Introduction to Masanobu Fukuoka’s famous book One straw revolution

A few months ago a stranger called me on the phone and said he wanted to come and see me concerning his work of translating One Straw Revolution. The journey from Kanakpura, where he lived, to my home in Whitefield is long. So I tried to discourage him. But he said he had read and liked my preface to the book and really wanted to see me even if I could not help his endeavor. How could I have said no to this?

So, Ulhas Bongale, my good friend, came one afternoon to our house with a friend of his. He told me that Fukuoka's book One Straw Revolution so captivated him that he decided to translate it into Kannada. Yes, he knew that such a translation already exists, but for a chance to delve deeper into the book and to make a few hundred more copies available, he still wanted to do it. Also, no two translation of a book are ever the same. By his sweet persuasive power he made me promise to write the introduction. So, here it is after a long delay and with all its flaws.

Most people think of One Straw Revolution as a book on natural farming. Of course it has several chapters describing the way Fukuoka farmed without plowing, or weeding, and by broadcasting the seeds by hand over the land. But this is only a small part of the message of the book; its core is far deeper.

As a young man Fukuoka was a customs official specializing in plant quarantine. His expertise was in plant pathology and he studied fungi, viruses, and pests. He spent long hours working in labs and often got fatigued to the point of exhaustion. Many times he fell unconscious and remained in that condition for hours. During one of these spells he experienced "a shock, a flash" that changed his life. He woke up into a completely new world that wouldn't fit into words. Many years later he talked of it as a realization that "Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is futile, meaningless effort." For months he walked like a mad man, or like one with a fishbone stuck in his throat that he was neither able to swallow nor throw out. Finally he felt led to return to his village and work on the family's land.

He instinctively practiced what nature does in the forest. He called it do-nothing faming; for he grew grains, vegetables and fruit, without doing anything that farmers normally do. His yields were on par with his neighbors, and his input cost close to zero. Condition of his soil improved each year as it happens on the forest floor. The very opposite of this happens on all cultivated lands. By doing this he was able to demonstrate his insight that humans know nothing about agriculture. He proved that the agricultural 'scientists' were not only ignorant, but their ideas and techniques were harmful.

Fukuoka farmed his family's land for nearly 40 years. In the process he not only gained control of his mind and body but also got a new vision of the universe and his own place in it. Many Japanese and American young men and women were attracted to Fukuoka's vision and came to spend extended periods on his farm. Together they learned more and made Fukuoka's original insights clearer.
To the 'scientists' who came to his farm he said, "since you are researching spiders, you are interested in only one among the many predators of the leaf-hopper. This year spiders appeared in great numbers, but last year it was toads. Besides that, it was frogs that predominated. There is countless variation." Nature cannot be understood in parts. For it is a seamless unity and must be felt as a whole with the heart.

Fukuoka insisted that understanding of nature lies beyond the reach of human intellect.

He further pointed out that agriculture is the root of all our problems. Today our civilization is the most violent in all human history. This attitude flows from our violence to soil, plants and animals. By digging we kill the soil and turn it into sand. By clear-cutting the forest we destroy the plants. By growing only human food on the land we increase our own numbers by leaps and starve all other animal species to death. We have the preposterous idea that we can own the land when in fact it's the other way round. We are virtually at war with nature.

Fukuoka says, "Unless people become natural people, there can be neither natural farming nor natural food." "Right food, Right action, Right awareness." Progress cannot come out of turmoil and confusion. Purposeless development invites nothing less than degradation and collapse of human kind.

Obviously, knowing Fukuoka does not end with natural farming. It only begins there and takes us on and on toward the truth of the universe. It leads us to self-awareness, knowing our place in the community of life, living with full consciousness of our oneness with all life.

I must stop, for it is not my job to anticipate the book for you. You must read it yourself and find out what it says to you. I am trying only to point to the riches this book offers. You must read the whole of it very carefully. If you read only bits and parts, you will miss the core idea, for it is in the whole of it.

February 2, 2008

Ulhas bhai has asked me to answer a couple of questions. Here they are with the answers.

1. What is your present view of do-nothing farming in the context of tropical Southern India?

Very briefly, I do not think any method of cultivation can make agriculture a good thing in any climate and anywhere on the face of planet earth. For all agriculture on any part of the earth is going to lead us to where we are today. But, if we are still going to do agriculture knowing fully well the lethal harm it will do to the soil and to the forest, then natural farming is the least harmful of all farming methods known to us.

Like other farming methods Natural farming should also be applicable in the tropics. But, there is no 5- or 10-step method that will work everywhere. Farmers have to work out their own techniques suitable for their own climate, soil, and other natural micro conditions. They must keep the soil covered with live or dry organic mulch. Never ever dig the soil. Find and plant only native, natural seeds. Grow mainly for one’s own family and small surplus for local consumption. In other words do-nothing farming is for individuals who want to live life in harmony with the universe. If they do, they will surely start modifying it immediately. They will fill the land with fruit trees, berry bushes and other plants that produce edible leaves, vegetables, and roots. Some day they will start living on this healthy natural food that grows on their own land. They will not need to do hard labor or worry about repayment of bank loan installments, for they will be living in the postindustrial era.

2. How did I obtain Fukuoka’s permission to print Indian language translations of the book One Straw Revolution?

In the summer of 1986 Fukuoka Sensei and I were at a couple of small conferences; one in San Luis Obispo, California, and the other in Olympus, Washington State. We had heard of each other and had briefly corresponded also. But this was our first meeting. I was delighted to meet this great Rishi. For me it was like coming in the presence of an aura, a divine being, a true Guru of the Vedic era. He was quite unreal and did not belong where he was.

I did talk with him through an interpreter. But I can never talk much with such a man. His darshan was enough for me. I soaked his energy and fragrance as much as it was possible.

But I had planned, on behalf of many friends in India, to ask his permission to publish translations of his book. I first presented him a copy of the English edition that I had published at Rasulia. He took out his writing brush from the fold of his sleeve and sat down to draw pictures on the insides of both covers. I still have that copy.

After thanking him for the pictures I told him that many friends in India were translating his book and would like to publish them with his permission. I had already written the suitable text on a letter pad for him to sign. He gave me a broad smile, cut a joke in Japanese that made some people laugh, and put his name down at the dotted line. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------