La Révolution D'un Seul Brin De Paille, une Introduction À L'agriculture Sauvage

By Masanobu Fukuoka, Wendell Berry

6,215 ratings - 4.37* vote

Fukuoka demonstrates how the way we look at farming influences the way we look at health, the school, nature, nutrition, spiritual health and life itself. He joins the healing of the land to the process of purifying the human spirit and proposes a way of life and a way of farming in which such healing can take place.

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Book details

, 202 pages
2005 by G. Trédaniel

(first published 1975)

Original Title
One-Straw Revolution
ISBN
2844456243 (ISBN13: 9782844456243)
Edition Language
French

Community Reviews

J

I legally downloaded the book in PDF form from http://www.soilandhealth.org/

This book made me realize that something else is possible.

The author writes that he is a farmer in Japan who gets rice yields that meet or eclipse the most highly productive regions in Japan, yet he:
- uses no artificial fertilizer
- does not plow
- does not sow seed but rather tosses it on the ground and forgets it
- does not weed
- does no insect control
- works far fewer hours than those who use the above

His descriptions of his methods are interwoven with his overall life philosophy, which seemed to echo Taoist and Buddhism themes more than anything else. I found this book very interesting. I think it's translated from Japanese.

Becca

So if you crossed Yoda with Joel Salatin and made him a laboratory scientist with a Japanese rice-grain-vegetables-citrus farm, you'd get a rough and awkward parody of Fukuoka Sensei.

Really, to capture this guy's wit and humility and flashing intelligence, you really need to read the book. Possibly over and over. Outside would be best. In Japan-- perfect.

So, if I may debase his great ideas with my little summary, the idea of the book is that People Mess Up Nature. Even good farming practices, like pruning, mulching, weeding, flooding, and composting have only become necessary because we've messed up the way nature thrives on its own.

Fukuoka Sensei experimented for years on his small farm, slowly pruning out all the practices of farming that have been thought necessary for millenia. The result is a naturally harmonious and productive way of farming that he calls, with the humility of a true Zen master, Do-Nothing Farming.

Acolytes arrive at his farm expecting that Do-Nothing means really not doing anything. It actually means lots of work: much more difficult than following formulas or procedures or practices. It requires accurate awareness of the natural world, a precise understand of the specific natural processes at work in the spot you are trying to cultivate, and also a good deal of inner work-- in the farmer.

And from the inner world of the farmer, a new view on the world's problems. Maybe the world doesn't need to produce MORE meat, MORE food, MORE grain, MORE energy. Maybe we need to realize that we can thrive on less. That we ignore the bounty that nature is willing to shower upon us every season, and choose to eat with our heads (11-12 servings of carbohydrates, 6 of proteins, 5 of fruit, check!) rather than with our hearts and bodies. Seasonal, local, handmade, in communities, with gratitude.

So I thought it was a far-sighted, insightful, wise, funny, extraordinarily persuasive little book. I'd like to carefully incorporate his ideas about do-nothing farming(maybe skipping the maggots-for-dinner proposal)into my tiny garden, or at least into my awareness of the natural world and my place in it.

Damian

This is really like a 4-star book combined with a 2-star one. This book starts out fabulously, all about simpler existence and simple farming. Life without fucking everything up, basically, and it's very inspiring. But then the author gets increasingly preachy, and goes on a Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance-type patting himself on the back... (though actually much less obnoxiously). Ultimately I tend to largely agree with Fukuoka's life philosophy, but he needs to tone it down a bit. I grow tired of the false human-nature dichotomy, and Fukuoka is a bit hypocritical at times too:
-There is nothing in life that is meaningful/I'm going to lead a revolution!
-There is no need to use manure in fields/I spread chicken shit on my fields
-There is no need for chemical insecticides/I spray my orchard trees with machine oil
...and my favorite is when he talks about how farmers are in part responsible for the trend toward chemical and commercial farming, and then goes on to say how he hates the idea of wasted energy in shipping produce to distant markets, only to comment that he shipped produce from Shikoku to Tokyo because 'the price was right.'
I'm being too hard on him though... this book is worth reading, even if you don't make it to the end.
You can download it FREE. Find the link under the Wikepedia entry for "Masanobu Fukuoka"

Philipp

I work somewhat related to plant breeding and farming so I'm always interested to read something from someone who has something different to say. Sadly (and this is getting more and more common with 'alternative' farming) that different thing often doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny, as it does here.

