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January 31, 2008


Thinking of Japan and the World through Food and Agriculture

fujitasan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Kazuyoshi Fujita, Chairperson of "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai" and president of "Daichi Co."

Today, I'd like to talk about that how agriculture and food are related to our lives, Japanese society and the future of the world, based on my experiences.

By Both Movements and Businesses

I work for a citizens group, "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai" (Association to Preserve the Earth), and a company, "Daichi Co.". Both are characterized by engaging, like the drive wheels of a car, and by conducting movements and business.

There are movements that ask governments, agrichemical companies and farmers to avoid using or selling dangerous agrichemicals; however, I believe that such approaches, which depend on others, do not help to solve problems. I thought that without a model for production, distribution and consumption, such movements would be ineffective. Therefore, I founded both "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai", which works on agricultural and environmental issues, and "Daichi Co.", which produces and sells chemical-free, organic farm produce.

At the inception of those organizations, which was about 30 years ago, such movements for organic farming were badly outnumbered. It was a time when development was believed to lead to happiness, and in the agriculture sector, productivity was increased through the use of chemical fertilizers and agrichemicals, while tasks such as weeding the lawn could be eliminated thanks to agrichemicals. At the same time, consumers started gaining knowledge about food safety and the dangers of agrichemicals, and many people were influenced by the novel Fukugo Osen (combined pollution) (by Sawako Ariyoshi), which was serialized from 1974 to 1975 in the Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, and depicted the threat of agriculture and its quest for efficiency. This same influence led to the establishment of "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai" in 1975.

And two years later, we established "Daichi Co." and started to encourage schools to use chemical-free foods in school lunches, and to encourage supermarkets and green grocers to sell chemical-free foods. Up to the early 1980s, we also tried to expand our activities.

In the late 1980s, forward-looking co-ops started selling organic farm products, and in the 1990s, when this type of food became more common on the market, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issued new guidelines for chemical-free foods (in 1992) in order to crack down on counterfeits. Public understanding of chemical-free foods was then deepened, and the Law on Promotion of Organic Agriculture came into effect in 2006, which provides a legal structure for sustainable agriculture.

Reverse Globalization

Although the rate of food self-sufficiency is 39 percent, I think that both the government and citizens lack a sense of crisis. The notion that you can gain food anytime if you have money is a fantasy. We need to think seriously that we might face food crisis in the near future because of increasing world population and climate change. In such situations, the policy of depending on overseas production for food because it is cheap is clearly short-sighted. When you think of food issues, the most important issue is to maintain farmers and cultivated lands.

Japanese agricultural communities are now going through an extremely difficult time. When I visited agricultural villages in the northeastern region of Japan early this year, I found that rice prices were around from 12,000 to 14,000 yen per bale; when prices are less than around 15,000 or 16,000 yen per bale, producers lose money. If this situation continues, many rice farms will stop growing rice. Japanese agriculture has reached such an important turning point, with domestic vegetable producers in the same situation, as they cannot compete with imported produce.

I tell farmers that we need to slow down the current globalization trend. This "globalization" is the worldwide competition of agricultural products. There are only two trends that determine the prices of agricultural products. One is American-style agriculture, in which large-scale planting of seeds on massive tracts of land using expensive farm equipment. The other is the subsidence agriculture in developing countries. The more Japanese agriculture tries to compete with these two trends, the more trapped we will be.

When you consider the 39 percent self-sufficiency ratio in terms of people, 60 percent of consumers buy imported agricultural products because they desperately prefer cheaper foods. I believe that we need to stop appealing to such demographics and listen to the other 40 percent. When agriculture focuses on consumers who want to buy safe, local agricultural products, we can boost the self-efficiency ratio.

Japan able to Support Itself

Sometimes people ask me that if we can really succeed in self-efficiency when we undertake organic agriculture. I believe that we can.

For 300 years in Edo period, 30 million people were able to live in Japan, even though it was closed off to the world. Areas under cultivation now are almost doubled what they used to be, and if you consider the improvements in production techniques, productivity is about six times higher today. This means that if we consumed a similar diet as that in the Edo period, and if we use land at maximum capacity, we should be able to support 30 million people × six = 180 million people.

