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2014年11月11日 (火)

農協自己改革案 全中の権限温存は許されない

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Allowing JA Zenchu to retain grip over farm co-ops is not an option
農協自己改革案 全中の権限温存は許されない

The Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, or JA Zenchu, has released a proposal for reforming itself.

The proposal calls for JA Zenchu to maintain its status under the Agricultural Cooperatives Law. It would not relinquish its authority to supervise about 700 local farm cooperatives across Japan.

Under these circumstances, JA Zenchu’s excessive intervention in these agricultural cooperatives would continue, and the enthusiasm of produce growers to boost their output would not increase. There would be little hope that attempts to promote “aggressive farming policies” through increased production would materialize.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe clearly spelled out his position when he stated, “The current Zenchu system based on the cooperatives law will not continue.”

We think the government should ignore this backlash from JA Zenchu, and decisively implement far-reaching reforms, including abolishing the central union organization.

Some members of the government are considering plans that would include revising the Agricultural Cooperatives Law and reorganizing JA Zenchu as an incorporated association.

At a press conference, JA Zenchu Chairman Akira Banzai insisted: “It is important that we remain positioned under the Agricultural Cooperatives Law. We will carry out organizational reforms by ourselves.”

Banzai was apparently afraid that if JA Zenchu loses its legal authority over regional co-ops, its control over them would quickly evaporate.

JA Zenchu was established after the end of World War II to support farm cooperatives with weak operating bases.

Facelift not enough

However, there has been widespread criticism that JA Zenchu has stymied the freedom of these co-ops to make their own management decisions, through its business operations and accounting audits and management guidance of them, as well as by issuing orders that cover even such minute details as sales and stocks of fertilizer and equipment.

In its reform proposal, JA Zenchu says it will end its “guidance” of regional cooperatives based on its legal authority, and instead hold “discussions” intended to support the creativity and ingenuity of individual co-ops. JA Zenchu is trying to give itself a new appearance.

Be that as it may, if these audits detect any problems, the cooperatives will have no option but to swallow the remedy put forward by JA Zenchu. As long as JA Zenchu wields the power to conduct such checks, it will effectively continue to guide the operations of cooperatives. We think these checks need to be made by external audits.

The reform proposal also makes no mention of a review of JA Zenchu’s levy system, through which it collects up to ¥8 billion annually from local co-ops and other bodies for its operating costs. We suspect JA Zenchu intends to preserve this hefty money-raising system, which takes the form of a levy to cover audit expenses.

JA Zenchu’s own proposal attempts to water down the government’s efforts to reform agricultural cooperatives. Some Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers with ties to farm and forestry organizations are even maneuvering to fall into line with the JA Zenchu plan.

We think the government should revise the law to clearly dismantle the three main pillars that form the foundation of JA Zenchu’s power — its authority to conduct audits, issue guidance and collect money.

Over the past 20 years, the amount of abandoned farmland and rice paddies has doubled, and income generated from agriculture has halved. And the graying of Japan’s farmers shows no sign of abating. The ability to earn money through farming must be increased by boosting the freedom of producers to manage their operations.

Unless JA Zenchu is so thoroughly reformed that the changes would be tantamount to its abolition, attempts at the genuine revitalization of the nation’s agricultural sector will likely come to naught.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 9, 2014)Speech


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