Industrial Worker Book Reveiw: 8 Hours to Work, 8 Hours to Sleep, 8 Hours to Read

Masanobu Fukuoka,
"Sowing Seeds in the Desert"

216 pages
Chelsea Green Publishing
May 28, 2012
Hardcover $22.50

Review by John MacLean

Gradually I came to realize that the process of saving the desert of the human heart and revegetating the actual desert is actually the same thing." -Masanobu Fukuoka

Masanobu Fukuoka, in his book Sowing Seeds In The Desert: Natural Farming, Global Restoration, And Ultimate Food Security, argues that civilization has, throughout time, persisted in destructive agricultural practices, and accompanying ways of thinking seeing the natural world. He writes that philosophy, science, and even language, serve to separate us from nature. He goes so far as to say that "people would be better off without words", that books, a few of which he has written, are of little use, and that perhaps a "leap of faith" is called for, an abandoning of what we think we know.  A spiritual awakening.

Fukuoka writes of a life changing awakening he had, in his twenties, prior to the Second World War; it came out of illness, a period of many questions and distress, and deposited him in a heap with "no strength of will left." At the call of a bird he describes going from a man of science, to seeing empty minded for the first time "the true form of nature." He despaired at expressing the strangeness of his vision, and so set out to found his own natural farm; as a way of expressing "what [he] had seen" and demonstrating its larger significance. Fukuoka describes himself as directed toward a "do nothing method of farming" and by this he means to avoid work that is a negative consequence of previous acts. He sees a controlling and willful science as having rendered us incapable of seeing "the true form of [our] mother" the earth, and scheming religions flourishing in this most recent "age of disintegration." He calls the yet to be named better path/place 'natural culture and community.' Writing: "We must find our way back to nature. We must set ourselves to the task of revitalizing the earth. Regreening the earth, sowing seeds in the desert--that is the path society must follow..."

Fukuoka describes a human knowing which, breaks up, explains, divides, analyzes, and teaches us to see ourselves as separate from the natural world. This endless "discriminating knowledge" imparts only the "illusion" of increase, and is "of no use [in] grasping the reality of nature." This Japanese farmer dares to be critical of Darwin, and challenges the distinction between the "living" and the "nonliving", seeing it as purely based in "perception." He dramatically expands the notion of "an injury to one an injury to all" and puts forward a "Dharma Wheel Theory of Flux in All things" as an alternative to natural selection. He writes about much feared insects, on his farm, creating new plant varieties, through their activity, and as a result he sees no need for "people to imitate nature..."  The 'mad course of genetic engineering' is, quite simply, mad. This lovely book, has no faith in books, and implores us to "abandon what we think we know" in one life affirming leap.  

Fukuoka disagrees with the notion that deserts should be left as they are; he contends instead that we have "no choice but to help restore [them] to health." This is particularly true if the desert is "abnormal", and the end result of "human activity." He writes that the "true disposition" of the nature "is toward abundance for human beings and for all species." To restore these ravaged spaces would be, for him, the same as restoring the "human heart", and facing squarely the insane ambitious dance of the "money-sucking octopus economy", centralized power.  The all-consuming, world-controlling, eight legged power complex. This complex has always struggled mightily with cause and effect; Fukuoka mentions the Japanese forest service spraying insecticides on dying pine forests, when they could have been addressing failing microorganisms in the soil, the mistaken rage for dams of all sorts, and sizes, and the toxic impacts of irrigation. The author recommends revegetating stretches of desert, all at once, and "thereby causing rain clouds to rise from the earth." He believes that natural farming, scattering "seeds in clay pellets", is the way to go; throw in the seeds and then rely "on nature's disposition toward fertility" to do the rest.   

Fukuoka writes, that: "Throughout human history civilizations have been founded in areas with rich soil and other resources. After the soil was depleted as a result of cutting too many trees, overgrazing, harmful irrigation practices and plowed-field agriculture, that civilization, which had been wearing the mask of prosperity, declined and often disappeared altogether." He adds that this "has happened over and over again." Human beings, and their knowledge, are the ringleaders in all of this, and we urgently need "to change the politics and practice of our authority." In the US over half of the landmass is desert, or on its way there, and the author describes much of the west coast as a conspiracy "to create the 'Great California Desert.'" The green you see on the surface, in the US, and in Europe, is "the imitation green of a managed landscape." Not far beneath this you inevitably find depleted soil. Fukuoka describes the African continent as "devoid of vegetation", when a century ago there was lush forest cover, India as having vegetation on only 10 percent of its surface area, and the Himalayas as "bald, treeless mountains." In places like Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia "farming methods that [once] protected nature have been swallowed up" and the earth has suffered. Despite all of these immediate and remote assaults Fukuoka stills believes that we can all "work to awaken the sleeping soil."  

The experiment in farming which Fukuoka began, in his youth, was a "rehabilitation project" itself, and there is every reason to believe that it can help in dealing with deserts. He contends that if the causes of desertification can be gotten rid of then "nature [can] heal itself." Natural farming calls for the mixing in of varied seeds and plants, and the sowing of them "all at once"; throw in fruit and forest trees, vegetables, green manure cover plants, mosses, grasses, perennials, ferns, lichens, microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, and finally forest soil, which he calls "a trove of microorganisms and their spores." Encase the seeds in "clay pellets" for protection, and to maintain moisture for germination. Even the beginnings of a greening can help lower the temperature of the soil which is vital  to success. Fukuoka is also against any kind of invasive "quarantine" regime, as he believes them to be "obsolete." A 'plant-based irrigation method', which "encourages..water to follow greenbelts" of vegetation, is better than the destructive alternatives of industrial engineering. Fukuoka writes: " would summon more green, insects would come, birds would come, small animals would come, and they would all scatter seeds. If one tree grew, it would act as a pump to bring up underground water. The mist transpired from its leaves would act as both a sprinkler and a fan..." He calls for a "Second Genesis."   

The US Department of Agriculture just declared perhaps the largest natural disaster in US history; a drought encompassing thousands of counties in as many as 26 states. According to the US Drought Monitor over half the country is beset by these conditions; and it's also worth mentioning that 2012 has seen the warmest first half on record. Missing from the government declaration, extending credit, crop damage insurance, and grazing access on conservation land, is any mention of desertification, and the failures of agriculture. Fukuoka writes: "About half of the land in the United States is, or is becoming, desert. I felt that the expanding American desert was at least as great a problem as the deserts of Africa, but most Americans seemed totally unaware that their country is becoming more arid."   It's worth wondering whether Secretary Vilsack, of the USDA, is among the unaware, as he claims in the press release that agriculture, in the US, remains "a bright spot in our nation's economy."

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