Natural farming is an ecological farming approach established by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008), a Japanese farmer and philosopher who described his way of farming as 自然農法 (shizen nōhō) in Japanese. It is also referred to as "the Fukuoka Method", "the natural way of farming" or "do-nothing farming". The title refers not to lack of labor, but to the avoidance of manufactured inputs and equipment. Natural farming can also be described as ecological farming and is related to fertility farming, organic farming, sustainable agriculture, agroforestry, ecoagriculture and permaculture but should be distinguished from biodynamic agriculture.
The system exploits the complexity of living organisms that shape each particular ecosystem. Fukuoka saw farming not just as a means of producing food but as an aesthetic or spiritual approach to life, the ultimate goal of which was, "the cultivation and perfection of human beings". He suggested that farmers could benefit from closely observing local conditions. Natural farming is a closed system, one that demands no inputs and mimics nature.
Fukuoka's ideas challenged conventions that are core to modern agro-industries, instead promoting an environmental approach. Natural farming also differs from conventional organic farming, which Fukuoka considered to be another modern technique that disturbs nature.
Fukuoka distilled natural farming into five principles:
Though many of his plant varieties and practices relate specifically to Japan, and even to local conditions in subtropical western Shikoku, his philosophy and the governing principles of his farming systems have been applied from Africa to the temperate northern hemisphere. In India, natural farming is often referred to as "Rishi Kheti".
Principally, natural farming minimises human labour and adopts, as closely as practical, nature's production of foods such as rice, barley, daikon or citrus in biodiverse agricultural ecosystems. Without plowing, seeds germinate well on the surface if site conditions meet the needs of the seeds planted there. Fukuoka used the presence of spiders in his fields as a key performance indicator of sustainability.}
The ground always remains covered by weeds, white clover, alfalfa, herbaceous legumes, and sometimes deliberately sown herbaceous plants. Ground cover is present along with grain, vegetable crops and orchards. Chickens run free in orchards and ducks and carp populate rice fields.
Periodically ground layer plants including weeds may be cut and left on the surface, returning their nutrients to the soil, while suppressing weed growth. This also facilitates the sowing of more seeds in the same area.[how?]
For summer rice and winter barley grain crops, ground cover enhances nitrogen fixation. Straw from the previous crop mulches the topsoil. Each grain crop is sown before the previous one is harvested by broadcasting the seed among the standing crop. Later, this method was reduced to a single direct seeding of clover, barley and rice over the standing heads of rice. The result is a denser crop of smaller but highly productive and stronger plants.
Fukuoka's practice and philosophy emphasised small scale operation and challenged the need for mechanised farming techniques for high productivity, efficiency and economies of scale. While his family's farm was larger than the Japanese average, he used one field of grain crops as a small-scale example of his system.
In ecology, climax ecosystems are mature ecosystems that have reached a high degree of stability, productivity and diversity (see old-growth forest). Natural farmers attempt to mimic those virtues, thus creating a comparable ecosystem, and employ such advanced techniques as intercropping, companion planting and integrated pest management.
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Natural farming recognizes soils as a fundamental natural asset. Ancient soils possess physical and chemical attributes which render them capable of generating and supporting life abundance. It can be argued that tilling actually degrades the delicate balance of a climax soil in the following ways:
1. Tilling may destroy crucial physical characteristics of a soil such as water suction, its ability to send moisture upwards, even during dry spells. The effect is due to pressure differences between soil areas. For more on this subject see water potential. Furthermore, tilling most certainly destroys soil horizons and hence disrupts the established flow of nutrients. Reportedly, a study suggests that reduced tillage preserves the crop residues on the top of the soil, allowing organic matter to be formed more easily and hence increasing the total organic carbon and nitrogen when compared to conventional tillage. The increases in organic carbon and nitrogen increase aerobic, facultative anaerobic, and anaerobic bacteria populations.
2. Tilling over-pumps oxygen to local soil residents, such as bacteria and fungi. As a result, the chemistry of the soil changes. Biological decomposition accelerates and the microbiota mass increases at the expense of other organic matter, adversely affecting most plants, including trees and vegetables. It is well-known to gardeners and farmers that for plants to thrive, a certain quantity of organic matter (around 5%) must be present in the soil.
