On the Road

January 3, 2013

Well look at that…The end of the world has come and gone (again) and we’re all still here! With the latest apocalypse/salvation distraction behind us we’re back to the reality of the slow catastrophe daily unfolding and the responsibility for doing something about it.

While the Japanese have just voted in a right-wing, pro-nuclear nationalist “strong leader” to end their woes (not that there was much of a choice – being a modern democracy an’ all) Asako and I have a different idea. In January we’re hitting the road (well, the tracks actually) to propagandize the people and hopefully inspire a little action.


During January 2013 we will be giving presenations in Hamamatsu, Nagoya and Tokyo about our life and work at Shikigami. Through photographs and stories we will discuss our approach to permaculture, deep ecology, forest gardening and gift economics.

Hamamatsu Wednesday January 9, 13:30. Payaka: 4-19-12 Kamoe, Naka Ward, Hamamatsu Permaculture Chubu, Hamamatsu

Nagoya Sunday January 13, 14:00. Tokurinji: Aioi-28-341 Tenpakucho Oaza Nonami, Tenpaku Ward, Nagoya Permaculture Chubu, Nagoya

Tokyo Friday January 18, 19:30. One Kitchen: 3-26 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo


1月9日(水) 13:30 Payaka(パヤカ) 静岡県浜松市中区鴨江4-19-12  詳細はパーマカルチャー中部

1月13日(日) 14:00 徳林寺(本堂裏のギャラリー・ハスタクティ1Fにて)  愛知県名古屋市天白区天白町大字野並相生28-341 詳細はパーマカルチャー中部

1月18日(金)19:30 One Kitchen  東京都新宿区 荒木町3−26 サウスウィング荒木町2F奥


Tokyo Event

December 9, 2011

Returning to the Way of Nature

A workshop facilitated by Dion Workman and Takuya Sasa.

Nerima-ku, Tokyo

17th Dec. Sat. 10:00~17:00

Donations appreciated. Please bring food for a shared lunch.

RSVP required: tabi0419[at]gmail.com

Returning to the Way of Nature

A presentation and discussion about the state of modern society, the destruction of the environment and how we could live in a very different way. A way that is good for ourselves, our children, our human communities and the community of all life on Earth.

Many of us feel a sense of unease about the world today. We feel anxiety for the future, a future where we don’t see opportunities to live healthy fulfilled lives for ourselves and where we see each generation leaving to their children a world in poorer condition. We feel a great sadness for the injustice of our societies and for the way in which our way of life is destroying Earth. And we feel helpless to do anything about it.

In this event lead by Dion Workman and Takuya Sasa, we look at the root causes of these issues and discuss practical solutions. We will look at ecology, technology, economics, community, education, food, health and energy. We will examine many aspects of the world today and ask how can we create the world that our hearts long for. What can we do as individuals and as communities.

Our hearts tell us that another world is possible. It is time to start living in that new world.

Dion Workman was born in Aotearoa/New Zealand and now lives in Izu-hanto. He is a natural farmer, wild food forager, permaculturalist, deep ecologist and writer.

Takuya Sasa was born in Tokyo. He has traveled extensively in 60 countries including one year traveling by horse through central America. Much of this time he has spent learning about the indigenous cultures of the countries he travels in. Takuya also spent one year in Aoteroa/New Zealand learning Permaculture.

Returning to the Way of Nature



DIY Kitchen Appliances

June 21, 2011

Living up in the mountains with the nearest road a good ten minutes walk along a steep forest path it is quite extraordinary that we have mains electricity. I imagine that nowhere else but Japan would a utility company go to such lengths to get a house on the grid. Its true this connection allows us some modern comforts – well, three at least: laptop, lights and a refrigerator (whose days are definitely numbered) – but, had we been the original occupants we probably would have opted to stay off the grid. Right from the time we first moved here we have discussed options for generating electricity ourselves, at first in the context of long-term plans but following events at Fukushima these discussions have gained some urgency. Reasons for generating our own electricity are hopefully too obvious to warrant comment but why detach from the grid altogether? Our grid is owned and operated by Tepco (the Devil itself!).

Although the micro-hydro system we would like to have generating the few kilowatts of electricity we need might still be a little way off we have been working on some super low technologies to better align our energy use with our circumstances and needs.

