Friday, 30 October 2009

Generation to Generation

The rice harvest time has come. A grain of rice planted in Spring had sunk its roots deep in the ground, grown over twenty shoots throughout the Summer, with each shoot now bearing several hundred grains. By late Autumn, one rice grain had multiplied six to seven hundred fold, and was drooping under the weight of plump rice grains. I carefully cut the shoots, tie them up in a bundle and hang them over the bamboo poles. I do not neglect a single grain in the field.

When harvesting rice, I picture in my mind the scene of three peasant women in Millet’s famous painting ‘The Gleaner’ (1857) . They stoop to glean the last scraps of wheat in the field, and in contrast, there is a large stack of harvested wheat in the background for their landlords. In some areas of France at that time, it was apparently the usual conduct of landlords to leave some grain unharvested. Gleaning was considered the right of peasants who could not sustain their lives purely by everyday labour.

The other day when I was drinking with my friends at a local bar, one of them raised a question, namely, whether genetically modified crops could save the environment. His example was desertification in China, where rapid economic growth drives Chinese people to eat more meat, and in order to satisfy market demand, farmers are shifting to raise livestock such as cows, sheep and goats (no!) rather than growing vegetables. As a result, there is not enough grass or feed for animals and the trend further hastens desertification. I could have argued against his hypothetical question, based on a documentary film I saw recently, and from which I learned about some repercussions of GM products (for more information about the film, please visit the site:

The issue that struck me, however, was the fast growing demand for meat, which can be considered a symbol of wealth and success in that society. The vision of splendid banquet scenes, a wealthy Chinese student I met in Australia who never had eaten green vegetables in his life, the endless rotation of a demand and supply cycle on a massive economic scale – all the images made me dizzy.

For farmers, everything begins with seed. Generation by generation, farmers continue selecting the best seeds suited to the soil and climate in each area, and preserve and develop chosen species. However, commonly distributed F1 hybrid seeds are unstable for reproduction, and modified plant gene sequences are now usually patented, so giant corporations gain control of the seed market, and individual farmers risk losing independence. It is easy to criticise corporations and the way that farmers automatically shift their methods and produce in a knee-jerk fashion, but what alarms me is the way parents and consumers unthinkingly seek comfort and pleasure. Most children naturally enjoy meat instead of vegetables (in fact Awako the goat would completely ignore weeds and guzzle sweet cabbage leaves if given the chance. I am tempted...), but I do not believe that to be a good course for their future development. People’s individual outlooks are not simply formed by the corporate world view and pleasure principle. We should consider the way that, as humans, we take responsibility for future generations.

To return to my friend’s question: rather than reacting to consequences (like desertification) with an instant fix solution (like GM), we need examine causes, otherwise a cycle is locked in place.

After the harvest, I separate 2-3% of grain or seed from the portion to be consumed, until the next planting season comes. The French landlords’ custom of leaving 2-3% of crops in fields generated and sustained peasants’ lives. If every one of us who is not at a risk of starvation spared 2-3% of our time or effort on something or somebody else, it could make a great change in the world. I am not a professional scientist or tradesman who can make a direct impact on current trends. However, as a person striving to work in an educational field at the local level, I would like to gather as much information as possible to pass on to the next generation. Therefore, dear and faithful blog readers, if you can suggest any articles, documentaries, websites and so on that might be of future benefit, your small yet invaluable portion of life can be used to join generation to generation.

A seed bearer   種を運ぶヤギ
Cabbage please 「キャベツちょうだい。」










gusan said...


Sacchan said...




masa said...

You may like this blog

Best wishes!

Chris said...

The book 'Spinoza and Deep Ecology' may be of interest; there is a sample on Google books at:

The book considers inter alia Arne Naess, the late Norwegian ecophilosopher, who contends in his reading of Spinoza that 'interacting with things and understanding things cannot be separated. The units of understanding are not propositions but acts' ('Spinoza and Ecology').

For Naess, these 'acts of understanding' maximise and open our perspective to what Spinoza calls the intellectual love of God or Nature, ie the 'total richness and diversity of life forms on Earth'. This highest form of knowledge is the realisation of human potential in its intrinsic relation to other forms of life, and manifests in our acting spontaneously in accordance with knowledge of God or Nature.

Sacchan said...

Dear Masa,

Very interesting blog. Thank you very much. I resistered myself as a reader.

Sacchan said...

Dear Chris-san,

Act of understanding is an action. Understanding is an interaction. The book seems to suggest that we are inseparable from nature whatever we do....?

Thanks for the suggestion. I will google it online.