Agriculture in the 21st Century promises to be very different from the practices of the last 50 years of the 20th Century. New discoveries in the sciences of microbiology and ecology will impact and transform the methods of food production in ways that are little heard of today. Yet this new agriculture will surprise many with its techniques because the most radical changes will take place in the arena of ideas, as much as in the farms, fields and livestock production facilities. The new concepts guiding the development of a sustainable agriculture able to readily provide the food for future human populations are presently spreading across the globe. Already, in more than 80 different countries, pioneering farmers are adopting these new techniques and the concepts that go with them. This new movement in agriculture is known to many as “Nature Farming,” and for many of its practitioners, the use of EM or “Effective Microorganisms” is the core technology for soil fertility management.
Nature Farming originates in Japan in the philosophy of Mokichi Okada (1882-1955) whose work on these ideas began in the early 1930’s. The philosophy of Nature Farming seeks to create agricultural ecosystems that are in harmony and balance with nature. Nature Farming uses the forces of nature to create unsurpassed productivity while preserving and improving the quality of the soil as the basis for production. The model for Nature Farming is from nature itself, from the undisturbed ecosystems of the forests and prairies. Okada noticed these natural ecosystems spontaneously accumulate fertility and keep disease outbreaks and other problems in check. How is this possible? The answer is through the creation of “living soil.” According to Okada living soil has almost a mystical power to create harmony and balance in the plant life growing in it, in the animal and human life subsisting on the fruits of it, and in its ability to heal itself from all disturbances in the ecosystem surrounding it.
The movement spawned by Okada’s philosophy of Nature Farming continued after his passing, and began to spread to other countries by the early 1970’s. The early techniques of Nature Farming worked through imitating nature and using natural or organic methods for crop production. Some of the practices of Nature Farming share much in common with the permaculture movement, and with other forms of organic agriculture. A special emphasis is directed toward making “natural compost” to help create the living soil so fundamental to the practice of Nature Farming. While some of the results of this Nature Farming technique are outstanding, still the many crop failures experienced could only be explained as the failure to actually create living soil in the farm ecosystem. An important factor in such failures is the difficulty in making good quality natural compost.
Making natural compost can be a “hit or miss” effort. If the compost rots in the absence of oxygen, such as might happen if it becomes waterlogged due to excess rain or the addition of too much water, then putrefaction can result, and the compost will actually have a toxic effect on the soil. The same result could happen with the use of animal manures from animals raised in confinement where the manure became putrefactive. Again, this material can have a toxic effect on the soil due to excess ammonia and other compounds. The techniques available to correct these deficiencies were laborious, and mostly consisted of mixing the offending materials with good quality, natural compost or soil and air to overwhelm the toxic effects.
Another difficulty is adopting the Nature Farming techniques to the demands of production agriculture, particularly when expanding to large-scale operations, such as seen in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries. It is simply too expensive to make and apply natural compost in sufficient quantity for such large-scale operations. These limitations stifled the expansion of the Nature Farming movement until the early 1980’s when Dr. Teruo Higa, a professor of horticulture at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, shared his amazing discovery of “Effective Microorganisms” or EM with the proponents of Nature Farming.
Okada anticipated the discovery of EM when he referred to the mysterious power of living soil to heal itself and the environment. The living component of soil is based on the microbial life of the soil. The interaction of soil microbial life with plants creates soil fertility. Dr. Higa discovered that certain components of the microbial life of the soil were “effective” in controlling the dynamics of soil life. These “Effective Microorganisms” were able to influence the other microorganisms in the soil through their ability to create enzymes, sugars, vitamins, and other substances that served as food for other beneficial microorganisms. Another distinct ability of EM is the ability to ferment organic matter and the ability to exploit low oxygen environments as facultative anaerobes. When used in large enough numbers, these effective microorganisms could prevent putrefaction in low oxygen environments. These characteristics of EM proved to be the key to correcting the short-comings of the nature farming method.
According to Mokichi Okada, Nature Farming and the production of wholesome food free of contamination from chemical toxins is the key to creating human health, and the creation of natural human health is the basis for creating a new civilization in balance and harmony with itself and with nature. Okada predicted that this new civilization would come into flower by the middle of the 21st Century. Human consciousness and the awareness that we must live in harmony in order to survive and thrive as we keep expanding in population are becoming driving forces in shaping policies and practices, especially with regards to food production. The Nature Farming movement, combined with appropriate technologies, such as the use of Effective Microorganisms (EM), is in the process of becoming a global solution to the problem of feeding humanity while remaining in harmony with nature. EM Nature Farming even holds the promise of being a key tool in the transition process of converting agriculture from present conventional practices to sustainable organic methods. EM is proving to be a key tool in doing this, and in repairing many kinds of damage to the environment.