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2015年6月22日 (月)

農地集積バンク 利用促進の努力が足りない

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Farmland accumulation banks must do more to consolidate farming plots
農地集積バンク 利用促進の努力が足りない

The farmlands intermediary administration institute system, also known as the farmland accumulation bank, that was created in each of the nation’s 47 prefectures as part of the government’s growth strategy has been performing poorly.

The thinking behind the system is to borrow plots of farmland from small-plot farmers and others and then rent them out in bulk. High expectations have been placed on the system as a promising means of increasing the area of farmland per farming unit.

The area of farmland leased during the first fiscal year of the leasing facilitation program, however, was no more than 24,000 hectares nationwide, compared to the government-set target of 150,000 hectares, so the achievement rate stood at a mere 16 percent. The percentage was 1 percent or less in 10 prefectures, including Tokyo, meaning the program was hardly utilized, indicating a lack of effort on the part of the intermediary administration institutes.

If measures to make good use of the institutes are taken with the aim of aggregating parcels of farmland to large-plot farmers or companies operating farming businesses, Japan’s agricultural productivity will be enhanced and its international competitiveness strengthened. The leasing scheme can also be conducive to reducing abandoned farmland and reinvigorating regional economies.

The central and local governments must try to find the causes of the poor performance of the farmland leasing system and work out measures to improve the situation and expedite its utilization.

To facilitate farmland consolidation via the intermediary institutes, the government has brought about an institutional change to enable leasing and borrowing of farmland without the permission of a relevant agricultural committee.

The area of farmland that farming companies and others said they wanted to borrow totaled 230,000 hectares, but plots of farmland available for leasing contracts were no more than 29,000 hectares. Sufficient results could not be achieved.

A major factor behind the dearth of prospective lenders of farmland is that many farmers tend to shy away from leasing their plots, as they often consider them precious property handed down by ancestors for generations.

Boosting understanding

In addition, there are many instances of misunderstanding that farming plots, once leased, will not be returned to them. It is actually possible to have the contracts end after the agreed-upon period, such as 10 years.

In Toyama Prefecture, where the achievement rate was the highest in the country at 99 percent, 70,000 copies of a booklet explaining the leasing system through manga were distributed to alleviate farmers’ anxieties.

Reportedly, farmers typically said they “feel at ease,” as they easily understood how the system works. This can be used as a good reference for other local entities.

Many local areas with high achievement rates used their own initiatives even before the leasing intermediary institutes were launched, such as listening to the intentions of companies and others wishing to enter the farming sector, while engaging in such activities as finding farming plots suitable for leasing contracts.

In finding prospective lenders, it is necessary to grasp the circumstances of individual farming households, such as whether they have successors. Boosting the institutes’ cooperation with city, town and village governments is also important.

There also are many farmers who opt to hold on to their farms, even if they are not being used, because they hope to profit on future sales in the event of the farmland being converted for residential or commercial purposes. Low tax rates on farmland are fueling this tendency.

The government’s Regulatory Reform Council recently came up with a set of proposals calling for such steps as raising tax rates on abandoned farmland and alleviation of tax burdens on the part of those farmers who lease their plots. These proposals should be positively considered.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi’s suggestion that preferential treatment in budgetary and other matters be offered to prefectures achieving good performances in the leasing facilitation program, however, is questionable. We fear such measures would lead to wasteful use of taxpayers’ money.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 21, 2015)


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