prospectus

Coexistence between Nature and Human Beings:
Viewed through Agriculture
Prospectus for the Fifth Yoko Civilization International Conference

Humankind has survived by harvesting plants and animals that have grown within the great rhythms of nature. People planted seeds of edible plants and cultivated them to live on. Traditionally, it can be said that the basic way of living for humankind has been to work on farms, being nurtured by the dynamic life force that drives nature. However, methods of agriculture based on modern science and technology emerged, and eventually overtook the traditional agriculture that human beings had developed over a long period of time. One reason for this rapid takeover was that technology-based agriculture, which came to be so widespread that it is now called “conventional agriculture,” was able to overcome the inefficiencies of labor in traditional agriculture. As a result, technology-based agriculture spread rapidly on a global scale. This historical tide, however, has posed new issues for humankind.

 

In order to maximize agricultural produce per unit area, as well as to reduce the amount of labor of farming practitioners, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides were developed and applied to soils and plants. Administrative agencies have said that they would closely examine the effects of synthetic chemicals on plants and place restrictions on usage when necessary. However, when the amount of chemicals applied do not exceed certain levels, they see no problem. They have focused on establishing a social milieu for farming practitioners that aims to increase produce per unit area. However, this approach is said to be an unintentional cause of the contamination of nature, particularly the soil, groundwater, and air.

 

Vegetables produced by hydroponic farming or factory farming are notable examples of conventional agriculture. The promoters of factory farming claim that Mother Earth is already contaminated with various agents, such as germs, that are occasionally harmful and impure, but that factory farming is able to eliminate these unfavorable legacies. The emergence of genetically modified seeds, which have resistance to herbicides or vermin, has appealed to some farmers. However, behind the scenes of the appearance of such seeds, there may be some dangers to humans and nature that are not recognized.


All foods are derived from living things. These living things have been evolving and adapting to the natural environment for hundreds and thousands, even millions, of years. In contrast, due to the rapid and dramatic development of science and technology, living things, including seeds, plants, and animals, have been artificially manipulated and changed in a very short period of time. Moreover, compared to the history of civilization, one of the characteristics of modern society is that these kinds of changes are now taking place globally. It is difficult to anticipate what kind of society would be brought about by these characteristics. Some predictors can be found, such as the common occurrence of abnormal weather, global warming, and the deterioration of ecosystems all over the world.

 

The Yoko Civilization Research Institute is hosting an international conference, with the theme "Coexistence between Nature and Human Beings." The reason for selecting this theme is that the Institute thinks it is necessary to reconsider the importance of the fact that all life, including humankind, has developed in close connection with Mother Nature. Since the theme "Coexistence between Nature and Human Beings" is broad, the conference will approach this theme through agriculture.

Details of the conference are as follows:

  • Conference name: Fifth Yoko Civilization International Conference: "Coexistence between Nature and Human Beings: Viewed through Agriculture"
  • Date: Sunday, November 20 - Wednesday, November 23, 2011
  • Venue: Hikaru Museum, Takayama, Japan
  • Numbers: 30 discussants / 400 observers
  • Topics: We would like to carry out discussions focusing on the following three topics.

1) The present state of agriculture and the interventions of science and technology

In 2010, the Yoko Civilization Research Institute held a symposium focusing on the relationship between organic agriculture and the quality of life. The symposium did not include enough time to discuss how science and technology have intervened in agriculture and what significance and what problems this issue bears. Therefore, in the first section of the conference, we would like to provide a forum to discuss the consequences and issues of conventional agriculture, which has been supported by the knowledge and practices of science and technology. In addition, we welcome a discussion of the consequences and issues of organic agriculture.

 

It would fulfill our intentions as conference planners to open the door to discussions that seek a new type of agriculture, transcending the dichotomy between conventional and organic approaches to agriculture. The main issue in this first topic lies in seeking this third way of conducting agriculture, taking advantage of the benefits of both conventional and organic agricultures.

2) The relationship between nature and human beings: in light of technology and the web of life

As we discuss the topics in the first section, we will be drawn to think about how we should understand the relationship between nature and human beings. As people come into contact with nature, we sometimes treat it as an object for observation or manipulation with a utilitarian approach, thinking about how we can make use of it in our daily life. At the same time, however, humans sense that nature is our origin of life, and helps us grow up and foster our life. Almost all people have experienced both of these attitudes toward nature, and it seems that both are important in relating to nature. By selecting "coexistence between nature and human beings" as the main theme for the conference, however, the planning committee implies that a critical (evaluative) view needs to be given to our present society based on science and technology, which finds its orientation in an excessively utilitarian interest in relating to nature.

 

In the second section of the conference, then, we hope that these two different ways of viewing the relationship between nature and human beings will be discussed. Martin Buber expressed these concepts of the relationship between nature and human beings using the phrases "I-it" and "I-thou." In other words, we would like discussants to consider the relationship between nature and human beings in a philosophical context in addition to human beings' relationship to natural elements, such as water, earth, light, air, and bodies. Viewing nature as an entity that fulfills human utilitarian interests allows us to perceive soil, water, light, air, and bodies as objects for technological manipulation. If we view soil, water, light, air, and bodies as entities that sustain the web of life, however, our relationship with these may differ. We hope that the merits and drawbacks of science and technology will be further clarified through discussion on this second topic of the relationship between nature and human beings.

3) Toward a future society: the beginning of new practices

In the third topic, we intend to foster discussion on how humans can best relate to nature and what society should be like, through concrete examples. More than forty years ago, E.F. Schumacher published Small Is Beautiful, warning of the excessive intervention of science and technology toward nature and society. Nevertheless, such interventions have become unrestrained, ending up as the cause of environmental problems.

 

Regarding the present situation of society, there are those who have the attitude of trying to open people’s minds to other views about the relationship between humans and nature through the use of approaches such as coexistence, circulation, symbiosis, diversity, and sustainability. Improvements in society are offered using terms such as "from sustainability to a regenerative society." These terms are used in the fields of agriculture, the environment, nature, and society. The main discussion in this third topic, then, focuses on issues of establishing a new relationship between nature and human beings and reducing the excessive intervention of science and technology. The conference planners hope for practical discussion on what is needed and what should be done in the process of realizing a society where people are relatively independent and self-sufficient in their communities within the context of the coexistence between nature and human beings.

  • Conference Outline
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