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Organic Farming Opens Up Hope for Recovering Sustainable Communities

Tambos (rice paddies) and Tombos (dragon flies)

It was during my fifteenth year of organic farming. This one morning in late June, I was taking care of my rice paddies; in Japanese we call them “tambo”. These are deepwater tambos constructed in a mountainous region in Fukushima. Waters are twenty centimeters deep to prevent weeds from growing.

It was just a typical morning, and I was walking along the edge of the tambo. Then a newborn dragonfly, we call dragonflies “tombo” in Japanese, came flying out of the tambo. It wasn’t just one or two, but over fifty tombos came flying out. Their soft wings were glittering silver in the morning sun. It was a fascinating experience.

The tombos flew away from the tambo into our communal mountains nearby. And there, they fly freely in the highlands during the summer. In September, the tombos come back to the tambo to lay their eggs. They are called tombos because they come from and back to tambos.
It’s not just tombos. In tambos there are also spiders, giant water bugs, mantises… Frogs jump around the tambos, etc. etc. A tambo fosters a whole world of its own.

Tambos also work as a dam that prevents flooding. And the water that flows into a tambo comes from the forests in our communal mountains. These are trees planted by our ancestors. Planted for us, and our succeeding generations. The beautiful tambos, the blessings from our communal mountains and forests, are all with us today because our ancestors took care of the forests and continued a tradition of sustainable farming.

Utilizing the Blessings from Our Communal Forests, and Furusato-Building

In two-thousand-five, we started a non-profit organization called “Towa Organic Furusato-Building Council”. Our goal is to promote resident-led development, utilizing the rich blessings of our communal mountains and forests. However, by “development” we do not necessarily mean economic development. Our goal is to revitalize our community while valuing our culture, tradition and harmonious style of living with nature.

We want to foster a community where people look back with pride and affection, where all are welcome, and where people can make him or herself at home. In Japanese we call such a hometown “furusato”; and thus our activities can be more simply defined as “furusato-building”.

Specifically, with the investments of farmers, ranchers and local businesses, we started a community compost center to support organic farming. The center makes compost from fourteen different categories of locally supplied ingredients. This includes cattle manure, rice hulls, sawdust, hay, and local food residue such as dried bonitos, and soybean residue from making tofu.

Rice, vegetables and fruits grown using this compost are then offered to local school lunches and sold to consumers either directly or through consumer cooperatives based in urban areas. Such business fosters communication between the consumers and our farming community; thus functioning as a medium of communication between rural farming communities and urban consumers.

In addition, we began growing mulberry trees, perilla, and figs on abandoned farmlands, developed methods to process those into wrought goods, and created jobs. Mulberry fields are a part of our traditional landscape. Hence growing and utilizing mulberry trees are important and sustainable means to preserve the local tradition. These activities lead to furusato-building; preserving the traditional landscape where tombos fly freely among the tambos and mulberry fields.

In the course of these activities, we found out we were not the only ones. We found there were many in Fukushima with shared visions. To connect with these folks and to spread even further our scope of activities, we organized in two-thousand nine, Fukushima Organic Farmers’ Network. And just as things were beginning to get on track, the nuclear accident happened.

Organic Farming Brings Hope for Recovery

Radioactive particles released by the three-eleven nuclear accident contaminated Fukushima’s mountains, forests, houses, roads, parks, just about anything, and most importantly for us, farmland. Yet, we continued to plow, and to sow the seeds, and kept producing fruits, vegetables and rice. We never gave up.

After a whole year of collaborative research with farmers, residents, researchers and academics, we found out some important facts. We found out that land that is rich in clay and organic matter has a tendency to contain radioactive particles such as radioactive cesium, therefore reducing its transition to produce. In other words, through the practice of organic farming, we are able to condition our land so that radioactive particles are not taken in by what we grow. This finding brought us great hope. It meant that the revitalization of Fukushima could be accomplished through the practice of organic farming.

Ninety-eight point four per cent of brown rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture last year had less than fifty becquerels per kilogram of radioactivity. Most of the vegetables inspected were below thirty becquerels per kilogram last year. And this year, most are below the detection limit. However, fruits and berries that grow on trees tend to show higher numbers. Mushrooms also tend to have over one hundred becquerels per kilogram.

In other words, it’s the mountains and the forests that are heavily contaminated. Seventy per cent of Fukushima Prefecture is either mountainous terrain or forests. We must now pay attention to the water that seeps through these mountains and forests and into our residential and farming areas. Entering the second year since the nuclear accident, these are things that we need to research and make clear. We need to obtain accurate measurements from trees, leaves, natural compost, hay and other local organic resources that are so vital to organic farming. And wherever we find high levels of radioactivity, we must find ways to cope with the situation.

Food and Energy Self-Sufficiency as Key

In contrast to the scenic tambo that I shared with you earlier, the kind of scene I see today is this. An elderly farmer sighing with relief to see that his vegetables are safe to eat after inspections and saying “Our grand children can eat this!?”

It is important that we inspect our produce and our land in order to make visible what we cannot see, feel, nor smell, radioactivity. And sharing accurate information is the only way we can foster trust with our consumers.

What we offer to our consumers should be no different than what we eat ourselves. Therefore, we cannot, and should not, be offering produce that we cannot let our grandchildren eat. This also includes produce sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. These are chemicals that we would not want in our kitchen.

In the spring, we gather shoots and wild plants in our communal mountains and forests. By summer our vegetables will be ready to eat. In autumn, the trees bear fruit and mushrooms grow in the wild. During the winter, we eat dried radish, pickled vegetables and fermented soybeans.

