Masanobu Fukuoka: Japanese Organic Farmer

A Plowboy Interview with Masanobu Fukuoka, a proponent of natural farming who successfully raised rice, winter grain, and citrus crops without plowing his fields for more than 30 years.


| July/August 1982



076-016-01

On a mountain overlooking Matsuyama Bay on the southern Japanese island of Shikoku, Fukuoka-san (son is the traditional Japanese form of respectful address) has — since the end of World War II — raised rice, winter grain, and citrus crops.


PHOTO: LARRY KORN

The Plowboy Interview this issue is with Masanobu Fukuoka, a proponent of natural farming methods for 40 years. 

Masanobu Fukuoka, with his grizzled white beard, subdued voice, and traditional Oriental working clothes, may not seem like an apt prototype of a successful innovative farmer. Nor does it, at first glance, appear possible that his rice fields — riotous jungles of tangled weeds, clover, and grain—are among the most productive pieces of land in Japan. But that's all part of the paradox that surrounds this man and his method of natural farming. 

On a mountain overlooking Matsuyama Bay on the southern Japanese island of Shikoku, Fukuoka-san (son is the traditional Japanese form of respectful address) has — since the end of World War II — raised rice, winter grain, and citrus crops . . . using practices that some people might consider backward (or even foolish!). Yet his acres consistently produce harvests that equal or surpass those of his neighbors who use labor-intensive, chemical-dependent methods. Fukuoka's system of farming is amazing not only for its yields, but also for the fact that he has not plowed his fields for more than 30 years! Nor does he use prepared fertilizer — not even compost — on his land, or weed his rows, or flood his rice paddies.  

Through painstaking experimentation, you see, this Japanese grower has come up with a method of agriculture that reflects the deep affinity he feels with nature. He believes that by expanding our intellect beyond the traditional confines of scientific knowledge—and by trusting the inherent wisdom of life processes — we can learn all we need to know about growing food crops. A farmer, he says, should carefully watch the cycles of nature and then work with those patterns, rather than try to conquer and "tame" them.  

In keeping with that philosophy, Fukuoka-san's fields display the diversity and plant succession that is a natural part of any ecosystem. In the spring, he sows rice amidst his winter grain . . . then, late in the year, casts grain seed among the maturing rice plants. A ground cover of clover and straw underlies the crops, deterring weeds and enriching the soil. In addition, the master gardener grows vegetables "wild" beneath the unpruned trees in his mountainside orchard. Naturally, such unconventional plots might look positively disastrous to traditional agronomists, but as Fukuoka points out to skeptical visitors, "The proof of my techniques is ripening right before your eyes!" 

For many years, the Oriental gentleman's unique ideas were known only to a few individuals in his own country. In 1975, however, he wrote a book entitled The One-Straw Revolution, which was later published in the United States. Since then, he has been in great demand by groups eager to know more about this strange "new" attitude toward farming. In 1979 Fukuoka-san undertook an extensive tour of the United States . . . and while he was in Amherst, Massachusetts for a series of university lectures, he talked for several hours with Larry Korn, a student of natural farming methods and the editor of The One-Straw Revolution. Their conversation was conducted entirely in Japanese and later translated into the edited version printed here.  





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