Category Archives: Country: Japan

Various activities, important decisions mark AFA’s 5th general assembly

The Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) held various activities and decided on important matters on its recently concluded 5th general assembly, which was also a celebration of its 10th anniversary.

Vietnam Farmers Union (VNFU) hosted the event in Hanoi, Vietnam last March 9, 2012 back-to-back with regional farmers’ consultations on March 7-8 and a CSO consultation on the 31st FAO APRC that AFA attended on March 10-11.

The series of events officially opened on March 7 with a cultural presentation from a Vietnamese folk group, who also performed traditional songs and dances with participants from different Asian countries, and with welcome speeches from VNFU Vice-Chairperson Dr. Nguyen Duy Luong and incumbent AFA Chairperson Mr. Tsai, Shun-Te.

Around 45 representatives from 12 farmer organizations and partner NGOs from 10 Asian countries, such as API (Aliansi Petani Indonesia), FNN (Farmer and Nature Net) in Cambodia, VNFU (Vietnam Farmers Union), SorKorPor (Farmer’s Federations Association for Development Thailand), PAKISAMA (Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka) in the Philippines, AINOUKAI in Japan, KAFF (Korea Advanced Farmers’ Federation) and WAFF (Women Advanced Farmers’ Federation) in South Korea, TWADA (Taiwan Wax Apple Development Association), TDFA (Taiwan Dairy Farmers Association), KKM (Kendrio Krishok Moitre) and Action Aid in Bangladesh, NLRF (National Land Rights Forum) and CSRC (Community Self-Relience Centre) in Nepal attended the event, and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) in Mongolia.

Representatives from partner agencies, such as Nellie van der Pasch of Agriterra, Ignace Coussement of Agricord, Thomas Price of GFAR (Global Forum on Agricultural Research), Marlene Ramirez of AsiaDHRRA, Jose Osaba of WRF (World Rural Forum), Michael Commons of Green Net, and Dinah Fuentisima of WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) also graced the occasion.

Review of accomplishments and decisions

Opening with a video showing photos of the past four general assemblies of AFA, the 5th general assembly reviewed AFA’s accomplishments in the last two years (2010-2011) vis-a-vis the strategic plans it set for 2011-2015, while member FOs gave updates on their respective organizational activities.

The assembly also heard, discussed and adopted the Chairperson’s report regarding the administration and activities of AFA and confirmed decisions made by the Executive Committee in between general assemblies.

Exhibit, field visit, and courtesy call

As part of AFA’s knowledge sharing activities, each AFA member organization also put up an exhibit of its country’s agricultural products and traditional processed foods just outside the meeting room, where participants exchanged information on the items on display.

On March 8, participants also went on a field visit to an organic farming project, which is run mainly by women farmers.

It was followed by a short meeting with the VNFU chairperson and other leaders at the VNFU headquarters in a new building in Hanoi, where the two sides shared their aspirations and activities for farmers.

Two-year thrusts, new members, and new officers

The 5th General Assembly set the thrusts of AFA for the next two years, focusing mainly on governance and organizational development, capacity building, knowledge management, and policy advocacy.

The assembly welcomed AFA’s first two member FOs from South Asia — KKM (Kendrio Krishok Moitre) in Bangladesh and NLRF (National Land Rights Forum) in Nepal — whose applications for regular membership were previously approved by the AFA Execom.

It also determined the new set of Executive Committee members for 2012-2014, which in turn elected the new set of officers.

Through a collegial process that follows the tradition of leadership rotation, the Execom elected FNN President Uon Sophal as the new AFA Chairperson, the representative from Ainoukai as Vice-Chaiperson and the representative from API as Treasurer, while re-appointing Esther Penunia as Secretary General.

10th year anniversary, international women’s day, and tribute to farmer leaders

The general assembly was also an occasion for celebration and commemoration.

