August 31, 2005


Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai(Association to Preserve the Earth)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.36 (August 2005)
"Unique NGOs in Japan" Article Series No.9

Gifts from the Land to Your Kitchen (Japanese only)

How much do you know about the toast you ate this morning? Who baked the bread, and how? Where did the flour come from? Food today is made to seem inexpensive and attractive, while the real priority is in fact production efficiency. Such food comes to us through a complex web of processors and wholesalers, so it is difficult to trace back information about the product.

In Japan, most foods are made from imported crops. Japan's calorie-based food self-sufficiency ratio is only about 40 percent, the lowest of all OECD countries. Farmland has been shrinking year by year, dropping to 12.8 percent of total national land area in 2002. The primary industry (agriculture, forestry and fisheries) workforce also declined to 4.7 percent of the total.

Under these circumstances, various groups large and small have been formed to protect and develop local food traditions and primary industries by establishing closer relationships among producers who farm organically, processors who maintain traditional manufacturing methods and their supporting consumers. There are quite a few such groups, but in this article we introduce a group called the Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai (Association to Preserve the Earth). This group has been in existence for 30 years and presently links 2,500 producers nationwide and 72,000 consumer households, mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Historical Background

As Japanese agriculture was rapidly modernized to improve productivity in the late 1950s, practical farmers were quick to adopt pesticides and chemical fertilizers. However, after 15 to 20 years, they began to understand the dangers of using agrichemicals. Living organisms disappeared from the soil and increases in crop yields finally fell off in spite of expectations. Some people reported feeling ill or getting sick because of agrichemicals and some farmers began to stop using them on the principle that food produced using such dangerous substances cannot be good for the human body.

The Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai was established in 1975 as a result of an encounter with farmers disillusioned with agrichemicals. "Rather than shout a million times about the danger of agrichemicals, let's start by growing, delivering and eating just one agrichemical-free daikon radish." Under this slogan, the association first started its activities as a civic movement working with farmers to seek ways of growing agrichemical-free vegetables and rice and delivering them to consumers in urban areas.

Two years later, as the number of participating producers and consumers increased, the association established a distribution company, Daichi Co., to ensure the economic independence of its activities, and started a full-scale service that delivers organic and agrichemical-free vegetables to consumers.

Daichi's delivery service initially was a group-purchasing system that required at least three consumers to place a combined order. Then, with a growing number of working homemakers, it began a door-to-door delivery service for individual households. With this, its number of consumer members dramatically increased. Accordingly, the number of products it handles was gradually expanded up to 3,500 items, including meat, fish and processed foods. Its annual sales for the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2005 amounted to 12.7 billion yen (about U.S. $115.5 million), and it has 170 employees.

The company classifies its products into five categories: vegetables, meat and eggs, fish, processed products, and general merchandise. It has strict safety standards in each category, and only carries products that meet these standards. In the vegetable category, four standards apply: the soil must be maintained with organic fertilizer, the soil must never be sterilized, chemical weed killers must never be used, and pesticide use must be minimized as far as possible. Daichi and a third party investigator confirm whether products meet these standards.

The Secret of Sustainable Action

In today's society, awareness about environmental and food security issues is growing, and supermarkets have started carrying organic farm products. However, 30 years ago, using agrichemicals was standard practice, and the public had no understanding or appreciation for organic farming. How was Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai able to launch its movement?

At that time, a few producers with firm beliefs started to work on these issues, but a lot of conflict and mutual criticism took place because each producer had his own personal method for growing safe vegetables. To encourage a widespread organic farming movement, the Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai tried to induce producers to take a more tolerant outlook by establishing a basic rule of "never speak ill of others."

It also had a hard time gaining the understanding of consumers. Consumers who took attractive, uniform, unblemished vegetables for granted immediately complained about worm-eaten vegetables or supply shortages. The association turned those complaints into an opportunity to educate consumers about the consequences of growing vegetables and crops without agrichemicals and the significance of purchasing foods from known producers. Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai staff explained these things in a polite and honest way, and thanks to their efforts, consumers soon came to understand the reasons behind the association's policy.

