A Japanese perspective on organic farming (4)

Further excerpts from Tateno-san's book...

So what exactly is organic agriculture?

What kind of farming is organic farming? More precisely, what form of agriculture does the philosophy of organic agriculture create?

According to the Japanese law to promote organic agriculture (from a proposal of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries), organic agriculture is based on the principle of not using chemically synthesized fertilizer or agricultural chemicals such as herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides, as well as avoiding GMO technology. It is an agricultural production method which as much as possible reduces the load on the environment. Perhaps it is inevitable, being legal language, but the government definition is based almost entirely on a negative clause (not use…). It is a curiously contrary and “inorganic” expression of organic agriculture.

Reading between the lines, it is easy to see the words “don’t use (all the while barely resisting the urge to…)”, “based on not using (but…)” lurking behind the prohibitions, straining at the leash, trying hard to find a way out and around.

True organic farming sees chemical fertilizers and agricultural chemicals not as prohibited, but unnecessary. As anyone who has tried organic farming will understand, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and GMO technology are completely unneeded. Conversely, in their present unrestricted state, these chemicals are a hindrance to organic farming. Organic farming cannot be expressed in prohibitive language; what is required is a positively defined, organic relationship between people, and between people and nature.

Organic agriculture is not explicitly defined by the Japan Organic Agriculture Association; it is simply expressed “a sustainable cultivation of the soil that is not destructive to the environment, a method of farming that produces healthy and delicious food.” Organic farming in Japan strives to return to the original meaning of agriculture—the support of human life in balance with nature and soil. It is not limited to one specific kind of agriculture.

For me, organic agriculture (in Japanese, yuu-ki nou-gyou) has the meaning of “ki” ga “a ru” farming. What is ki? Ki is life. In most Japanese dictionaries, ki is defined as a mechanism or system, but the root etymology is “a structure or system of life.” Yuu is part of the word “have” or “possess.” So yuuki (organic) means, in Japanese, “having a system/structure of life,” and yuukibutsu (living thing) means, literally, a thing born from a system of life. In other words, organic farming is an agriculture based on a system of life: more precisely, we can say that organic agriculture produces new life based on encouraging and protecting the mechanisms of life.

The fundamental form of agriculture exists in the “chain of life,” the “cooperation of life,” living grains and vegetables grown based on the lives of insects and bacteria in the soil, and human life which is in turn fostered by these grains and vegetables. Our existence and survival is based on this symbiosis of life systems, expressed in the characters yuuki.

On the other side, contemporary agriculture represents the attempt to produce life on a large scale with “lifeless” agricultural chemicals and fertilizers. It isn’t too much to say that GMO technology is a life destroying technology that modifies life itself like a raw material. If agricultural chemicals and chemical fertilizers break away from the chain of life, then GMO technology disrupts the chain of life itself.

In organic agriculture, compost and organic fertilizer are used to feed the soil, not the plant. They do not supply the crop with organic material (causing the crop to absorb organic material), but rather foster the microorganisms living in the soil, using the power of these microorganisms to foster the life of the crops. Life comes from life, a simple fact that defies easy expression in reductive, legal language.

Part 5