March 13, 2010
In a couple of day’s time I will be boarding a plane for Tokyo. Asako is already there waiting for me (I hope). We are planning on spending the next six months in Asia. The purpose of the trip is really twofold: to look at possibly settling in Japan and to study ‘natural farming.’
Given that Japan has a population density of over 337 people per km2 and Aotearoa/New Zealand about 16 people per km2 you might assume that land would be easier to access in NZ but it seems the opposite is true. Japan’s rural areas continue to depopulate while NZ’s are subjected to an increasingly industrialized agriculture or the ‘life-style’ phenomena where small farms are bought up by people with income sources independent of farming. As an old Northland farmer once said to me “we’re all farming real estate now.”
In the face of collapsing rural communities and an average age of 65 for Japanese farmers there is general acknowledgement in Japan that young people need to be encouraged back into the countryside. Elderly farmers who want to see the continuation of their life’s work will sometimes sell their fields cheaply to young farmers who have earned their respect and there are also government programs to assist young people in the purchase or lease of farm land. It is these kind of opportunities that we are going to explore.
As I mentioned earlier we are also going to be studying ‘natural farming.’ Natural farming is a wonderfully vague term that takes on different meanings in different places. It sometimes refers to the traditional farming practices of Asia or to the utilization of existing environmental features for sustained fertility. There are numerous other meanings but it is these two that interest us the most. We will be heading to isolated mountain communities in the hope of finding farmers still practicing traditional terrace farming as well as working with farmers using the re-discovered natural farming popularized by Masanobu Fukuoka.