Thoughts on “The One-Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka

One of the most difficult things to keep in mind while reading through this translation of Mr. Fukuoka’s work was that it was originally published in English in 1977.  I was reading what I thought to be very location and crop specific descriptions of one farmer’s trials and tribulations for hours before I realized how broad and insightful his criticism of the food system truly was.

His explanation of why natural or organic foods should actually cost significantly less was spot on when it was written and really drives home how the food system has somersaulted more than once to chase the trends in customers’ demands.  Since this was published, many of the aspects of industrial agriculture that Fukuoka speaks out against have been adopted by the “organic” foods industry as it attempts to scale up to meet flourishing demand.  He speaks from the perspective of a farmer intimately familiar with his craft, but echoes the tone of a scientist amazed at the public sector’s lack of value for logical argument or evidence.

From a larger international agriculture development perspective, Fukuoka’s writing does a wonderful job weaving together the chain of cause and effect that moves through a food system made up of independent actors and results in unhealthy vegetables being sold by overworked farmers at a tiny profit (pg. 85).

Toward the end, when he speaks more to the ideas and causes of environmental degradation at the hands of mankind, he starts to sound like he is against industrialization and the changes in mind set that accompany assimilation into the consumerist economies of the world.  I think that is a possible take away, but it misses what he is really saying about the need to be right minded in order to solve global problems with local actions.  His initial approach to farming by doing only what was absolutely necessary and whittling away the invasive practices like plowing and rice paddy flooding until he arrived at the essence of the art is what I really internalized from this work.  Fukuoka puts forward the idea that farmers should be people who mean to feed entire human beings and their endeavors and farm accordingly rather than technicians troubleshooting one cascading plant disease or fungus calamity after the next in a self-perpetuating cycle.

In this way, I really felt that Fukuoka was calling for right action for the right reason to rebuild a healthy system rather than putting energy into patching and tweeking a system we don’t understand or have the knowledge to manage without causing more problems than we solve.

Overall, reading this work was like a walk through the field with a man grown wise from a lifetime listening to the land and being transformed by it as a result.

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