Heroes of Sustainable Agriculture Part 3: Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuoka was born in Japan in 1913 to a prominent and well-educated family. When he was young he was sent to school and attended college to study agriculture. Throughout wartime in Japan, Fukuoka was employed as a plant inspector and became familiar with the microscopic life of plant-based ecosystems. Fukuoka rejected the ideas of industrial chemical agriculture and when he inherited his parents land he decided to experiment by not doing many things that a farmer was expected to do. His aim was to do a little as possible and let his agricultural land resemble a natural ecosystem rather than a mechanically and chemically managed farm. “As a more natural ecology was re-established, the less he did, the better the land responded. This is why his Four Principles of Natural Farming…compose a list of things not to do.” (RMAF). Over time, Fukuoka’s yeilds matched and sometimes outperformed those using methods with chemical aids, and they were building soil and not polluting the soil or water. (RMAF).

With Fukuoka’s growing success came increased interest in his methods; the 4 principles that Fukuoka farmed by are: “No plowing or turning of the soil,” leaving the soil organisms and root systems to decompose and improve soil conditions, without clearing space for weed growth; “No chemical fertilizers or compost,” relying upon cover crops as green manures, and recycling existing organic matter as in natural ecosystems; “No weeding by tillage or herbicide,” timing cover-crops to supress weed growth and preventing toxic disruption of the life-cycle from chemicals; finally, “No dependence on chemical pesticides,” understanding that strong healthy plants are less susceptable to disease and the balance of natural ecology will promote a healthy system. (RMAF). These principles have guided many to reconsider the short-term solutions that conventional agriculture provide, and instead seek a more harmonious approach to growing food.

In 1975 he published his first book called, “One Straw Revolution,” which has been translated into 7 different languages and spread his fundamental philosophy of farming including principles and other methods. Through the later part of his life he traveled to many countries promoting this version of “natural farming,” along with his innovation for planting seeds in clay balls, which has served as a successful  remedy for growing plants in desertified regions. “During one of these speaking tours, the head of the United Nations department in charge of combating desertification asked him for technical advice. This was the starting point of Fukuoka’s initiative for desert greening all over the globe: in China, India, the Americas, and Africa.” (JapanFS). Fukuoka’s methods for seeding have been successful in desert greening projects in Greece, India, Tanzania, and the Philippines among other places. Presently, he lives retired at his home in Japan, and many of his initiatives are continuing throughout the world. (JapanFS).

Masanobu Fukuoku is a hero of sustainable agriculture because of his lifetime achievement in “natural farming,” which needs no tilling, no fertilizers, no pesticides, and no weeding. But Fukuoka is more than just a farmer, he is a philosopher, activist, and humanitarian; “in 1988 Fukuoka received the Deshikottam award, India’s most presigious award, and the Philippines’ Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, recognized as Asia’s Nobel Prize. In 1997 he received the Earth Council Award, which honors politicians, businesspersons, scholars, and NGO’s for their contributions to sustainable development.” (JapanFS). His philosophy of agriculture stems from the Oriental view that humans are part of nature, not just extractors of nature; our bodies are made of the Earth, and the more we eat food grown locally in harmony with nature the more we will be thinking and acting harmoniously. (JapanFS).


The 1988 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service


Yoneda, Yuriko. Japan for Sustainability Newsletter.



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