The previous occupant of our house seems to have done most of her cooking by gas. Convenient if you live in a city, or village, or just if there is a road nearby, really. Far less convenient when the gas bottles have to be carried on your back up in to the mountains. Also when you live in the midst of a forest there tends to be an abundance of fuel, everywhere. And, of course, you gotta pay for the gas (and which friendly neighboorhood corporation will be taking your money this time?).

Rice Cooker

To reduce overall fuel consumption the first cooking appliance we built was a heat retention cooker (HRC). These brilliantly simple devices – sometimes referred to as ‘haybox cookers’ due to the insulation material originally used or by us as our ‘rice cooker’ due to what we mostly use it for –  are certainly one of the most effective energy-saving cooking devices around. Using the gas rice cooker that we inherited with the house it took around 35 – 40 minutes of fuel usage to cook one days supply of rice plus another 10 or so minutes each time we wanted to reheat the rice. With the heat retention rice cooker it takes around 10 minutes of fuel usage to generate enough heat to cook the rice and 3 – 5 minutes to reheat it (the HRC will keep the rice warm for the best part of a day but we avoid doing this due to the risks of bacterial growth in a constantly warm environment). Keep in mind the times I have given are for fuel usage not cooking time [see below].

The principle of the HRC is simply that you heat food in a pot then place the pot in the HRC (an insulated container) which traps the heat emitted from the food in the pot and uses this heat to cook the food. Essentially it’s a sort of slow cooker so can be used for anything you might cook in a slow cooker such as grains, beans, stews, casseroles etc., or anything you might  use an insulated box for such as making yoghurt or keeping food warm.

A couple of cardboard boxes, wood ash, a sheet of styrofoam-like material backed with a reflective material (used in Japan for covering bath tubs to keep the water hot), tape, a bag of batting an old blanket.

We used wood-ash as an insulator because we have it but other insulating materials could be corrugated cardboard, old blankets, polystyrene type packaging materials… As most of the heat escapes from the top of the box this must be insulated well hence our two layers of corrugated cardboard covered with the reflective material, the batting inside a plastic bag (preventing it from becoming moist and smelly) and the old blanket over the lid of the cooker (added mainly to hold the lid down but gives one more layer of insulation to the cooker). It is well worth lining the inside of the box with some sort of reflective material as this will reflect the heat emanating from the pot back at the pot.

The model we designed and built might seem a little over engineered but it works so well I would say the little extra effort and materials  really paid off. Before making our HRC we had read that brown rice would require 10 to 15 minutes boiling then 2 hours in the HRC. We boil our brown rice for 5 minutes and after one hour in the HRC it is perfectly cooked (this is only 15 to 20 minutes more than most electric rice cookers!). It’s true that our cooking time is improved because we sprout the rice before cooking but no matter how you cook it brown rice should be soaked for a long time or, better, sprouted.

The Macrowave

Another simple device we have built is a solar box cooker.

Two boxes, a sheet of glass, some aluminium foil, wheat paste, tape and a blackened pot.

We completed the solar cooker just as we entered the rainy season so we haven’t had many opportunities to use it yet. But on the rare sunny days that we have had over the past month it has performed reasonably well. Putting a pot of water on in the morning we have boiling water for morning tea. Nothing but beautiful rays of sunshine…

The dimensions of our solar cooker were determined by the piece of glass we had and it is a little smaller than ideal. Not shown in the photograph is a ‘splash plate’ of aluminium painted flat black that sits under the pot. It’s critical to use blackened pots in solar cookers as they make an immense difference to the cooking time.

For the low down on all things solar cooking including plans: solarcooking.org

The Rocket

Our latest DIY cooking appliance is a little rocket stove. With just a handful of sticks it burns really hot producing very little smoke. Since we introduced the rocket stove to our kitchen set-up we have almost entirely ceased using the gas cooker. [Update, June 2012. Shortly after this post was written we did cease using the gas cooker entirely. It has been in storage for around 10 months and not missed at all.]

An old commercial size soy sauce can, a length of stove-pipe, a stove-pipe elbow bend, a tin can, wood ash.