AFA celebrated its 10th year of existence through an exhibit of agricultural products, solidarity night, ritual of mixing and distributing traditional rice varieties from each Asian country, reading of solidarity statements from partners, awarding of plaques of appreciation, launching of a draft anniversary video and banners containing 10 themes, and the announcement of a plan to come out with a coffee table book highlighting AFA’s important achievements and future plans.

AFA also celebrated International Women’s Day during the field visit, courtesy call to VNFU headquarters, and solidarity night on March 8.

The Women Advanced Farmers’ Federation (WAFF), AFA’s first and so far only FO member composed solely of women, gave away gifts to women farmers during the field visit to the organic farming project.

VNFU’s Chairperson and other leaders also presented gifts to all AFA women during the courtesy call at the VNFU headquarters.

AFA’s women were again honored during the solidarity night, where they were given roses and asked to share their sentiments about the occasion.

Finally, the general assembly also set aside a special time to commemorate the heroism and martyrdom of farmer leaders in AFA who have died in the struggle for farmers’ rights.

The life and death of farmer leaders Lee Kyung Hae of South Korea; Vicente Paglinawan, Renato Penas, and Florita Caya of the Philippines; and women farmers Lamlaya Chamchamagar and Janak Kumari Chaudhary who died during the land rights campaign in Nepal were presented at the opening of the general assembly, followed by a moment of silence and a dedication of the event to their memory.

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Voices from Fukushima: J?kichi Ishizawa

The following article was written by Mr. Jukichi Ishizawa, a 78-year old organic farmer from Fukushima, Japan. His place, Kouriyama City, is located 60 kilometers away from the Daichi nuclear plant that was damaged by the tsunami and is emitting nuclear radiation. He has been farming in Fukushima for the 61 years and is a member of Ainoukai, an organization of organic farmers in Japan, which is a member of AFA. (Translated into English by Abe Chatterjee Shantonu, also an Ainoukai member.)

Summer in Fukushima has come a week early after a brisk rainy season which brought perfect conditions for growing vegetables and rice. I grow rice using natural farming methods, and every other year, my crop is attacked and weakened by rice water weevils, so much so that it is impossible to make out the rice plants among the fast-growing weeds. This year it is different. The various tests that the prefectural government had to carry out to measure the radiation levels from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident led to delays in rice-planting. Apparently, this delay allowed my crop to be spared the weevil infestation, so this year my rice plants are growing proud and tall, dwarfing the weeds. I can only pray that the bountiful harvest is not contaminated by radioactive substances.

My vegetables too, are growing well. Cucumber vines are growing vigorously, and the summer crop of eggplants, bell-peppers and tomatoes has not been damaged by pests. Sadly, with no market to sell these vegetables, I will have to rethink my plans for the next few years.

It is thanks to the tireless efforts of people involved in and supporting organic agriculture that I am still somehow selling my produce. All the same, it is disheartening to hear customers who have supported us for the past 35 years say that they cannot buy my vegetables anymore because they are afraid of radioactive contamination.

As a member of Ainoukai, I have always been proud of the fact that my produce is safe and delicious, and that my customers place their trust in me. It is therefore worrying for me that I cannot guarantee the safety of my crops and dispel the anxieties of my customers because of the accident at the nuclear facility.
Continue reading Voices from Fukushima: J?kichi Ishizawa

Voices from Fukushima: Michiko Ouchi

(The following is an article written by a Japanese farmer for the magazine of Ainoukai, an AFA member in Japan.)

The earthquake suddenly struck at 2:46 pm on the 11th of March.