Fukuoka advocates his idea of natural farming (important his distinction: it's not 'abandonment' farming, it does require work), summarised in 5 points: no cultivation, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals. He says that it's better than what other Japanese farmers are doing, he has to do less work and gets the same yield. Now he doesn't say what farmers in his area are getting, but we can do the math!

Here's what he's getting:


Mr. Fukuoka harvests between 18 and 22 bushels (1,100 to 1,300 pounds) of rice per quarter acre. This yield is approximately the same as is produced by either the chemical or the traditional method in his area.


In normal terms that's 1300 * 4 = 5200 pounds per acre, or better 2.3 tons per acre of yield. This page says Japan always had on average 5-6 tons per hectar since the 60s. We have to convert from acre to hectar, one acre is 0.4 hectar, so we have to multiply by 2.5 (1/0.4=2.5), so he gets a maximum of 2.3*2.5=5.75 t/hectar, that's comparable to what the rest of Japan is getting!

But is it a useful method? The book is nearly 30 years old yet nobody seems to have taken up his methods. I can't tell how it would fare in Australia, where the climate is much more extreme and unpredictable. Some of the things he advises are already common - Europe has been seeding clover for nitrogen replenishment for about 150 years, not sure whether Japan does that.


What's more aggravating is that a lot of this book is plain wrong, examples:


Trees weaken and are attacked by insects to the extent that they deviate from the natural form.


What is this 'natural' form? Why would insects know about this natural form?

Or this one, annoying because Fukuoka had scientific training:


And the scientists, no matter how much they investigate nature, no matter how far they research, they only come to realize in the end how perfect and mysterious nature really is. To believe that by research and invention humanity can create something better than nature is an illusion.


No plant breeder is trying to make 'better than nature' - nature does not have as its goal to give more food to humans, nature has no goals. We humans are taking plants and changing them to our ends, as we've done for thousands of years. They are not 'better' plants since there is no system of judgement. We know that each change in the plant has downsides somewhere else: a plant that has introgressed resistance genes to resist a certain fungus will have a lower yield than plants without that gene at times when the fungus is not present, since the plant will always waste resources on the resistance, resources it could use to produce more seeds. It annoys me when the research gets misrepresented like that.


Or this:

You hear a lot of talk these days about the benefits of the "Good Rice Movement" and the "Green Revolution." Because these methods depend on weak, "improved" seed varieties, it becomes necessary for the farmer to apply chemicals and insecticides eight or ten times during the growing season.


Where does this number of 'eight or ten times' come from? The whole point of new plant varities is that you have to use less pesticides! Why are new seed varieties 'weak'? He does not say. It's like saying that new cars are bad because they use more gasoline - it's simply the opposite.

Or this:

Foods that have departed far from their wild state and those raised chemically or in a completely contrived environment unbalance the body chemistry.


This is a common argument in some areas of the organic world. We now know that there is no 'wild state' of bread wheat or rapeseed, they are plants created by humans by merging the genomes of other plants. As such, they do not have a wild state, yet here we are eating them. The plants we eat and did not create look nothing like their wild relatives - a wild banana is practically inedible as it's mostly seeds:



Does eating a modern banana 'unbalance' the body chemistry? What does that even mean, what exactly gets unbalanced? It's a waffle term.

or this one:


It is said that Einstein was given the Nobel Prize in physics in deference to the incomprehensibility of his theory of relativity. If his theory had explained clearly the phenomenon of relativity in the world and thus released humanity from the confines of time and space, bringing about a more pleasant and peaceful world, it would have been commendable. His explanation is bewildering, however, and it caused people to think that the world is complex beyond all possible understanding. A citation for "disturbing the peace of the human spirit" should have been awarded instead.


Einstein did not get the Nobel Prize for the theory of relativity, he got the Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect, something rather different (and definitely not as weird as his theories of relativity!).

In this book, one of the main themes is that humans cannot and will not understand reality, so it's better to leave nature alone and let it stay 'natural' (whatever that term means). Should we as humans just leave the plants alone, and hope that it'll all be right? Take a look at this graph:



Source

This shows the trajectory of current and expected yield in the solid dots and the straight lines after 2010. The dashed line in the gray area shows the yield growth we actually need to feed a growing human population. In other words, we need to roughly double yield growth in most plants, mankind's growth is outpacing the growth of our plants.

