Meeting Fukuoka San

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Clad in a Japanese blue sarong, a bag of rice grains in his well-worked agile fingers and straw slippers on his feet, Masanobu Fukuoka appeared like a proverbial Zen Master in my life.

Like the Japanese style of painting with simple but spontaneous strokes, Fukuoka opened up so many ideas in a clear way. Many of my beliefs as a nutritionist were kindled, others abandoned, while some reinforced by his koan-like philosophy. His philosophy integrated nature, health and farming; and more importantly incorporated the reality of everyday living.

It was in 1988 that Fukuoka visited India for a month on an invitation to address the Plantinum Jubilee of the Indian Science Congress; and in the same year also received the Magsaysay award for his contribution in the field of agriculture.ONE STRAW REVOLUTION

Masanobu Fukuoka was a laboratory agricultural scientist who worked on fighting plant diseases and he had many unanswered questions about the inter-relationship between man and nature. After a long sabbatical he resigned from his position and took over his father’s rice and mandarin orange farm. Fukuoka thought that by putting his questions to action he might find the answers he sought.

Fukuoka was immediately drawn to organic and natural farming methods, and over the years developed a type of natural farming, which he refers to as “do-nothing farming”. Contrary to easy common assumption, this method does involve work (albeit menial) and, at least in Fukuoka’s experience, the benefits largely outweigh the negatives.

In ‘One Straw Revolution’ he describes the events that led to the development of Fukuoka’s concept of ‘natural farming’

In this book, he advocates the basic principles of non-cultivation and non-chemical farming by the incorporation and controlled use of weeds rather than their eradication. Using these methods Fukuoka produces greater crops than achieved by chemical-based and modern farming practices. Year by year the soil becomes richer and more productive. This is a book for all who wish to bring about change, not only in agriculture, but also in how we view the entire process of food production.

The One Straw Revolution is not exclusively about farming, it is in many ways a larger comment on philosophy, history, nutrition, communities, and sustainability.

 

To the world at large he was better known as the founder of natural farming, which he propagated through the international modern classic “One Straw Revolution”. The book, considered radical then, has been inspiring and motivating thousands all over the world. Natural farming advocates a policy of minimum interference with nature which is considered the ultimate source of wisdom. His view was therefore in stark opposition to modern industrial agriculture, which is bent on exploiting nature for bigger, better and more.

Fukuoka’s three-day stay in Mumbai was the turning point of my life. Simply spending time in his company was immense learning in itself; whether it was visiting the nearby farms of Bhaskar Save or Poonamchand Bafna (practioners of natural farming) or at the Bombay College of Health and Nutrition where we hosted a programme for him or even just sitting cross-legged in my apartment sipping bitter-sweet Japanese tea.

Fukuoka’s experiments with the soil, his strategy of minimal interference and careful observations about the cycles of nature were fodder to my own early observations and experiments on healing.

Fukuoka-san always espoused ‘do- nothing’ weeding where one lets Nature take its own course and the avoidance of chemicals and over-weeding. I contrasted this idea with the ‘do-everything-at-any-cost’ methods of modern allopathy. Modern agriculture is in fact the perfect analogy for allopathy; one uses high intensive methods to treat the soil, gradually depleting it of its own vitality while the other relies heavily on testing, surgery, antibiotics, tonics and medicines (like immunizations) to cure the body, robbing it of its natural healing abilities.

Ultimately like Nature and like Soil, our body knows best. This deep realization, coupled with my involvement and experiences with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (in the 80s) led to the birth of The Health Awareness Centre (THAC) in September 1989.

No amount of theory or intellectualization would have been able to provide the proof of nature’s ability to progress in harmony for me as Fukuoka’s experiments did. Fukuoka’s insight and convictions gave me the determination to share the wonders of nature in a formal way. Thus was born the slogan of THAC: Self care is Health care is Earth care.

Fukuoka San had his own way-he taught me what not to do! He said, “It would be well if people stopped troubling themselves over discovering the true meaning of life. We can never know the answers to great spiritual questions, but it’s all right to not understand. We have been born and are living on earth to face directly the reality of living.”

I integrated this wisdom and applied it to the five white poisons (salt, sugar, oil, milk, and refined/processed foods) which I believe need to be avoided. Other things we need to do without are irradiation/immunization and these days, GM foods; we need to work with an understanding that we cannot isolate one aspect of life from another.

I was fortunate to experience life in his simple village in Southern Japan. Memories of his semi-primitive hut amidst the abundance of one and a quarter acres of rice fields and 12 ½ acres of mandarin oranges are still etched in my mind. His simplicity was endearing- he insisted on making a meal especially for me.

I never searched or planned to learn from him. He came my way, just like his books, just like the trip to Japan which I undertook to stop ODA (Official Development Assistance) funding for the Narmada. It seemed that I was led to him, as organically, as naturally as his teachings. Through him, I discovered the truth and learnt to live by it.

His life lives on, in the work and enduring efforts of all those who are listening, living and experiencing reality directly. Our own work at THAC is a daily homage to him-the man we knew as Fukuoka San.

His philosophy integrated nature, health and farming; and more importantly incorporated the reality of everyday living.