The major factor decreasing the self-sufficiency ratio is, first of all, the government's food policy. If it were to initiate policies for a possible food crisis, the consumers' way of thinking about agriculture might be drastically altered. Consumers should know more about gaining food sustainably and stably in the future, and about avoiding widespread hunger in their children's and grand children's era. They should also realize the importance of preserving agriculture by purchasing domestic agricultural products, even if they are a little expensive, and of maintaining infrastructure.

Moreover, although the nation's self-efficiency ratio is important, why don't we review the self-efficiency around us? For example, require co-ops or restaurants to display the self-efficiency ratio, and pay attention to the ratio at your homes. This will help to change the nation's self-efficiency ratio.

World as Seen from the Table

It is said that agriculture in Japan has greatly changed since the Basic Law on Agriculture was enacted in 1961. The essential points of the law were to foster Japanese agriculture focusing on rice, to depend on overseas for wheat, soybeans and corns, and to shift from the traditional animal industry to more modern methods.

Looking at the lumber market at that time, because of its liberalization in Japan around 1965, primary forests in northeastern Thailand were cleared one after the other and the wood was exported to Japan. According to records, the rate of forests around that area before the establishment of the Basic Law on Agriculture was 74 percent, however, the rate now is about 14 percent. After cutting down most of the trees and stripping the forests, they were converted to fields for cash crops, such as sugarcane, cassava and maize (corn for animal feed).

The destination of export for this maize was also Japan. What supported the Japanese animal industry, which was modernized at a frightening pace, was actually Thai maize. In the past, a single livestock farmer had five to ten pigs and about 30 chickens at most. Because fodder maize was exported in large amounts, the animal industry was modernized immediately, and its scale was expanded, for example, single farmers now had 5,000 pigs, 2,000 to 3,000 chickens, or even 10,000 chickens on large-scale farms.

Thus cassava, sugarcane and corn were produced in Thailand. However, as the USA subsidized domestic farmers and succeeded in mass-producing corn that was cheaper than Thailand's, the Japanese market became occupied by the USA.

After cutting down primary forests and losing the price war for cash crops, poor agricultural villages in Thailand were further weakened, and farmers even resorted to selling their own daughters. Poverty in Thailand and agriculture in Japan have a close relationship. This is a good example for reflecting the relationship between the Japanese diet and the world.

Prevention of Global Warming Using Food Mileage

In terms of the relationship between Japanese diet and the world, I would also like to talk about "food mileage." The term "food mileage" refers to the distance that food travels. In a campaign, "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai" converts the CO2 emitted during transportation by airplanes or ships to its original "poco" units, which means "little by little" in Italian, in order to show the relationship between eating and CO2 emissions. In this conversion, if you decrease CO2 emissions by 100 grams, that is one poco. For example, when you exchange 200 grams of foreign-produced pork for domestic-produced pork, this is 1.4 pocos, which means you save 140 grams of CO2. When you use domestic tree asparagus, which are 30 grams each, this is 4.1 pocos. When you bake a loaf of bread with domestic flower, this is 1.5 pocos. In this way, you can calculate most of your everyday-diet by converting to pocos.

For the "Cool-Biz" campaign, which the Japanese Ministry of the Environment advertises as a preventive measure against global warming, when you turn the temperature of air conditioning up by one degree, from 27 degrees to 28 degrees, the CO2 saved over a day is 0.5 pocos. That means that when you buy domestic pork, it has the same effect of Cool-Biz for about three days. As you can see, our daily diet is closely linked to global warming.

Society is gradually shifting from seeking only efficiency and productivity, to aspiring to ecology or slow food, and visionaries in the primary industries, such as agriculture, are increasing. If this turns into a long-term trend, I believe that Japanese society will get better. If business models in various fields also adapt by making permanent changes, this will accelerate such shifts. Of course, I plan to continue doing my part through "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai" and "Daichi Co."


Kazuyoshi Fujita is Chairperson of "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai" and president of "Daichi Co."
After working at a publisher, he participated in establishing the NGO "Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai" in 1975 to promote organic agriculture. He then established "Daichi Co." in 1977, which would usher in companies working for social and ecology, as a distribution department for the NGO, and he conducts active actions against various issues related to food, the environment, energy and education, including a movement for organic agriculture. He deepens relationship with farmers in many countries around the world. He is also the representative of promoters for "Candle Night" and special adviser of "Gakko Kyushoku o Kangaeru Kai" (literally, "The Association of Thinking about School Lunches"). He has also written books, including Daikon 1-pon Karano Kakume (a revolution starting with one Japanese radish).