A rocket stove maximizes combustion and heat transfer efficiency. In a well built stove all the volatile gases released as the wood gets hot will be combusted. This occurs when there is sufficient temperature. To attain the necessary temperatures the stove is insulated with low mass, heat resistant materials (wood ash, again, in our case). The complete combustion of the volatile gases results in virtually no smoke being emitted – a cleaner, more efficient use of wood as cooking fuel.

Rocket stove before the addition of wood-ash insulation

Although our little rocket stove works brilliantly we’re planning a new improved model already: multiple burners with high, medium and low heat, raising it to table top height… At present we use ‘risers’ to elevate our pots above the flame when we need to ‘turn the heat down’ and when we want to turn it right up we have a ‘skirt’ that fits snugly around the pot and directs the heat vertically up the sides of the pot increasing efficiency. [June, 2012. We never did get around to making that fancy new improved model. Instead we learned how to cook well on a single burner. Having the HRC in combination with the rocket stove has worked well as we can keep a dish warm in the HRC as we prepare the next dish on the rocket.]

Video tutorial on making a rocket stove

The Rocket Stove Principle

Fukushima: Week Four

April 8, 2011

The sea is radioactive, the drinking water served with a slice of thyroid cancer and vegetables now glow in the dark. Go Nuclear!

Developments at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the past weeks are too bleak not to joke about. A little gallows humour to ease the trauma.

The official response to the disaster has certainly been laughable. In a tragic and disturbing sort of way. Actually not funny at all but eliciting an exasperated breathless laughter of indignation. The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) are recklessly placing the people of Fukushima and surrounding prefectures in great danger in order to protect the nuclear industry in Japan and prevent the Japanese public from realizing the true danger posed by the countries nuclear program.

A week after the earthquake and tsunami crippled the Daiichi facility the government raised its nuclear disaster alert from 4 to 5. Non-government and non-industry affiliated scientists were claiming a rating of 6.5 or 7 (the highest alert on the scale) was warranted. Also, from this time the same outside observers were calling, and later pleading, with the government to increase the evacuation zone to 50km’s for children and pregnant women. Other countries have been warning their citizens not to go within 80 km’s of Fukushima Daiichi. Three weeks later the Japanese government announces that it is considering expanding the evacuation zone to 30km’s!

All information released to the public has been very carefully managed in order not to ’cause panic’; a euphemism for not raising awareness.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has been withholding data regarding the dispersion of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the grounds that ‘it feared releasing the data could cause public misunderstanding about radiation threats.’ (Japan Times Online). But, what they actually meant to say was that they have been withholding data because they fear that should it enter the public domain it might result in widespread public understanding of radiation threats.

The handling of all data regarding the Fukushima Daiichi accident has been appalling. Necessary relevant data for outside observers to analyse what is occurring inside the stricken reactors has not been forthcoming. Radiation levels are under reported and the health and environmental threats of radiation are consistently downplayed.

The Japanese public broadcaster NHK has uncritically repeated the official government lines on all matters  relating to Fukushima Daiichi and now the international media are starting to repeat the spin. International media outlets have been reporting that ‘low levels’ of radioactive water have been deliberately leaked into the ocean by TEPCO as part of their disaster management strategy. ‘Low levels’ that are 100 times above the legal allowable limit! The levels are relatively low compared to the radioactive water that is thousands of times above the limit that has been uncontrollably leaking into the Pacific but to simply call them low creates the impression that they are not harmful to human health and the environment – something that government spokesman Yukio Edano has repeatedly claimed – which then begs the question if these levels are not harmful why has the government set the allowable legal level one hundred times lower? (For more on the obfuscating of the true dangers of radiation see Al Jazeera ‘No safe levels’ of radiation in Japan.)

