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2009年2月 3日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 2(IHT/Asahi: February 3,2009)

EDITORIAL: Farming reform overdue


The government is reviewing its rice acreage reduction policy, which it implemented to reduce rice production in response to decreasing consumption of the grain. At present, farmers who switch from growing rice to other crops receive government subsidies. This kind of "production cartel" has both farmers and the government working together to control demand and supply to sustain rice prices.


Six relevant ministers are on the review panel, which will release a reform plan by this summer. Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura and farm minister Shigeru Ishiba will be the chief architects, with the ministers for finance, economic and fiscal policy, internal affairs and industry taking part. This shows the government's willingness to tackle the issue from multiple angles, including fiscal and regional policies. We welcome the attempt to finally embark upon reform of agricultural policies.


In an editorial series last spring called, "Proposals for a society of hope," the vernacular Asahi Shimbun argued the country should "stop adjusting rice production and make the big switch to boosting production."


Ishiba, the farm minister, said: "There will be no taboos. We will debate the matter from every angle." We urge the government to abolish the acreage reduction policy and take a daring step forward with new farming policies.


Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) has also announced a reform plan that would introduce a 1-trillion-yen subsidy program to compensate individual farmers. The United States and Europe already offer similar direct subsidies to their farmers.


Yet, Minshuto also argues for the continued reduction of rice acreage. If so, the need for subsidies becomes unclear.


Moreover, in the Minshuto plan, almost all farmers would be eligible for subsidies, so this could end up as just a farmers' version of the fixed-sum handout. Minshuto should instead include measures that will help farmers become more competitive.


The acreage reduction policy was started, in its full form, about 40 years ago. Since then, the government has poured 7 trillion yen in taxpayers' money and a tremendous amount of energy into this policy. Today, Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio has dropped to 40 percent, the lowest among major industrial countries. The amount of abandoned or fallow farmland nationwide is equal to nearly three times the size of Tokyo. And the ill-effects of this are too widespread to ignore.


In farming communities, even farmers who want to grow more rice are being forced to cut back acreage. On the other hand, although nearly 60 percent of the country's 3.35 million farming population is on the verge of retirement at 65 or older, there are few in the next generation to carry on farming. There are few newcomers. And if the old saying, "forwardness will cause trouble" is also true in the farming profession, then there is no way young people will push themselves forward to try their hands at farming.


Meanwhile, international grain prices, which skyrocketed last spring, are now stable, in part due to the global recession. As long as the world population continues to increase and newly emerging economies continue to expand, it is certain that food shortages will push up food prices. There is no guarantee that Japan will continue to be able to import vast amounts of grain.


Now is the time to move ahead with farming reform.


The government must stop reducing paddy acreage and switch to increasing rice production. Since demand for rice as a staple is diminishing, use of rice flour can be promoted in place of wheat flour. The production of rice as cattle feed can be increased. Moreover, it is essential for the government to encourage large-scale expansion of farmland to enhance productivity and to selectively support groups of promising farmers who have the potential for growth. Entry by companies in farming must be also enabled.


The prescription is clear. All that is required is to put it into action.



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