The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The decline of Japanese agriculture

Postcard of a Japanese farm in TexasIf you've been following along for a while, you may remember my series about traditional Chinese farming practices.  The book Farmers of Forty Centuries opened my eyes to farming methods that were clear forerunners of modern organic gardening, complete with nitrogen fixing plants and massive infusions of compost.  As the name suggests, farmers in China maintained the fertility of the same garden patches for as long as 4,000 years using their ancient techniques.

Fast forward ahead just forty years after the book's publication date, and farming practices in Japan (once very similar to those in China) turned around 180 degrees.  After the end of World War II, Japanese farmers were sucked in by the allure of time-saving American "innovations" like chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.  According to Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One-Straw Revolution, centuries of building humus-rich soil washed away in just twenty years.  Within one generation, the Japanese soil was dependent on ever greater amounts of chemical fertilizers to produce a crop.

Was there any way for Japan to return to a more natural way of farming?  Fukuoka said yes, and his book struck a chord with both Japanese folks and Americans in the 1970s.  Stay tuned for his insights in this week's lunchtime series.

Check out our homemade chicken waterer and give your birds clean water this spring!

This post is part of our One-Straw Revolution lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Although not as long, American farmers farmed organically for at least three hundred years, until the government funded ag schools started promoting chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Until 1950, most farming was done by horse or mule, and animal manure and crop wastes were the primary source of fertilizer.
Comment by Errol Mon Feb 1 13:08:02 2010
Good point! I should probably expand my research into pre-industrial farming in the U.S. Got any good book recommendations?
Comment by anna Mon Feb 1 15:58:54 2010

"After the end of World War II, Japanese farmers were sucked in by the allure of time-saving American "innovations" like chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. "

I wonder how much of that was Japan wanting to change, versus US coercion (friendly or not) as we helped them rebuild after the war.

Comment by Shannon Mon Feb 1 18:02:20 2010
That's a really good point --- I wouldn't be surprised if you're right. The author made it sound like the Japanese government was strongly recommending a lot of these changes, and they could have had international politics in mind rather than agriculture.
Comment by anna Mon Feb 1 18:29:28 2010

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