks of trees are blown down and lie on the earth. Animals and plants begin to eat this organic matter. These tiny animals and plants also die and decay, and become part of the soil, along with other organic wastes. Soon earthworms and ants eat these piles of rotting matter and they themselves return to the earth. This process of decay is the beginning of birth, part of the natural circle of life. The word “nature” means this circle. The meaning of the word “ecology” is also this natural circulation. Fertile and healthy soil is made in the long, slow process of the natural life circle. The circle represents continuity as well as sustenance.

– Hideki Inoue

Adelphiasophists are happy to support the principles and practices of permaculture as the proper practical way for us to live our short lives in the bosom of the Goddess.

Sources: the main source is a lecture by Bill Mollison issued as a pamphlet:

12-step program to backyard permaculture

Permaculture promotes sustainability and self-reliance by creating managed ecosystems—modelled on natural ones—right in our backyards. It’s “garden farming,” says Peter Bane in The Permaculture Handbook. Think you don’t have enough room? Bane grew more than 150 species on less than 2,000 square feet. He identifies 12 principles to guide your permaculture project.

1. Observe and interact – Learn the patterns of your land. Where does the rain run off? Where does the wind come from? What’s sunny and what’s in the shade?

2. Catch and store energy – You get a gift of energy from the sun. Use it to replace the fossil energy that’s changing our climate.

3. Get a yield (or harvest) – Natural systems produce a surplus, representing the captured free energy from the sun. In a managed ecosystem, we can harvest that surplus. The harvest may be as direct as picking an apple or it may take several steps: grass makes hay to feed goats that produce both manure to feed more plants and meat for humans to eat.

4. Self-regulate and accept feedback – Taking too much out will make the system break down. If your harvest is sparse, take it as a lesson: find a balance between yield and maintaining the soil.

5. Use and value nature’s gifts – If we focus only on products, we can miss the bonuses that nature provides. Chickens, for instance, produce eggs and meat. At the same time they increase soil fertility and will do light tilling as they scratch for bugs and seeds.

6. Make no waste – In nature, everything’s food for something else—there’s no “away” where waste can go. Use animals, worms, and composting to make food for the soil.

7. Design from pattern to details – Nature has had billions of years to work out how to design systems. Follow natural patterns to make the movement of nutrients and the interactions between plants, animals, and humans as efficient as they are in nature.

8. Integrate, don’t segregate – There’s no separate living space in a forest and nothing that serves a single purpose. Trees provide shade for plants on the forest floor, habitat for birds and animals, and an annual supply of food for plants, animals, and birds. Integrating living and growing spaces makes for more production and more comfort.

9. Choose small and slow solutions – The fast pace of modern life is not the pace of nature. It also requires huge amounts of fossil energy. Use the simplest, lowest-energy tools and processes. It may take more time, but it’s sustainable.

10. Cultivate diversity – In natural systems, there’s always a mix of plants and animals. Include native plants and a wide variety of cultivated ones. It’s more resilient, more productive, and more interesting.

11. Mind the margins and look to the edges – Where different environments connect is where the most biological action is: the edges of swamps and rivers, the border between forest and meadow.

12. Cultivate vision and respond to change – Once your ecosystem is in place, the richness of its life allows it to adapt to changing conditions. Your observation and interaction allow you to help with that adaptation.

Doug Pibel wrote this article for What Would Nature Do?, the Winter 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Doug is managing editor of YES! The information in this article was sourced from The Permaculture Handbook by Peter Bane.

Want to learn more about permaculture? Read this primer on permaculture design>>