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2009年6月28日 (日)

平成農地改革 農業再生の第一歩となれば

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jun. 28, 2009)
Farmland reform aims to revitalize agriculture
平成農地改革 農業再生の第一歩となれば(6月28日付・読売社説)

The idea of arresting the decline of agriculture by shifting the focus of the farmland system from ownership to effective use informs the revised Agricultural Land Law, which recently passed the Diet.

This is a major revision in that the owner-cultivator system maintained since the postwar farmland reform, which gave ownership of farmland to those who cultivate it, was overhauled. The revised law allows letting and leasing of farmland in principle and has eased regulations on the entry of corporate entities into agribusinesses.

The biggest problems that the nation's agriculture industry faces are a dearth of farmers and low productivity. It is an urgent task to promote the entry of corporations into the agribusiness sector as a major player in the industry and improve efficiency. The enactment of the revised law should serve as the first step toward revitalizing the nation's agricultural sector, and the so-called Heisei-era farmland reform should be carried out as soon as possible.


Fears over rise in land misuse

Farmland that companies may lease had been limited mainly to abandoned land. But under the new system, companies may also lease prime land. Tenure, which had been limited to 20 years, has been extended to 50 years.

At the same time, consolidation of farmland for lease is expected to be promoted. Regardless of who is the lessee, the government will provide subsidies to farmers who let their land. Municipal governments and agricultural cooperatives will systematically provide information on farmland available for lease to prospective lessees.

It will be easier to improve efficiency with the use of agricultural machinery if farmland is consolidated. It also is expected that abandoned farmland, which totals about 400,000 hectares nationwide, will be reduced by letting it in combination with prime farmland.

But there still is much work to do to ensure that farmland is used more efficiently.

There are concerns that the law revision may lead to an increase in the number of cases in which borrowed land is illegally diverted for such purposes as parking lots and garbage dumps.

In 2008 alone, farmland with an area equivalent to 121 Tokyo Domes was illegally diverted for other purposes. In 90 percent of such cases, local governments reportedly rubber-stamped the misuse of the land in question, thus benefiting those acting illegally.

Under the revised law, the upper limit of fines imposed on companies that illicitly use farmland for purposes other than farming has been raised from the previous 3 million yen to 100 million yen. But this toughened penalty will have only a limited effect.


Watchdogs must stay alert

Municipal governments' agricultural committees are in charge of checking whether farmland is being used illegally. But it is indispensable to drastically review the function of these committees. It is said that registries containing such information as the size of farmland and its ownership are not updated in some cases. Concerned officials should first grasp the actual situation in the areas they administer and crack down on the illegal use of farmland.

The increase in the maximum tenure period raises the risk that leased farmland will not be returned within the due period, or that it will be misused. If farmers, feeling concerned about such potential problems, become reluctant to let their land, the entry of companies into the agribusiness industry will not be facilitated. Companies will not be able to win trust from landowners if they withdraw from agribusinesses just because they failed to make a quick profit.

To ensure that the revised law does not end up pie in the sky, it is important for farmland letters and lessees to have mutual understanding. Pursuing efficiency and cost-effectiveness alone is unlikely to lead to the stable management of the agribusiness sector. Companies, as a vital player in the industry, must bear this in mind as they seek synergy with regional agriculture.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2009)
(2009年6月28日01時36分  読売新聞)


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