‘Competition should remain limited to areas that are not crucial to the preservation of life.’ EM-inventor Teruo Higa on the beauty of agriculture and and a new technological revolution.
When I went to secondary school, I earned my tuition by selling cabbage and cucumbers. I cultivated them with the greatest of care and attention. I found a couple of shops that would buy them from me for 10 yen apiece. I was pleased with this amount, until I saw that the shop sold my cabbage for 30 yen apiece. I felt cheated. After all, I had done all the work while the shopkeeper pocketed the money and drove around in a big car.
It got worse. Every so often the shopkeeper sold my cabbage for only one yen. That was to attract customers and advertize his business. The shopkeeper didn’t really lose on the deal, because he was making plenty on the other items he sold. But I felt burned and humiliated. It seemed like all my work was only worth one yen a cabbage.
When I expressed my displeasure, I was told that this was simply the way things worked in the world. That bewildered me. Agricultural products are nothing less than the basis of human life. And the method of production is actually a type of alchemy: from practically nothing you create something extraordinarily valuable. I told my customers that given the circumstances I was considering stopping production, but they just said it was up to me. They didn’t need me. There were 10 others waiting to take my place. I’ve never forgotten that feeling of powerlessness. Today, the system is still the same as it was then.
Until recently, people continually lived in circumstances marked by economic and food shortages. But that is now a thing of the past. Each year we produce enough food to sustain the entire world population. The annual volume is enough to supply everyone with 2,400 calories a day. And yet, an overwhelming portion of the world’s population goes hungry. Not the production, but the distribution is the problem. Selfishness hinders us from fairly sharing our food.
The modern world is set up according to an outdated concept: competition. Progress means winning, being better than someone else, having more than the next guy. Many books on this theme have become best sellers. This is not such a surprise. Wars and battles have played a central role in human history for so long that we consider winning very important. But if someone wins, there is always a loser as well. In a world in which mutual solidarity is so important, we can no longer afford to permanently support the competition model. There is nothing wrong with competitiveness in and of itself. It is, in fact, important and necessary in developing such things as computer programmes or marketing concepts. But competition should remain limited to areas that are not fundamental to the preservation of life. Vital areas, such as the food supply, should be excluded from competition.
We must master the philosophy of coexistence and shared wealth. I believe that EM is an example of this. The micro-organisms in the EM group belong to five different families. They contain both aerobic varieties (that need oxygen to survive, ed.) and anaerobic types (for which oxygen is disastrous, ed.). The most striking thing about EM is that the two types can exist side by side and achieve wonderful results together. Up until now, no one has actually figured out what would happen if you join together micro-organisms of such dissimilar types. It is considered an obvious fact that they would destroy each other in such an experiment. EM demonstrates that in nature, this type of drastic coexistence is possible.
The idea of collecting a large diversity of different micro-organisms and massively merging them into a single combination was long considered impossible. We long assumed it could not be done, without actually putting it to the test. Looking back that was a mistake.
Actually, I discovered EM by accident. In 1977 I began conducting experiments in the laboratory at the University of Ryukyus with the various micro-organisms to use in crop cultivation. For years, I was not very successful and discovered nothing. At the end of each day I threw the remains down the drain, but one day in 1981 I decided to throw some of my waste into the university’s garden. After all, it was organic material, so it couldn’t do any harm. A week later I saw that part of the grass was growing faster than the rest. I was curious as to why and asked colleagues and students who had been experimenting with the grass. To no avail. Meanwhile, the grass was growing at an incredible rate. And then I suddenly realised that I was the one who had done ‘something’ to the grass. I figured out which micro-organisms I had used and confirmed that the mixture had a surprisingly productive effect in any type of soil.
Not everyone believes that you can grow healthy crops by only using EM. Farmers who have always used modern agricultural methods are particularly resistant. But the greatest obstacles to spreading EM technology are probably ignorance and conservatism among scientists and experts. They are often against using the method without having seen the results in practice. And that also applies to companies. They see EM as a threat to their own interests.
My experiences in Japan’s scientific community and bureaucracy have not been favourable. When I try and talk with academics and students about EM, they always ask me to produce scientific research and, even more importantly, a sound scientifically based explanation. I prefer to base my conclusions on the results that I have achieved by putting the technology into practice. I consider agricultural theory completely useless when it is not supported by practical experience. As far as I’m concerned, polemics and theoretical discussions are a waste of time. I’d rather see results without theory than theory without results.
This may be a presumptuous allegation, but it seems to me that using EM is the ideal method to achieve sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture. EM could mean a revolution in the approach to problems that seriously threaten life on earth, such as food shortages and environmental pollution. These are problems that affect us all. I am hopeful that EM technology will be an effective method for solving these major problems.
More and more people may well understand that technology can mitigate these problems, but they can also be a source of pollution. Agricultural methods that are dependent on contaminating chemicals, pesticides and chemical fertilizer, are sources of pollution. This type of technology could even be called self-destructive. Which is why there is so much interest in what is called ‘authentic technology’. Sustainable energy is an example of this. It is useful and curative and totally harmless.
I am an absolute believer in authentic technology, which is characterized by the fact that it is effective and simple to use. It won’t make you rich overnight, but the advantages are lasting. There are no harmful side effects or other negative aspects. And if defects do emerge, the technology is capable of adjusting itself. This is all true for EM.
I also feel that authentic technology should be inexpensive. That seems simpler than it is. Imaging that someone discovers a light bulb with an unlimited life span that can be produced for about the same price as a conventional bulb. No manufacturer would want to market the bulb because after an initial run on the product, sales would drop to zero. The manufacturer might as well shut down. Low profit margins on this type of product will always hinder the introduction of anything that is authentic. I think that’s the reason why it has taken so long for EM to be spread on such a wide scale. But even now EM still meets with strong resistance from the establishment.
In modern society, the first and most prevalent reaction to a useful discovery is to allow as few people as possible to find out about it. I find this response obsolete. I would very much like to publicize the EM formula and production method. Then farmers everywhere could produce enough for their own use themselves. However, I once had a bad experience releasing product information. The people involved supplied an inferior end product that resulted in a court case initiated by the purchasers of this inferior EM. I too was involved as the inventor of the original formula. This taught me that, for now, the product information should remain under wraps. But I have not applied for a patent. I would consider that inappropriate. I am convinced that what exists in nature all around us, should be the property of every man, woman and child on this planet. I would truly like my discovery to be made available for the lowest possible price.
Here too, the philosophy of coexistence and shared wealth are necessary. When you have discovered something authentic, you must spread the news to as many people as possible. Talk about it, so that it – whatever it may be – has the greatest chance of success. This is exactly the opposite of what happens in our competitive society. I believe that the application of authentic technologies worldwide will lead to a genuine revolution. EM will demonstrate its latent potential in that process in every possible way. It will become ever more popular and spread on a large scale. Of that I am convinced.