On April 5 the BBC reported that the Japanese government is undertaking a program to test radiation levels in all schools and kindergartens in Fulkushima prefecture. What the BBC reporter omitted from their article was that citizens in Fukushima have been haranguing the government to test schools before the commencement of the school year but due to lack of action by the government began their own testing program. The government, on the other hand, has been pushing for all schools in Fukushima to hold their commencement ceremonies as scheduled even though the citizens groups testing for radiation were asking for commencement to be delayed as they would not be able to test all the necessary sites in time. So, under mounting public pressure and vocal dissatisfaction with the governments handling of the situation the government will now carry out testing of school yards. Given the approach the government has taken to all data related to radiation levels in Fukushima one can’t help but wonder if this belated testing program isn’t , in fact, an attempt to take control of the data away from concerned citizens groups so it can be placed quickly in the spin machine and made confusing and incomprehensible and ‘safe.’ (For more on citizen monitoring of radiation levels in Japan see Fukushima radiation monitoring of schools and Citizen scientists help monitor radiation in Japan)

Business as Usual

From the very beginning of the Fukushima accident the nuclear industry has gone into full damage control mode. Not to control damage to human lives or the environment but to control the damage to their dirty business. This is a play they have rehearsed often as there have been many instances during the history of nuclear power in Japan when it has been necessary to cover up, clean up, pay hush money to the relatives of those killed directly from radiation exposure and undermine the cases of those dying slowly from exposure. (See Nuclear Ginza for more on this).

The nuclear power industry in Japan is one of the most powerful in the world and for the past forty years has waged a, by all measures successful, propaganda campaign to convince the Japanese public that nuclear power is safe and the only option they have. The latter statement is in fact true: nuclear power is the only option the Japanese have because nuclear power companies have a monopoly on the means of distributing power. That is, for each region of Japan a single nuclear power generating company owns the infrastructure for the delivery of electricity.

If it weren’t for the monopolizing of electricity distribution by nuclear power interests the Japanese would have numerous options available to them. It is hard to imagine a topography better suited to the implementation of small scale hydro-generation than that of Japan. There is no shortage of companies in Japan developing clean renewable energy technology (and, to counter an oft cited piece of misinformation, nuclear power is not renewable as it uses uranium, a finite resource and it can hardly be considered clean when it leaves a legacy of deadly toxic waste for 12,000 generations of humans). The renewable energy companies are waiting in line to help meet Japan’s energy needs but are prevented, by the nuclear power companies controlling the means of distribution, from implementing this technology on any kind of meaningful scale. Hence the technology remains a novelty and not a serious contender for meeting Japan’s energy requirements.

Yet a more fundamental question must be raised. Are the energy requirements, with or without nuclear, with or without solar or hydro or wind or whatever, actually realistic. The calculation of the nations future ‘energy requirements’ assumes a continuous increase in the demand for energy, so, no, they are not realistic. Our planet has physical limits. The whole argument for nuclear energy is thus based on a false problem. And we shouldn’t be rushing out to cover our hills in wind turbines either!

Small scale decentralized energy generation is far more realistic, safe and efficient. It has obvious limits and we must learn to live within those limits. In one sense the Japanese are ready for this. Solar hot water heaters are immensely popular in Japan and I see more photovoltaic solar panels in Japanese cities than possibly anywhere else I have been. But, in another sense, the Japanese seem a long way from scaling down their immense usage of electricity. This is also the most gadgetized society I have ever seen.

Turning the Tide

Cracks have appeared in the nuclear industries facade and for once the Japanese are seeing a side of nuclear power that has been carefully hidden from them. It now remains to be seen if an effective anti-nuclear movement can be mobilized to prevent the nuclear industry from patching up these cracks, a movement that can jimmy open these cracks even further and expose all the political manipulation, financial subsidies and misinformation on which nuclear power depends.

With no alternative media, a slavish mainstream media and both major political parties holding staunchly pro-nuclear stances this will, of necessity, be a truly grass roots movement against enormous odds.

The Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) in Tokyo has been streaming daily analysis of developments at Fukushima Daiichi by Prof. Goto, a former nuclear engineer for Toshiba, the company that built the Fukushima reactors, alongside other former nuclear industry insiders. These daily video streams are by far the most informative commentaries on developments at Fukushima available in Japanese but on average they have a viewership of around one thousand people – in a country of 130 odd million people. How to stimulate and facilitate public discussion is a problem we must urgently address. With all the gadgets here cell phones and social media would seem obvious places to start.

One interesting figure to emerge as an unlikely  campaigner for the anti-nuclear movement is Son Masaiyoshi the founder and CEO of telecommunications giant Softbank and the richest man in Japan. Son has already donated 119 million dollars (10 billion yen) to the earthquake relief efforts and has committed his entire earnings until retirement (he is 54 years old) to support victims of the quake and tsunami. While these acts have made headlines less covered is his anti-nuclear epiphany and subsequent efforts to encourage serious debate about the future of nuclear power in Japan. Son has sponsored panel discussions with Prof. Goto and other distinguished scientists and streamed these over the internet.