Encouraging the forging of deeper relationships between producers and consumers is also important for the association. It holds about 100 events a year on various scales, from small group activities to a corn-harvest festival with over 800 participants. There are four staff members who play a key role as coordinators for all these events. Consumers visit farms, farmers hear the consumers' opinions, and both consumers and farmers affirm their mutual connection. Such experiences tend to make consumers feel grateful towards farmers who grew the vegetables or other crops and to be happier about the food they eat, leading them to buy more of the products.

"When you buy organic products, you buy the effort that went into making them," Kazuyoshi Fujita, chairperson of Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai, says. "For example, when you buy a 'cucumber made by Enji Sato in Fukushima Prefecture,' you don't buy just the cucumber itself. You are also buying the qualities of Mr. Sato's experience, the good earth, the regional culture, as well as the news, for example, that the Sato's son has passed his university entrance examination. Daichi's agricultural products are produced in the context of a closer relationship between producers and consumers."

New Activities for Sustainable Primary Industries

One of Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai's aims is to develop sustainable primary industries. It believes that Japan needs to raise its food self-sufficiency ratio in order to prepare for the global food crisis widely expected to occur in the near future. Such action will also help avoid this crisis, they believe.

To help achieve this aim, it launched a "Food Mileage Campaign" in April 2005 as a way of changing consumers' awareness. (Japanese only)

Food mileage is a way of expressing the consumption of energy used to transport food, and is calculated by multiplying the volume of food transported by the distance it travels. According to estimates by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan's total food mileage for 2001 was about 900 billion ton-kilometers. This is 8.6 times that of France, three times that of the United States and 2.8 times that of South Korea. Because so much food is brought to Japan from so far away, huge amounts of energy are consumed for transportation and huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted.

One critical problem with raising consumer awareness about domestically-produced foods is that, despite their image as being fresher and healthier, they are more expensive than imported foods. With interest in helping curb global warming growing since the Kyoto Protocol was ratified, Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai decided to further enhance their image by adding the additional appeal that they "reduce CO2 emissions." The concept of Food Mileage helps people understand the link between the environment and food, and has attracted a lot of attention from high school and university students.

CO2 emissions produced during the transport of food are calculated by multiplying the food mileage by CO2 emission coefficients, which vary depending on the means of transportation. Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai has independently estimated CO2 amounts from the transport of various kinds of food coming from different production areas to compare the differences between domestic and imported foods. CO2 emissions from domestic food transport were estimated from the main areas that supply the Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai to Tokyo, and figures for imported foods were estimated from Japan's major supplier countries to Tokyo.

The association uses an original unit it calls the "poco" to clarify the differences in CO2 emissions from imported and domestic foods: 100 grams of CO2 equals 1 poco. For example, choosing asparagus grown in Hokkaido means a reduction of 4 pocos of CO2 compared to buying it imported from Australia. Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai estimates that 66 pocos of CO2 are emitted daily per capita in Japan, and that a daily reduction of15 pocos per capita is needed to achieve Kyoto Protocol targets.

The association disseminates this kind of information through its public relations magazines and website as a way of advocating domestically-grown foods for the purpose of reducing CO2 emissions. It also estimates that making dietary changes in order to eat 100% domestically grown food would reduce per capita CO2 emissions by 90 kilograms annually, and is working to achieve a numerical target of reducing CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons during a one-year campaign involving its 70,000 member households.

From Japan to the World

Association chairperson Fujita says, "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai has established a framework that sustains local food cultures and primary industries through partnerships among producers, consumers and processors together with social activism. This framework can be used as a model for other countries." The association has been building partnerships with rural villages in Thailand, Laos and Viet Nam, and has been exchanging people and organic farming techniques for 15 years. Hoping to encourage Asian farmers, the association is also building its network through activities such as inviting students from various Asian countries to take part in internship programs for growing rice and mushrooms.

Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai's approach, which emphasizes domestically-grown, environment-friendly, safe, high-quality foods, is bound to gain in importance as more people strive to achieve a more sustainable and spiritually enriched lifestyle.

(Staff Writer Eriko Saijo)