Why indigenous?
Natural farming rejects foreign microorganisms. It also rejects microorganisms that are produced mechanically or artificially or refined simply to increase their market values. No other microorganism adapts with the same strength and effectiveness as indigenous microorganisms that have lived in the local area for a long time.  Domestic farmers who are used to buying commercial microorganisms are amazed at the effectiveness of homemade indigenous microorganism (IMO). The spread of IMOs and Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) is giving a new vision for environment friendly agriculture in Asia. We can make microorganisms, widely considered to be one of the most important materials in sustainable agriculture, at home.


IMO is the basis of making fertile soil
Farming is inconceivable without soil. Therefore adding strength and fertility to soil is the number one priority. What then is fertile soil? Current research indicates that 0.1 hectare of uncontaminated land holds around 700 kg of microorganisms, although this varies depending on how much organic material  is contained in the soil. Of this, 70-75% is fungus, 20-25% is bacteria and 5% is small animals. If we assume that around 80% of their body mass is water then the dry weight would be about 140kg.  Of this dry weight Carbon (C) accounts for 70kg and nitrogen accounts for around 11kg. Given that the suggested nitrogen fertilizer input for 0.1 ha is 10kg we can see that the amount of naturally produced nitrogen in the soil is equivalent.

100 million to 1 billion microorganisms live in 1 gram of soil. In the space of 1 human footprint are to be found 3,280 aphids, 479 fleas, 74,810 nematodes and 1,485 small earthworms. All these organisms live in balance, helping the growth of plants on the land’s surface.

For environmentally friendly agriculture to be successful we need to replicate these conditions as much as possible. In order to bring soil into balance as described above strategies for creating adequate conditions and food for microorganisms and small animals is essential. When you cover hard packed soil  with straw mats and straw for 7-10 days you will witness white fungus proliferating and the soil itself becoming soft and wet.  These conditions never fail to attract earthworms. Thus adding expensive purchased microorganisms to the soil is unnecessary, with some minimal input from humans the soil can recover its strength on its own. In a proper environment (Ian: not sure what this means) fungus microrganisms grow first. Their growth attracts nematodes, which in turn attract earthworms, mole crickets and moles. These organisms and animals restore the balance to soil, improve it’s structure and condition and so help the growth of plants.  90% of the organisms beneficial to plants live within 5cm of the soil’s surface.

When the land is covered by organic material such as rice straw an ideal ratio of shade to sun, 7:3 is created.  Under such conditions water is kept from evaporating and the soil is protected from direct sunlight.  In order to create such an environment a variety of methods are utilized including rice straw or leaf mulching, wild grass cultivation mulching and rye sowing.

You will see from looking at mountains and fields in nature that the land becomes fertile from top to bottom, not bottom to top. Therefore it is recommended that organic fertilizers and organic materials be applied to the surface of the soil in the form of mulching.

Material Circulation
Microorganisms do most of the material circulation in nature (Ian: this is also referred to as the soil food web). These microorganisms break down materials by decomposition as well as creating new materials.  Seemingly nothing is impossible for microorganisms.

Microorganisms in soil are responsible for two main functions. The first function is to decompose and convert complex organic compounds such as dead plant and animals, numerous secretions and excretions and organic fertilizers into simple compounds such that material circulation is possible.  Inorganic nutrients are also decomposed by organisms and become highly activated and easily absorbed by plants . Weak microorganism action means improper material circulation.

The second function is to synthesize complex compounds and organic compounds. Microorganisms produce a wide variety of such compounds including antibiotics, enzymes and lactic acids. These suppress various diseases and promote chemical reactions in the soil. In the absence of enzymes complex chemical reactions cannot occur at high speed. For example when sunlight strikes leaves it takes less than 1 second to produce one molecule of carbohydrate. Most chemical reactions in the soil and in plants are not likely to occur without enzymes acting as catalysts.  Some microorganisms self synthesize nutrients using energy from sunlight, some fix nitrogen obtained from the air and so enrich the soil.

Many more microorganisms and functions exist which we are not aware of.  Modern scientific knowledge has revealed less than 10% of the soils microorganisms. The soil and the microorganisms which inhabit it remain for the most part a mystery.

Commercialization of microrganisms
As more research is done on microorganisms so there is ever greater pressure to commercialize them. The result has been that large amounts of microorganisms are imported from foreign countries an sold on the domestic market. This is regrettable.

One core issue is how microorganisms can be commercialized. Commercialization is only possible when you can be assured of continued sales and demand.  However this also means that the effectiveness of commercially sold microrganisms be short lived.  And so it is that commercialized microorganisms are indeed short lived  and effective only in the short term. Such microrganisms are short lived because they perish in local soil to which they are not accustomed.

As more emphasis is put on environment friendly agriculture an ever increasing number of of these microorganism products will appear on the market. As a farmer myself I would likely to clearly communicate to farmers that “the best microorganisms come from the local environment and so what you need is all around you and readily available”.

Power of the Indigene
IMO’s have evolved over thousands of years to survive and adapt to the conditions in the local environment. They can withstand the extreme climactic conditions that the environment throws at them. Within their home environment they will perform their function powerfully. Artificially made or imported microorganisms will not perserve in harsh environments to which they are not accustomed and so will die, resulting in short term effects only.

Microorganisms that are made in factories or greenhouses where temperature and moisture are kept constant are only effective in similar environments but NOT where the environmentt is different of subject to change. In the greenhouse there are no typhoons, droughts or floods, but farming has to deal with all kinds of unexpected environmental conditions. Natural Farming suggests therefore that farmers grow and use local microorganisms at ambient temperatures. I firmly believe that there is no better alternative to using  locally available IMO’s on your fields.


Restoring nature to its pristine state
Some farmers percieve microorganisms to be like fertilizers and vitamins. Acting on this they add microorganisms to the land at a time they think suitable in pursuit of short term effects. In the short run this can give them the results theyu seek. However, in the long term, it can disrupt the balance within a pristine ecosystem of microrganisms.

Natural Farming does not recommend using micro-organisms for a particular function. We believe it is better to restore the pristine state in order to obtain resilience in diversity and restore the soil’s primitive power.

We have to understand that ever more complicated and mechanical, i.e artificial, ways of thinking in farming is only making farming more difficult. An appreciation of nature as a designer is evident in the 'new' discipline of biomimicry.

Plants excretions differ in quality and amount according by season and by age. In turn, the type and amount of microrganisms that live on these excretions also change across seasons.

Bamboo Forests and Leaf Molds abound in IMO
If you look at brushwood fences, bamboo forests or mountain valleys where leaves are piled you will find the white growth of microorganisms. Microorganisms find their best living environments on their own. Farmers in the past would make fertilizer by collecting soil containing decomposed leaves or grass sheets. Below the decomposed leaves or grass sheets IMO abounds.

IMOs are easily found and collected in bamboo forest, deciduous forests, grass roots, decomposed leaf molds etc. In Natural Farming we collect, grow and utilize these IMOs in many different ways. This treasure exists within our grasp, wherever we may be.