Honest and open debate about nuclear power is all that is needed, if, and this is a really big if, after such debate the general public are allowed to choose how their energy is generated. Nuclear is such a bad deal that it doesn’t stand a chance. And this is precisely why such debate is shut down by those banking on nuclear. We must not overlook the connection between nuclear power and an economic system which also ignores the physical limits of our small planet in delusions of unending growth. To go after nuclear power without addressing the long term unsustainability of the economic system is to fail to point out the most fundamental flaw in the pro-nuclear argument.

Its been a while since the last post so let me begin with a brief update.

We are currently in Minamiizu, the southern tip of the Izu peninsula which lies just south of Tokyo. We are staying with a young family farming vegetables and rice with ducks. We came to this area with the intention of looking for land to farm ourselves as Minamiizu has the reputation of being a little more laid back and cosmopolitan than most of rural Japan. So far this has been our experience. We have also seen some very interesting terraced farmland that has been abandoned….

Back in June we left Japan to travel in the Philippines. While our initial reason for going was the renewal of my visitors visa for Japan we were also aware that traditional natural farming was still being practiced in many parts of the Philippines and wanted to take a look.

We divided our time in the Philippines between two different locations on Luzon island, in Tublay municipality near Baguio city and in Ifugao province.

In Tuplay we stayed at ENCA, the Cosalan family farm and “eco-tourism” site. (If the term eco-tourism conjures up images of wealthy first-worlders ‘roughing’ it in pristine exotic locations that was certainly not the case here. The visitors were primarily urban Filipinos making day trips into the country side and the few foreign visitors were mostly volunteer workers like ourselves).

The primary crop at ENCA is shade grown organic coffee with some vegetables also being produced. There are many challenges at ENCA not the least of which is the difficulty of getting products to market with the nearest negotiable road forty minutes walk away. The roads never used to be quite so bad or so far away but in 2009 the area was hammered by a series of typhoons that resulted in massive erosion of the mountains, river beds increasing from ten to twenty times their previous size and large areas of farm land and infrastructure washed downstream by the raging torrents.

Unfortunately there is something of a history of severe environmental degradation in the area. Rice production on the terraced mountain sides ceased in the 1970’s when copper mining in the area contaminated the water. Although the 2009 typhoons were the trigger for the most recent damage it was clear to me from observation (and later confirmed by discussing it with locals) that the extent of the damage had been greatly exacerbated by poor land management practices.

High up in the valley were “upland” farmers practicing slash and burn agriculture, a practice that although part of farming traditions in many parts of the world often has a detrimental effect on the eco-systems where it is practiced. One of the problems with the slash and burn approach, and particularly notable in the case of the valley where ENCA is located, is the increased surface runoff of water. Slashing and burning the forest to open up areas for cultivation exposes the bare earth which results in an increase in  the volume and intensity of the surface runoff, particularly in severe weather, picking up more organic matter and gouging out more of the hillside, exposing more of the surface etc., etc.

Upland farmers planting a new garden


More troubling than the activities of the upland farmers though was the practice of free range grazing of cattle in the forest. At the top of all of the worst land slides in the area was evidence of prolonged grazing of cows. Unfortunately it seems very few of the farmers have made the connection between the grazing of animals in the forest and the severity of erosion being experienced. In forest systems hard-hoofed grazers on free-range eat out the small shrubs and saplings that play an essential role in the stability of the forest. These are plants that protect the forest floor in exposed areas where the canopy has been disturbed and act as a nursery for forest plant stock to ensure regeneration of the forest.

As the animals move across the steep slopes their tracks produce ruts which become channels which in high rainfall events are gouged out and can lead to ‘slips’ or land slides. In the forest around ENCA there was ample evidence that this was exactly what was occurring.

View from ENCA farm across river

Beyond the obvious environmental stress ENCA was a very beautiful place. Valleys of terraced gardens growing organic vegetables surrounded by forest in which coffee was grown along with an abundance of pineapples, guava, banana, jackfruit, wild tomatoes….


