The Yomiuri ShimbunSupport should be strengthened for an initiative that connects disabled people keen to work with the agricultural industry, which is grappling with a labor shortage. This project benefits both sides.
The policy, called “nofuku renkei” (collaboration between agriculture and welfare), is attracting attention for boosting the employment of disabled people in the farming sector.
Farmers are becoming increasingly elderly and now have an average age of 67. Many are struggling to find successors, and more and more fields have been abandoned.
Many disabled people want to work to the extent that they are capable. Although a growing number have found jobs at companies and elsewhere, only about 800,000 of the nation’s about 9.4 million disabled people are currently working. Many of their jobs reportedly offer low pay.
There are high expectations that if the farming industry is used as part of the support and assistance measures for disabled people, it will expand the stages upon which they play active roles in society.
A wide range of jobs make up the agricultural industry. For instance, people with intellectual disabilities but in sound physical condition could handle outdoor farming work, while those with physical disabilities could do work such as produce inspections. It is possible to match such jobs with the abilities of disabled people.
As things stand, it is commonplace for employment support facilities for the disabled run by social welfare corporations to borrow farmland and use it for farming operations. Ideally, such employment initiatives will steadily expand to regular agricultural corporations and farmers.
Laying groundwork vital
Some success stories have already emerged. Kyomaru-en, a farming corporation in Hamamatsu, started hiring disabled people in 1997. Now, one-fourth of Kyomaru-en’s about 100 employees have disabilities, and they work hard doing jobs such as replanting seedlings.
Kyomaru-en has implemented an array of strategies, such as breaking down the production process into segments and introducing easy-to-use tools and equipment. Kyomaru-en’s sales in 2018 were at least six times higher than they were before it started hiring disabled people.
Increased employment also results in boosting disabled people’s quality of life. According to a survey conducted on facilities supporting employment for disabled people engaged in the farming industry, about 70 percent said wages and pay had increased in the past five years.
The government has launched the “nofuku renkei promotion committee,” a body traversing ministries and agencies, and compiled concrete policies for helping such employment efforts to spread. The committee said that it will handle tasks including setting up consultation counters and compiling a manual detailing the necessary arrangements.
However, these activities have only just started, and this is very much a process of trial and error.
It will be important to raise awareness of methods for treating disabled people appropriately to prevent accidents and injuries, among other things. There are also concerns within agricultural industry circles about the effort and costs required to make facilities more easily accessible and to nurture human resources capable of instructing disabled people in how to do these jobs.
Some disabled people are apprehensive about learning the skills of farming work. Disabilities come in a wide range of forms and degrees, so determining what kind of job a disabled person is suited to requires meticulous care.
Consideration must also be given to measures to prevent making disabled people work extremely hard as cheap labor.
It will be vital to overcome these problems one by one and tenaciously help promote the initiatives.