That is the scariest graph we have in my field, and it doesn't even account for yield losses due to climate change (more extreme weather changes, more extreme weather events etc, (but it also doesn't account for positive changes - less reliance on meat would free up quite a lot of water and grains).

Enough bashing of the book - what saves it is the Zen component, because that's actually interesting.

It is nothing you can really talk about, but it might be put something like this: "Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort." This may seem preposterous, but if you put it into words, that is the only way to describe it.


His description of Ego Death is interesting and fits to what's described in other places (The Conspiracy Against The Human Race has a great section on ego death!). But then again, this does not appear all too often, the majority of the book focuses on farming.

I really don't know who this book is for. The farming stuff is too specific to a certain environment and preaches too much to the choir, and for the Zen stuff it's probably better to get a book that focuses only on Zen (like Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind from Shunryu Suzuki).

Siddhartha

Every once in a while, we chance upon a book that we finish it in one sitting, and wonder why we did not find it earlier. Every once in a while, we chance upon a book that makes us think "Exactly how does any one else not think like this?". A book that introduces a new paradigm.. a new dimension to our world view. The new paradigm may or may not be one with which we are comfortable.

This outstanding book by Masanobu Fukuoka is one such. And the new paradigm it introduced to me is both comfortable and fills me with hope. It's even more remarkable Fukuoka did what he did in Japan, of all places, that in the sense that the Japanese are the sort of people who are likely to use the most modern methods anywhere possible, and are the sort who obsess with order and conformity! They even produced cuboid shaped water melons! Fukuoka has a message for them:).

Consider this: Agriculture is thousands of years old. Diverting Riverine and Canal water for Agriculture is relatively recent phenomena. Now we are already experiencing irrigational challenges across the world in general and South Asia in particular. How are we going to manage?

Fukuoka answers this question. But before that, he asks that question on our behalf. And many other questions. And he answers them. Well.

Whether his exact methods are practicable elsewhere is obviously open for debate, but the direction he shows is one we, the human race, cannot afford to ignore.

A must read from me.

Tam

It's hard to rate a book like this. It's a book that I appreciate, but not one that I completely subscribe to. I understand and admire Fukuoka's philosophy and work, that without a doubt.


Fukuoka practices natural farming, which means being cooperative with nature instead of trying to pretend that we humans know more and can do better. He tries to create a system that nature's mechanism does its best. No more pesticide, herbicide, not even pruning, weeding, etc. He simply finds (and some scientific research agrees) that nature can do better. Let the weeds grow, let the seeds sprout on their own, let the suitable ecosystem do its work and things turn out to be magnificent.

I love the idea, and the evidence. After all, the earth has been alive for millions of years and the mechanism of living things must be the most efficient, the most powerful one among all. It is the one that survives.

But what does it mean to be "natural." There is still work, there is still human intervention in Fukuoka's method after all. The difference is that instead of engineering artificial mechanisms and environments, the author only tries to co-operate with the nature. It's a minimal type of intervention that involves rearranging, reordering the most successful pieces of nature and let it be. I wouldn't call it completely "natural." I think it is very smart.

So that's where I disagree with the author. I do not disagree with his criticism of the way research is done in the scientific world. Yet I would say his "natural farming" is very much a science itself. Or perhaps it is an arts. Either way, it involves intellectual thoughts, a lot of personal attachment, beliefs, love. It is a science of a different standard, one that is difficult to be accepted by the conventional society, but a good one indeed. In denying all the achievements of sciences, is he denying his own work? Well, ok, my definition of science is slightly different from his.


The book is also a great deal about philosophy, about the way of life, about living. It reiterates some ideas in Zen Buddhism, even though the author does not necessarily practice Zen. My trouble with Fukuoka's ideas is his imagination of "the primitive," of the "old" or "original" way of farming. Does that beautiful, romantic way of living and farming ever exist? Does it exist only for a few elites and a few enlightened ones?

