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2013年9月25日 (水)

農地管理機構 生産性向上をどう実現するか

The Yomiuri Shimbun September 25, 2013
Government must reform farm sector to improve agricultural productivity
農地管理機構 生産性向上をどう実現するか(9月24日付・読売社説)

The government’s new scheme to enhance agricultural productivity will not boost the international competitiveness of Japan’s farming sector if it turns into yet another handout policy. For the scheme to be effective, the government must aim at realizing effective agricultural reform by going so far as to review current regulations and subsidies.

The government is planning to establish an entity tentatively called the farmland intermediate management organization in each prefecture, which will lease small plots of farmland and uncultivated farmland and rent them out to large-scale farming households and agricultural business organizations. It plans to submit related bills to the extraordinary Diet session this autumn.

The new organization also will be tasked with readjusting and merging farmland and overhauling irrigation channels so the users can utilize their leased land in the best possible way.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has submitted a budgetary request of more than ¥100 billion for expenses related to the new entity for fiscal 2014. The ministry plans to allocate 60 percent of the money to pay rent for farmland and improve related infrastructure.

The average farmland area per farming household in Japan is only about two hectares, while, the area of dormant farmland has doubled over the past 20 years to about 400,000 hectares, due chiefly to a dearth of successors to farmers. This is a serious situation.

If Japan is asked to further liberalize its agricultural sector in the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, it will be forced to engage in a tough battle with agricultural export powers. We can understand the government’s desire to boost the productivity of the nation’s farming sector by merging unused farmland to be run by highly motivated, large-scale farming households.

Program faces risks of waste

But if the demand for farmland falls short, leaving much of the rented farmland on the entity’s hands, the organization will end up wastefully paying rent to the landowners. It is also feared that the government may become extraordinarily lavish in carrying out public works projects, for instance, in the name of farmland readjustment.

The government’s Regulatory Reform Council has pointed out that there has been little progress in the merging of idle farmland to the benefit of farming households, primarily due to difficulty in leasing the land, which is often caused by the agricultural committee.

To expand the number of potential lessees, it is essential to review the current restrictions that limit leases to those approved by the agricultural committee. It may also become necessary to secure fairness in the leasing of farmland by introducing a system to invite applications from the public.

To prevent waste in the related budget, it will also be necessary to enhance the transparency in the management of the new entity by having it publicize such costs as rent and spending on the scheme.

It is also problematic that there has been little progress made in reviewing the income compensation program for individual farming households, which was started by the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan. Under the program, the government’s subsidies are given uniformly to rice farmers.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party criticized the program as a handout policy when the party was in the opposition camp. But a similar program is being maintained under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In its budget request for fiscal 2014, the farm ministry is asking for a budget of almost the same size as that for the current fiscal year.

It is feared that if this program is kept in place, small-scale farmers hoping to receive the subsidies may not give up their farmland when the mediating body tries to gather idle farmland.

We hope the government will abolish the across-the-board provision of the subsidies in accordance with the purpose of the new organization and come up with a system to intensively support highly motivated farmers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 24, 2013)
(2013年9月24日01時31分  読売新聞)


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