Change emphasis on caloric crops to promote profitable agriculture

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe nation’s latest food self-sufficiency rate tied a record low. Let’s not be too apprehensive about the low ratio, as what is important is to make tenacious efforts to foster what can be called “income-earning agriculture.”

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the food self-sufficiency rate on a calorie basis for fiscal 2018 stood at 37 percent, a decrease of one percentage point from the preceding fiscal year. The figure is comparable to the level marked in fiscal 1993, when there was a record-setting poor rice harvest.

The latest low ratio is said to have resulted from a drop in the quantity of wheat and soybean harvests in Hokkaido, a chief center for the production of such crops, where low temperatures that year combined with a lack of sunshine. The increase in the import of beef and dairy products also pushed down the figure.

The degree of food self-sufficiency shows the extent to which a nation can meet demand for food on its own. Among advanced nations, Japan’s figure is the lowest. For example, the calorie-based self-sufficiency ratio is 130 percent in the United States and 63 percent in Britain.

The government has said it will pursue a goal of raising the ratio to 45 percent in fiscal 2025, but the figure has not exceeded 40 percent since fiscal 2010. Achieving the target is not realistic.

To prevent any hindrance to its procurement of food from overseas, the government needs to strive for trade stabilization.

There are many problems with calorie-based targets. The pursuit of such a goal will encourage the government to place an emphasis on the production of such high-calorie crops as rice. Doing so will protect small-scale, low-productivity farming households.

Adherence to that goal could hinder a conversion to low-calorie but high unit-price products, including vegetables and fruits.

Seek production value

It is also viewed with skepticism that cattle and pigs raised by domestic farmers are not treated as domestically produced if they have been given imported feed, and therefore, that these livestock are not included in the calculation of the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate. This was one reason for the use of massive government subsidies for a switch to the production of rice to be used as a type of feed.

Meanwhile, the nation’s production value-based self-sufficiency ratio is 66 percent, unchanged from the figure for the preceding fiscal year.

This can compare with 70 percent in Germany, while surpassing the 58 percent in Britain. The government has said it will seek to raise the figure to 73 percent. If it carries out agricultural policies aimed at pushing up the value of production, the government will be able to encourage the output of high value-added vegetables and fruits, thereby increasing farming families’ earnings.

The focus of policy objectives should be shifted to the self-sufficiency ratio based on the value of production.

The government has regarded the export of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products and food as a main pillar of its growth strategy. In 2018, such exports exceeded ¥900 billion, about double the figure six years earlier. There has been an increase in the export of wagyu beef and such fresh produce as apples.

Farming households should further improve the quality of their agricultural products that enjoy high popularity abroad. The government should reinforce its sales drive targeting overseas markets to promote Japanese brands. The public and private sectors must cooperate to heighten the international competitiveness of Japanese agricultural products.

The agricultural industry also has structural problems: the aging of farmers and a shortage of people actually engaged in agricultural work. Efforts should be made to improve productivity through such means as the expansion of scale and the utilization of cutting-edge technology.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 26, 2019)Speech


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