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2014年9月19日 (金)

食料自給率 農業再生へ穀物偏重を改めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An outdated fixation on grains warps Japan’s agricultural policy
食料自給率 農業再生へ穀物偏重を改めよ

We believe agricultural policy that is fixated on increasing Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate could, ironically, be a major disadvantage to the revitalization of Japan’s agriculture.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has established a head office in charge of implementing “aggressive agricultural policies.” It has started considering concrete ways of boosting exports of Japanese farm products, among other strategies.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has trumpeted the revitalization of regional areas and an economic growth strategy as centerpieces of its policy lineup. Energizing agricultural policies and methods that harness the unique characteristics of individual regions is crucial for achieving both of these goals. We hope business developments across the entire process from production to processing to retail will generate growth industries that enable regional areas to flourish.

However, we find it disconcerting that the government has touted agricultural policies aimed at “maintaining and then increasing the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate” with the aim of ensuring a stable supply of food.

The food self-sufficiency rate is the proportion of food consumed in Japan that is domestically produced. Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate is 39 percent on a caloric intake basis. The government has set a target of raising this figure to 50 percent by fiscal 2020.

While that might sound admirable, it is a stretch to say that a self-sufficiency rate based on caloric intake is an accurate barometer of the true ability of Japan’s agricultural sector.

As an example, even pigs and cattle raised by dairy farmers in Japan are not considered to be domestically produced if they eat imported feed, so they are not included in calculations for the self-sufficiency rate.

Japan grows many of its own fruit and vegetables. But because they are less calorie-dense than rice and other grains, they do not contribute much to the overall self-sufficiency rate.

However, when measured on a production value basis, Japan’s self-sufficiency rate rises to 65 percent.

Reforms needed

As the quality of Japanese fruit and vegetables improves and more areas develop their own brands of produce, they hold great promise as export products. Focusing too much on a calorie-based self-sufficiency rate has undeniably sidetracked the development of growth industries.

The government has set a target of fiscal 2018 for abolition of the policy of reducing acreage used for rice cultivation, which was designed to maintain steady rice prices. And yet at the same time, it plans to expand subsidies to farmers who switch to growing rice to be used as animal feed.

Increasing production of domestically grown feed will lead to a higher food self-sufficiency rate.

However, it will also incur huge costs that will protect small farms that have low productivity. This runs counter to the concept of “aggressive agricultural policies.”

Japan’s self-sufficiency rate was almost 100 percent in the years after World War II when food was scarce. This was because Japan could not afford to import much food. There is little point in using this food situation as a yardstick. Only a handful of other nations and territories, including South Korea and Taiwan, have set self-sufficiency targets.

New Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Koya Nishikawa has said he will “consider which figure should be the goal” for the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate, an indication that the government might revise down its target. This is an opportunity to review current self-sufficiency goals, and should be a major turning point in an agricultural policy that has attached too much emphasis to grains.

Stricken by a shortage of people willing to take over farms and an increasing amount of arable land and paddies that have become abandoned, Japan’s agricultural sector is standing on a precipice. It is vital to force through reforms that will boost productivity and the nation’s competitiveness by promoting large-scale farming and encouraging more businesses to enter the agriculture sector. This will transform agriculture into a sector that attracts more people and more investment.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 18, 2014)Speech


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