Japan’s relative longevity is found not only on medicine but also on this tradition of eating what is available at the time and place. However, a reliance on imported foods and chemical additives has lowered the immune strengths and resilience of both humans and livestock. In this sense, the nuclear accident taught us another lesson; that we should be eating what is available locally at the right time. We have found out that for the Japanese, eating traditional foods such as Japanese root crops, seaweeds, miso, pickles and other fermented products, strengthens our digestive organs and excretes toxic substances from our bodies.

There is an idiom in Japan that says “shin-do-fu-ji”. This means a healthy body can be built by eating what is grown locally, and is literally written in kanji characters meaning the body and the earth is indivisible. In Africa, there must be African eating traditions. Europe must also have their seasonal foods. Supporting local farmers and local food cultures leads to a healthy way of living. This is what our national and local governments should be doing; supporting local agriculture and food culture.

Another point in mind is that, equally important as growing food locally is energy self-sufficiency. Last year, I grew sunflower and rapeseeds. This is because we have learned, from research conducted in Chernobyl that these plants have a tendency to take in radioactive substances thus purifying the land. However, these weren’t planted just for land purification. They can be pressed for oil, because the radioactive substances stay in the pomace, not in the oil. The oil can then be used for cooking. After cooking, the oil can be filtered and reused for diesel engines on our tractors and farming equipment.

This is the kind of effort that is taking place in Fukushima right now. We are moving towards renewable sources of energy; biomass fuels, solar power, micro-hydro generators. It is time we all shift from relying on petroleum or nuclear power to renewable sources of energy.

Recovering Fukushima to a Place Where Children Can Play Freely

We have a message from Fukushima; an appeal.

The people of Fukushima have suffered. Many of our people were forced to evict, and are still forced to live away from their homeland; away from their furusato.

Farmland has been contaminated.

Organic farmers have committed suicide in despair.

Children have been deprived of their rights to just play freely outside.

This is not the kind of suffering that should happen again to anyone.

If we do not change course now, when will we ever change course?

We have found out through the nuclear accident, that organic farming and eating locally grown foods, which can also mean increasing our self-sufficiency, leads to job creation, eradication of poverty and prevents human rights abuses.

It’s been thirty-five hundred years since our ancestors learned how to grow rice from our friends in China. Japanese poetry, dance, songs all are culturally rooted in growing rice. We are a rice-based culture. We must not bring an end to this culture.

Our ancestors have planted trees, protected the mountains, and conserved our communal forests. These efforts have brought rich waters to our tambo. And waters also flow into the sea; fostering rich biodiversity in our coastal waters. But it has all been contaminated.

Now, after the contamination, I feel even stronger that what we have lost is so great. Foresting our rigid mountains, sowing seeds on our farmland, and wisely utilizing our coastal fishing grounds; these practices of forestry, agriculture and fishery are what constructed a reproductive and sustainable society. And based on these practices, primary and secondary processing industries grew out to create jobs.

Before the nuclear accident, teenagers and people with disabilities came to pick tomatoes, plant and harvest rice, and rake leaves. We had a community where the young and the elders worked together; where the disabled and not-so-disabled worked hand in hand. Agriculture has a strong pull that fosters a sense of community.

When I close my eyes, I can recall the days in Fukushima where I can hear the children’s voices echo in the neighborhood. But I say to myself. “No, this is what the real world should look like, not just in my memories. I must make this the reality once again.”

In order to make it happen, we must turn back from the world of global competition to a world of local cooperation; respecting the local traditions of organic farming, and reinstating the practices of farming, forestry and fishery as our society’s very foundation. That path to sustainability is the path that we should be headed. That is our message and our appeal.

And along this path, we will sow the seeds of hope.

Ten Points for a Sustainable Fukushima

Finally I would like to share a proposal consisted of ten points, that we feel are critical in achieving a sustainable society.

1) De-nuclearization
We strongly propose stopping at once and decommissioning all nuclear reactors in the world.

2) Radiation Protection
We demand that a system of health survey of all residents, along with a system of radiation inspection on housing, farmland, produce, food, and agricultural raw materials be established promptly.

3) Revitalization
We propose that revitalization efforts shall be resident led with locally sustainable organic farming at its core; creating jobs through the revitalization of primary industries and local economies.

4) Self-sufficiency and coexisting with nature
We will take back our traditional styles to coexist with nature, while improving our local and individual self-sufficiency. To do this we must learn from our elders, how we shall live in harmony with nature.

5) All-farming Society
We believe that over-concentration of population, capital and power in urban cores produce inequalities both within and between regions. Thus, we propose a decentralized society where every person can exercise his or her right to farm.

6) Dietary Habits
The consumption of meat, chemical compounds, food additives, and genetically modified organisms should be substantially reduced. Alternatively, the global diet should be based on locally grown grains and vegetables.

7) Revitalization of primary industries and increased food stock
To provide for a global food crisis, all communities should revitalize their primary industries (i.e. agriculture, forestry and fishery), increase their self-sufficiency, and food stock.

8) Building Humane Networks of Trust
We will restore a society and a way of living based on mutual trust; both in our communities and between cities and rural communities.

9) Energy
We will reduce the amount of energy we use and switch to an interspersed, renewable, and self-sufficient energy.

10) De-growth
We will turn away from a society where economic growth is overemphasized, and move to a more moderate one emphasizing life and solidarity.

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