Earlier this month, Shumei International participated in the annual Oxford Real Farming Conference(ORFC), which took place from January 7th to 21st, 2021. This year, the event was held virtually attracting more than 5000 participants from across the world. Shumei Natural Agriculture farmers from Japan were invited to present on the status of Natural Agriculture in Japan in this global context of sustainable farming.
During the opening plenary, the Shumei Taiko Ensemble offered a powerful Taiko drumming performance. Alice Cunningham of Shumei International introduced the Ensemble and explained that Taiko is more than a musical performance but a prayer for harmony and an auspicious invocation to Nature. Keynote speakers for the opening plenary included Colin Tudge, Co-founder of the ORFC and Francesa Price, ORFC Program Director. Speakers during the plenary included Nigerian climate activist, Nnimmo Bassey, Nury Martinez, City Councilwoman from Los Angeles and strong advocate for the Green New Deal, and Anna Lappe, who is an American best-selling author, food justice advocate, and advisor to funders investing in food system transformation.
On the final day of the conference, Shumei hosted a plenary session entitled Natural Agriculture in Japan: Restoring Biodiversity and Seed Saving. With thousands of participants tuning in globally, Shumei International took audience members on a virtual tour of Shumei’s Natural Agriculture demonstration farm, Shigaraki No Sato, in the Shiga prefecture of Japan.
Following the virtual tour, Shumei farmer Kenji Sakai presented research on the impact of Natural Agriculture rice cultivation on the biodiversity at Shigaraki no Sato. He explained how endangered insects, Japanese honeybees, dragonflies and frogs were discovered in Natural Agriculture rice paddies and the overall greater biodiversity on the farm in comparison to surrounding conventional farms. Kenji discussed how Shigaraki no Sato’s environmental practices of seed saving, and employing the Japanese concept of Satoyama or taking entire landscapes into consideration during the farming process encouraged harmony in the Shigaraki ecosystem. This innate harmony revitalized the integrity of the land, thus encouraging biodiversity restoration in the area.
Kenji also shared research findings on the soil health of the farm, including how the Natural Agriculture soil at Shigraki no Sato was also found to have more microbial diversity than conventional soil. To conduct this research, Kenji and Shumei worked with the Soil Biodiversity Project and researcher Dr. Kazunari Yokoyama to develop a methodology to measure soil’s microbial diversity, degradation speed, and overall health.
After Kenji spoke about the environmental transformation which took place at Shigaraki no Sato, Alice Cunningham then interviewed Shumei farmer Momoko Shiraki, a young female farmer and the founder of the 100 Shiga Girl Farmers Project. Momoko shared with the audience her work as a food coordinator, and how she encourages young people in Japan to start farming and developing a connection to Nature. She elaborated on her experience becoming a farmer and how it has helped her lead a holistic and happy life. Many were eager to learn more about the revival of farming culture in Japan, and what the future of farming might look like.
During the Q&A session, several audience members were interested in learning more about Natural Agriculture and the possibility of practicing it outside of Japan and how it can help mitigate climate change. Several attendees wanted to know how Shumei inspires young people to get involved in farming as this is a challenge in other parts of the world not just Japan.
This was the first time that Shumei’s Japanese Natural Agriculture farmers were able to participate in a large global conference. It was an opportunity for them to understand the challenges of other farmers and their struggles and share solutions and ideas with each other. Shumei looks forward to continuing to connect with the ORFC network and collaborating with the global community of leaders who are working to restore biodiversity and awaken harmony with Nature.