3. Tilling uproots all the plants in the area, turning their roots into food for bacteria and fungi. This damages their ability to aerate the soil. Living roots drill millions of tiny holes in the soil and thus provide oxygen. They also create room for beneficial insects and annelids (the phylum of worms). Some types of roots contribute directly to soil fertility by funding a mutualistic relationship with certain kinds of bacteria (most famously the rhizobium) that can fix nitrogen.
Besides no tillage, Fukuoka also advocated that there should not be any change in the natural landscape. This idea differs significantly from some recent permaculture practice that focuses on permaculture design, which may involve the change in landscape. For example, Sepp Holzer, an Austrian permaculture farmer, advocates the creation of terraces on slopes to control soil erosion. Fukuoka avoided the creation of terraces in his farm, even though terraces were common in China and Japan in his time. Instead, he prevented soil erosion by simply growing trees and shrubs on slopes.
In his book, "Fertility Farming," Newman Turner (1913-1964), who raised animals as well as grew crops in Yorkshire England, advocated the practice of cover crop, no tillage, no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides, no weeding, no composting. Although Turner was a commercial farmer and he did not practice random seeding of seed balls, the major principles of his fertility farming and natural farming are essentially very similar. In addition, Turner also advocated raising animals according to the natural way.
Another Japanese farmer and philosopher Mokichi Okada, conceived of a "no fertilizer" farming system in the 1930s which predated Fukuoka. Okada used the same Japanese characters, which are generally translated in English as "nature farming". Agriculture researcher Hu-lian Xu claims that "nature farming" is the correct literal translation of the Japanese term.
- Video "How to do Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming."
- Video "Masanobu Fukuoka Makes Seed Balls"
- Video "fukuoka style seed balls for no till farming"
- 1975 (Japanese) 自然農法-わら一本の革命 (English) 1978 re-presentation The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming.
- Linking foresight and sustainability: An integral approach Joshua Floyd, Kipling Zubevich Strategic Foresight Program and National Centre for Sustainability, Swinburne University of Technology
- Agriculture: A Fundamental Principle, Hanley Paul. Journal of Bahá’í Studies Vol. 3, number 1, 1990.
- 'The centrality of agriculture: between humankind and the rest of nature' by Duncan, Colin Adrien MacKinley. McGill Universities Libraries, Mar 1996.
- Trees on Organic Farms, Mirret, Erin Paige. North Carolina State University, 2001
- People And Environment: Development For The Future. Edited by Stocking, Michael University of East Anglia, Morse, Stephen University of East Anglia. Routledge, 1995.
- Participating in Nature: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Primitive Living Skills by Elpel, Thomas J. Nov 1, 2002
- What Does Natural Farming Mean? by Toyoda, Natsuko
- Sustainable Agricultural Education: An Experiential Approach to Shifting Consciousness and Practices. Reddy, Priya . Prescott College of Environmental Studies, December 2010
- From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Peter Goering, John Page, International Society for Ecology and Culture
- "Masanobu Fukuoka: The man who did nothing By Malvika Tegta" "DNA Daily News and Analysis". "Published: Sunday, Aug 22, 2010, 2:59 IST". "Place: Mumbai", India. (Retrieved 1 December 2010)
- "Natural farming succeeds in Indian village By Partap C Aggarwal" in the 1980s Satavic Farms (India), "Slowly, bit by bit, we found ourselves close to what is called ‘natural farming’, pioneered in Japan by Masanobu Fukuoka. At Rasulia we called it 'rishi kheti' (agriculture of the sages)."
- 1975 (Japanese) 自然農法-わら一本の革命 (English) 1978 re-presentation The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
- Fukuoka, Masanobu. "The Natural Way of Farming". Translated by Frederic P. Metreaud. Japan Publications, 1985, p. 170.
- Sylvia, D.M., Fuhrmann, J.J., Hartel, P.G., and Zuberer D.A. (1999). Principles and Applications of Soil Microbiology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 39–41. ISBN 0-130459991-8 Check
- Newman Turner (1951). Fertility Farming. Faber and Faber Limited. ISBN 978-1601730091.
- Xu, Hui-Lian (2001). NATURE FARMING In Japan (Monograph). T. C. 37/661(2), Fort Post Office, Trivandrum - 695023, Kerala, India.: Research Signpost. ISBN 81-308-0111-6. Retrieved 6 March 2011.