Sowing Seeds in the Desert: Natural Farming, Global Restoration, and Ultimate Food Security
By Masanobu Fukuoka
Introduction by Larry Korn
Rating: 9 out of 10
When I first came across this book, I immediately wanted to read it because I live in a desert (Sonoran) and am always on the lookout for new books that address the growing problem of desertification in our world. What I expected from this touted inventor of Natural Farming was essentially a recipe book for HOW to go about returning vegetation to the deserts. What I got was much different.
The first three chapters of this book are dedicated to explaining Fukuoka’s philosophy which in turn sets up the later chapters on Natural Farming. I found this section hard to get through because, quite honestly, it challenged many of my belief systems and ways of being – even as a dedicated permaculturist. I found myself wanting to challenge Fukuoka at every turn as he systematically tore down much of Western philosophy with well-reasoned arguments based upon observation and Eastern philosophy. I’ll admit to gritting my teeth and often snorting in arrogance as I read some passages.
Then a funny thing happened. I realized that I had come to many of the same conclusions he had (although not so deeply nor so succinctly) through other paths. That’s where the old brain cells kicked into high gear and I became very fascinated with this book. Would I go so far as to denounce Western philosophers and scientists from Descartes onward? Probably not as these thinkers are part of a whole just like Fukuoka. However, I can see Fukuoka’s point about how many Western philosophies lead to a world view where humans are cast as superior to nature and therefore presume dominion over it as a right. This is in opposition to Fukuoka’s world view of humans as an integral part of nature and therefore a partner with equal footing to every other part of the natural world. Much use is made of Western scientific methods that allow for all sorts of experiments, many of which have had dire consequences over time. Do I believe the Western scientific approach is always bad? No. Good scientific research is based on the same things that Fukuoka based his Natural Farming methods on – observation and experimentation.
Chapters 4-6 are what I originally expected from this book and are about Fukuoka’s travels to some of the deserts of the world and his vision for regreening them, mostly by spreading a multitude of seeds encased in clay across the broad landscape. I’ve filled this part of the book with little green sticky tabs drawing my attention to various methods he tried and their success.
I was heartened by his travels and the interesting people and attitudes he met along the way. He explains his techniques of welcoming rain back into a landscape through the revegetation of those landscapes. He describes the creation of food forests, the importance of sowing a multitude of seed types along with supporting microorganisms, and it really difficult climates, he explains his method of using trees along waterways to act as natural pumps over time to rehydrate and refertilize ever greater portions of the landscape. And one can see how his methods of observation and natural farming really do make a difference.
In conclusion, I was left with the thought that the title of this book “Sowing Seeds in the Desert” doesn’t only apply to the physical practice of seeding deserts. In fact, this book is in equal parts practical, hands-on advice and an analogy of the human experience at this point in history. It strongly advocates that the true seeds we need to sow are in our own ways of thinking and acting. We, as humans, have become the desert – we’ve been stripped of much of our nature and we have only a few seeds left to cling to. Because of this, we have become internally and externally damaged by our own heedless behaviors towards the extension of ourselves – nature. If we can take the time to observe this situation, we have a chance to repair ourselves and our landscapes and bring back the abundance that truly is our heritage.