Book Review of Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka

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Sowing Seeds in the Desert: Natural Farming, Global Restoration, and Ultimate Food Security

By Masanobu Fukuoka

Chelsea Green Publishing, pp.168


I first read Masanobu Fukuoka’s international bestseller, The One-Straw Revolution, back in the late ‘80s. I had not known about Holistic Management at the time was struck by the idea of agricultural production that worked with Nature rather than against it. When I did learn about Holistic Management, I was struck by the similarity of Fukuoka’s natural farming methods and how Holistic Management helps people improve land productivity by mimicking the way wild herds grazed the landscape and improved land health.

Fukuoka’s work is focused on crops like rice and orchards and vegetables and is a nice companion to the Nature-mimicking grazing of Holistic Management. However, I assumed Fukuoka’s work was most relevant to less-brittle areas of the world and small-scale agriculture/landscapes. So it was with great interest that I read Sowing Seeds in the Desert and learned how he had been traveling around the world (including the western arid U.S.) exploring ways to take his ideas of natural farming to a global level particularly in arid environments of the world to help stop desertification. Larry Korn (one of Fukuoka’s students) edits this treatise which was published after Fukuoka’s death in 2008.

Fukuoka’s focus in this book is to achieve global food security by using the techniques of natural farming across the globe so that the tools for improved land health and growing food are in the hands of all producers and pastoralists. He makes it clear from his early mis-trials that natural farming is not about neglect or letting Nature take its course. It is about agricultural production that requires as little intervention as possible so that Nature can do the work. This type of agricultural production requires a profound paradigm shift, or as Fukuoka put it, “a philosophy.” He wrote: “If you do not understand the philosophy, the rest [farming] becomes empty activity.” Again, like Holistic Management, we must view Nature as a partner and recognize we are a part of Nature in order to make the effort to change our farming practices and our very relationship with Nature. The closer we live to Nature, the more sensitivity we bring to our natural farming or ranching.

This book is a series of short essays by Fukuoka as edited by Korn so don’t expect a book that steps you through the how-to’s. However, you do get some tales of experimentation and restoration recipes at the end of the book that should provide good fodder for whatever land restoration/production project you are working on. He also offers ideas of large-scale use of these techniques that do inspire the imagination and demonstrates profitability (he references a visit to the Lundberg rice farm). However, as someone trained in Holistic Management, I’d be curious what the cost/benefit analysis is for seeding large acreages with clay balls versus feeding animals at high stock density for arid land restoration.

So, if you’re looking for a book that helps you remember why you were attracted to farming or ranching in a way that partners with Nature, or one that gets you thinking about some big picture concepts in the context of global agricultural production, food security, and environmental conditions, pick up a copy of Sowing Seeds in the Desert. It will challenge you to think differently.




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