On deaf ears, naturally

BORN in a small farming village on the island of Shikoku, Japan, Masanobu Fukuoka was trained as an inspector. Soon, he began questioning the accomplishments of modern civilisation. In 1945, after being discharged from the Imperial Army, he returned to the village lyo and chose to farm.

Natural farming is derived out of Fukuoka's belief that human efforts are detrimental to agriculture because man's knowledge is limited unlike the perfect wisdom of Mother Nature. "Natural farming is based on a nature free of human meddling and intervention. It strives to restore nature from the destruction wrought by human knowledge and action, and to resurrect a humanity divorced from Go-d". Fukuoka asserts that natural farming is a Buddhist way of farming that is based on the philosophy of Mu or nothingness. Natural farming is based on four major principles : no cultivation, no fertiliser, no weeding and no pesticides.

Fukuoka firmly believes that free from human influence, nature always creates the ideal farming environment and bestcpvs harvests that compare favourably with those cultivated using modern technology. His success lies in transforming the infertile red-soiled mountain into a dense orchard in a few years by simply scattering clay dumplings - seeds covered with clay that protects them until they sprout.

Further, what he calls plant irrigation shows how all things are linked intricately in nature. The idea is not to build irrigation systems that carry river water to the fields to produce a specific crop but, to allow vegetation to thrive by the riverside and let the water gradually penetrate deep into the soil. For instance, he observes that a single acacia tree could equal a 60-feet water channel.

Even though the book is set in the context of the author's personal experiences - the local setting hardly detracts the universality of the message. Fukuoka was awarded the Magsaysay award in 1988 and has gained international acclaim after he published The One Straw Revolution. However, in his own country he has had very little success either with the farmers or the agriculture department. Perhaps that is why he ends the book by saying "Our world of rapid change has no time to lend an ear to the foolish talk of a farmer". Indeed the arrogance displayed by technocrats in his country is rather incredible.