The world is full of problems. It has always been and it will always be. Fukuoka wants to rid the world of those problems. He proposes that we go "back" to the nature (if that past ever exists). He dreams of an earth pure and harmonious. I'm skeptical. In some ways, I even enjoy this sad world. I enjoy observing this crazy, greedy, foolish, but also kind, noble world. I enjoy it even if it comes to an end. Because it's alright. Human is a part of nature too. The way we are exploiting, destroying it is very much a natural process. It could end very badly indeed. But well, nature doesn't have to be always successful. There is no definition of success or failure in nature. It just is.

Elizabeth

We make things too complicated. We're not as smart as we think we are. The earth pays for our arrogance. Eat well. Simple, whole foods. Don't work too much or you won't have time to write a haiku.

Starting from the thesis that life has no meaning, Mr. Fukuoka explains how this realization led him to his "do-nothing" farming method. His views of the Westernization of agriculture in Post WWII Japan lead to musings on how the Japanese have become removed not only from their food source, but also their culture - when you work so hard, you have no time to compose poetry.

The book is inspiring me to try some of his do nothing methods - no digging or planting, just broadcasting seeds and no weeding, abundant use of mulch.

Abbe

Review "_The One-Straw Revolution_ is one of the founding documents of the alternative food movement, and indispensable to anyone hoping to understand the future of food and agriculture."—Michael Pollan"Only the ignorant could write off Fukuoka, who died two years ago at the age of 95, as a deluded or nostalgic dreamer...Fukuoka developed ideas that went against the conventional grain....Long before the American Michael Pollan, he was making the connections between intensive agriculture, unheal

Tyler

An absolutely fantastic text on the relationship between nature and man. Fukuoka’s book is a perfect blend of practical farming advise and philosophical reflections, and this blending of the two subjects reflects his outlook on the unbreakable relationship between man and the world around him. The book isn’t just calling for an agricultural revolution, but a personal one, and it’s message of ecological unity is incredibly powerful.

Justin

This is the first book that I have ever started rereading immediately upon completion to see what I had missed the first time. After the second reading it easily burst into my all time top 10 favorite books list.

I am a firm believer that understanding and obeying nature are essential steps towards fulfillment on both individual and social levels, and this book gives expression to that belief better than any I have ever read. Mr. Fukuoka's essential question that took him 30 years to answer is "What is the natural pattern?" Of course, the medium through which he seeks this answer is agriculture in Japan. While there are parts of the book that go into details of agriculture, most of the book is an analogy for whatever medium you work through to answer the big question.

I am a teacher and much of the wisdom in this book applies to my field. For example, Mr. Fukuoka states that most farmers try to improve their craft by adding things and he felt that was a fundamental mistake: "My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming which results in making the work easier instead of harder. "How about not doing this? How about not doing that?"—that was my way of thinking. I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide. When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are really necessary." This is a very accurate description of constructivism, a philosophy of teaching that puts emphasis on good course design and lots of formative feedback and abandons the model of teacher as expert. It sees students as capable, intelligent people who enjoy learning and only need powerful experiences and support in their reflection process to learn to do what they propose. In other words, learning is natural to people and this approach lets that natural process take place, just as Mr. Fukuoka's farming is natural to the earth and thus produces great yields.

Mr. Fukuoka rails against chemical fertilizers and insecticides as "the most inept way to deal with problems such as these, and will only lead to greater problems in the future." Again, this is perfectly analogous to teaching methods that scare students away from valuing what they already know to solve academic problems and into memorizing knowledge and methods that are not intuitive or understood at any deep level. This leads to low self esteem and creates dependence on a teacher for further learning, leaving them stunted when such a teacher is not around.

Of course, you don't have to take this entire book as an analogy to enjoy it. His understanding of nutrition is truly enlightening. For example, many people feel intuitively that eating organically grown foods is better for us and the planet without necessarily understanding why. In a real sense, food is medicine, and "Chemically grown vegetables may be eaten for food, but they cannot be used as medicine." So, when food is only food, it loses meaning. When food loses meaning, we become alienated from nature, the root cause of most of society's current evils. "Foods that have departed far from their wild state and those raised chemically or in a completely contrived environment unbalance the body chemistry. The more out of balance one's body becomes, the more one comes to desire unnatural foods. This situation is dangerous to health."

The agricultural method he espouses was developed over 30 years on his own fields through countless trials and errors. Its beauty lies in its simplicity and its coherency with nutrition, with wisdom that understands the ebb and flow of nature within and around our bodies. Mr. Fukuoka is truly a man who walks his talk, and his talk is brilliant.

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