Jackfruit in the forest

We had a wonderful time thanks to the Cosalan family hospitality but ENCA was not really the place for learning about traditional natural farming practices. The practices there were a mix of recently imported ideas such as beneficial indigenous micro-organisms and biodynamics.

The next farm we visited was exactly what we had been hoping to find. We stayed with the Puguon family between the villages of Pula and Bulpog in Asipulo municipality of Ifugao province. Ifugao is famous for its rice terraces, particularly the town of Benaue, probably the number one tourist destination in the Philippines but we were deep in the mountains far away from the tourists.

Thirty minutes walk from the village of Pula (a village itself only accesible by 4WD or motorbike ) up steep mountain paths that wind towards Bulpog and we were in a valley occupied by a clan of the Kalanguya tribe, terraced paddy and forest farmers.

The farmers here operate a traditional system of farming, variations of which can be found throughout the mountains of northern Luzon in the  Philippines and in other remote regions throughout Asia. It is a system of farming that was dominant in the Asia Pacific region before the introduction of mechanized/chemical agriculture. It is a system of terraquaculture (earth-water farming), a natural farming system that utilizes the existing features of environments as “eco-structures” for developing sustainable productive systems. In particular it works with the natural flows of water through the landscape, making optimal use of the water and the nutrients it carries.

Rice terraces and forest

In the steep mountain valleys of Asipulo the basic pattern of the farming system is terraced rice paddies as low down in the system as possible with vegetables grown around the edges of the paddies and managed forest (pinguo) above. The forest is recognized as the source of water and fertility that keeps the whole system productive.

Rice terraces with beans growing on terrace walls and betel nut palm in foreground

The Bulpog clan of the Kalanguya people are true forest farmers. Much of their food, their medicines, shelter and many items used in daily life are products of their forests. Their cash crops of coffee and betel nut are grown throughout the forest. Food grown in the forest and on its fringes includes coconut, taro, cassava, chilli, pomello, papaya, banana, pineapple, ginger, yam as well as various fungi and wild honey. The distinction between farmed and wild food is truly blurred in these forests. In a sense everything is ‘farmed’ in that selective ‘weeding’ of the forest is done in order to promote the growth of the most desirable species but at the same time everything grown in the forest is somewhat wild as self-seeding is the main method of propagation and everything is grown in a truly complex polyculture.


Gerald Puguon slashing and mulching around coffee saplings

Pineapple plants used to stabilize steep banks

Rattan is the most widely used plant of these forest farmers. They eat its sour fruit and shoots and use the canes for twine and baskets. Rattan crafts are widely sold at tourist markets in the Philippines but the people of Bulpog do not produce for these markets. The price that the craftspeople receive for their products is insultingly low but, more critically, is the recognition of the relatively slow growth of rattan. The Bulpog farmers are aware that if they begin producing crafts for markets they will quickly exhaust the rattan that they use so widely in their daily lives. This is an applaudable decision as these people are very money poor.

Senior Puguon weaving rattan basket

The finished basket

What is not grown in the forest (or on the forest edge around dwellings and along pathways) is produced as part of the paddy system. The farmers here grow from one to three crops of rice per paddy field per year. While rice is the main staple any failure in the rice crop could, for one year at least, be covered by the secondary staples of taro and cassava. These people may be ‘poor’ but they are certainly in no risk of starvation!

The rice paddies are also biodiverse polycultural systems. With the rice is grown taro and azolla (a water fern that fixes atmospheric nitrogen and is used as a garden mulch by the Bulpog Kalanguya), molluscs (various kinds of snails), fish (loaches and fresh water crayfish) or ducks (as ducks eat the molluscs and small fish its an either/or situation).

On the walls of the paddies legumes are grown, usually the winged bean, a delicious and highly nutritious bean that is also an excellent nitrogen fixer. Other vegetables are grown around the edges of the paddies but on occasion whole plots of vegetables are planted. These more recognizable vegetable gardens are used to form new terraces. The farmers create rows running up and down the slope so that the act of gardening will slowly move the soil downhill, eventually creating a level terrace that can be used as a paddy.

