Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Rebuilding agriculture in Japan

Growth strategy is the third of the “three arrows” of Abenomics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policy. In the field of agriculture, the Abe administration is promoting large-scale farming and utilization of idled farmland.

Okano Nojo, an agricultural production corporation based in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, can be seen as a model for materializing Abe’s agricultural policies. Okano Nojo cultivates farmland plots in 10 municipalities in western parts of the prefecture, including the one at the foot of Mt. Daisen.

The corporation’s mainstay products are daikon radishes, with the annual harvest amount ranging from 8,000 tons to 10,000 tons.

Its group company in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, processes the daikon in a plant for use in oden hot pots, and the processed products are sold at Lawson Inc. convenience stores nationwide.

Sales of the corporation just after its establishment were about ¥10 million. As the group also took charge of processing the harvests, sales of the whole of the group steadily grew to ¥1.5 billion.

Abandoned land ‘treasure trove’
Shuji Okano, 64, president of Okano Nojo, was formerly a dealer of fruits and vegetables. He began farming in 1994 with one belief. “I thought domestically grown vegetables that are safe and can offer a sense of security will be able to vie with imported ones,” Okano said.

In the beginning, the total acreage of the company’s farmland was five hectares, but after 20 years, it was expanded to about 210 hectares, which was achieved mainly be leasing abandoned farmland. Okano said, “Leaves that fell from trees grown in the abandoned farmland became leaf mulch, making the soil rich. Abandoned farmland plots are treasure troves.”

The number of people engaged in agriculture in Japan has dropped to 2.26 million, about 40 percent lower than in the year 2000. On the other hand, there were 14,333 agricultural production corporations as of January this year, double that of a decade ago.

For Japan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, it is an urgent task to strengthen the nation’s agriculture so it will not be defeated in competition with overseas products. Agricultural production corporations are expected to be main players in working toward the goal.

But Okano rejects the view that expansion of farmland will serve as a silver bullet. “As long as we are engaged in business deals, we need to stably provide products that meet the demands of clients, both in quantity and quality,” he said.


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