Vegetable gardens used to form level terraces

As mentioned earlier one of the main cash crops of this area is shade grown coffee. The planting of coffee in these forests began in earnest in the 1970’s when the introduction of cattle grazing threatened to destroy the forests. Insightful farmers realized that in order to save the forests they needed to develop cash crops that required forest cover and began to plant coffee widely. Initially the plan was a success with the grazing of cattle quickly abandoned but a crash in coffee prices in the 1980’s and subsequent fluctuations have exposed the forest to new threats.

The farmers have continued to grow coffee under the shade of the forest but they are paid very little for their product. The main buyer of coffee from this region is Nestle. Its a tragic tale all too familiar in the age of globalized free market capitalism. High quality naturally farmed organic coffee – grown in order to preserve forests –  is being sold for next to nothing to be turned into low quality Nescafe instant coffee. Nestle, and the Filipino agricultural advisers who are more or less working for them are now encouraging the farmers to cut down the forest so that the coffee plants can be cut down and regenerated in short cycles supposedly to improve ‘productivity.’ When the farmers are receiving the lowest possible price for their product any improvement in productivity is obviously not going to be in their interests.

Senior roasting coffee (a three hour process)

The price for coffee is so low that Nestle’s stupid advice it is not actually posing a real threat to the forest. But certainly the establishment of decent markets for the high quality coffee grown in these forests would ensure the forest farming of this region continues. (If you are trading in fair trade organic raw coffee beans, or would like to, please contact me).

The bigger immediate threat to the forests is market gardening. Although barely viable at present with access to the mountain villages so difficult the municipal government is proposing building a road into the mountains to open it up for larger scale market gardening. The farming system practiced in these mountains is truly sustainable if it continues as it has traditionally been done. It has been highly refined over a very long time to maintain maximum fertility. Cutting down the forest and exhausting the remaining fertility with vegetable production will likely cause total collapse of the system within a few short years. Chemical fertilizers may keep it artificially alive for a few more but most likely the people of Bulpog will be poor and in risk of starvation. The fact is that were they to receive a decent price for their coffee they could continue to be exemplary practitioners of a truly sustainable agriculture.

In closing I want to share one more photograph. It is of the river that runs below the village of Bulpog and the farms surrounding the village. It is a truly beautiful river that even after heavy rain remains perfectly clear (i.e., there is virtually no soil being washed into the river due to erosion). It is a truly amazing testament to the farming system operating in these mountains. Approximately 80 households are supported by farms situated directly above this river yet there is no sign of pollution or degradation of the land.

River below the Bulpog farms

This past weekend I met a fisherman named Gori-san. When not plying his trade on the Pacific coast Gori-san can be found in the mountains of Iwate prefecture planting trees. Gori-san understands that the health of the ocean, from which he makes his livelihood, is dependant on healthy forests. In Iwate and Miyagi prefectures fishermen have committed themselves to the task of re-establishing healthy forests in the mountain watersheds that feed the ocean. It is a phenomena that was started some twenty years ago when a fisherman named Hatakeyama Shigeatsu made the connection between declining oyster populations, mountain forests and the rivers which feed the ocean.

Hatakeyama-san knew from experience that declining fish stocks were connected to the health of the forest but he struggled to find any scientific research to verify this. Scientific specialists were seemingly not interested in the connection between ocean, forest and river. Eventually Hatakeyama-san did manage to locate research papers by a Professor Katsuhiko Matsunaga of the School of Fisheries Sciences of Hokkaido University that explained, in scientific terms, what he empirically knew.

According to the research conducted by Matsunaga-san a decline in upstream broad-leaf forests had led to a decline in fluvic acid iron that is created when the humus formed by the falling leaves of trees is dissolved in rainwater and carried to the ocean through the river systems. The fluvic acid iron is essential for the growth of phytoplankton, the presence of which is in turn essential for the formation of rich ecosystems in coastal areas.

A decline in Japan’s broad-leaf forests had resulted from the vast plantations of coniferous trees that were established to supply the timber industry. Hatakeyama-san saw that this trend could be reversed especially as Japan’s timber industry was now itself in decline. Armed with the scientific evidence Hatakeyama-san was able to convince other fishermen of the urgent need to re-establish diverse forests of broad-leaf and deciduous trees in the mountain watersheds. When plantation trees are clear cut by forestry workers the fishermen replant appropriate species to restore the health of the ocean on which they are so dependent.