I was on the second floor of the local agricultural cooperative’s office with about 20 other people, and we hid under the desks and prayed for the tremors to subside. The skies which had been sunny till then suddenly turned gray and large flakes of snow started to fall. It was a very eerie experience, as if the devil himself had appeared. The men on the first floor called out for us to come down, but because there were people as old as 80 among us, we decided to stay under the desks. After the first shock passed, we made our way down to the store, only to be confronted by the sight of the store in complete disarray.
Continue reading Voices from Fukushima: Michiko Ouchi

Voice from Fukushima: Mr. Jukichi Ishizawa

The following article was written by Mr. Jukichi Ishizawa, a 78-year old organic farmer from Fukushima, Japan. His place, Kouriyama City, is located 60 kilometers away from the Daichi nuclear plant that was damaged by the tsunami and is emitting nuclear radiation. He has been farming in Fukushima for the 61 years and is a member of Ainoukai, an organization of organic farmers in Japan, which is a member of AFA. (Translated into English by Abe Chatterjee Shantonu, also an Ainoukai member.)

There is a saying that “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”. These were the words of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in charge of the occupation of Japan, when he was relieved of his duties by the American President on grounds of insubordination.

In the article I wrote for the March and April issues (The Age of Agriculture: 60 Years as a Farmer) I mentioned my desire to work in my fields until the day I am unable to move anymore. However, I fear that the recent happenings may force me to go the same way as General MacArthur. I may need to disappear from my fields.

It was a pleasant, sunny spring afternoon on the 11th of March, 2011. I had taken my truck into the fields in order to harvest carrots. It was then that I suddenly heard a deep rumbling, and the ground started shaking under my feet. My truck was bounced about like a toy on a trampoline, and what little water there was in the irrigation canal leapt to and fro. The tremors made it hard to stand without support, and lasted for nearly 8 minutes. As the quake subsided, the sky to the west became overcast and it started snowing with strong gusts of wind. As the wind quieted down, I could only wonder at the fury of Nature that I had just witnessed.

The radio in the car repeatedly blared out warnings of the imminent approach of tsunamis more than 7 meters high. Glancing at the town, I could not clearly make out the extent of the damage, so I could only pray that it was limited as I headed for home. The road back was full of obstacles, as fallen gate-posts and concrete walls blocked the road. I felt the true extent of the damage then.
Continue reading Voice from Fukushima: Mr. Jukichi Ishizawa

In the News: Heatstroke Apocalypse for Japan’s Cows & Chickens

Japanese Kobe cows have a beef, and Japanese chickens are broiling: In the first one and a half month’s of this year’s record hot summer 959 milk cows, 235 meat cows, 136,000 egg chickens, and 289,000 meat chickens have died of heatstroke. Pigs aren’t faring so well either, with 657 succumbing to the heat. These numbers are up only slightly from the last survey two years ago for cows and pigs, but more than double for chickens. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, who conducted the survey, is instructing farmers to have adequate heat shield materials and ventilation fans in animal enclosures. The heatstroke figures do not include Miyazaki Prefecture, which suffered a foot-and-mouth disease breakout this year, muddling the ability to determine cause of death.

Read the story at CalorieLab

In the News: Chicken sexers in Japan lament the decline of an industry

TOKYO (Reuters) – Chicken sexers in Japan once enjoyed well-paid careers with overseas travel and job security but industry changes mean their expertise is not needed so widely and less people are seeking to join the profession.

Chicken sexing — or determining the sex of chickens — is critical to lower costs as farmers need to know the sex of newly hatched chicks to match them to their next destination. Females are kept to lay eggs while a few males are retained for meat.

Chicken sexers can manually sort poultry at a speed of 8,000 chicks per day and 99.7 percent accuracy by learning to identify the external appearance of the birds’ sexual organs that are located within their bodies.

Most experts in so-called “vent” or “cloaca” sexing come from Japan, where the method of distinguishing patterns of birds’ sexual organs at one day-old was invented in 1933 and helped revolutionise the poultry business, with Japanese sexers in demand internationally for their skills.

But as Japan’s youth migrates to cities, fewer people want the job.

Read the full story at Reuters

In the News (Japan): Ageing farmers behind developed world rural crisis

It is an idea that has attracted global interest – a robotic suit that helps elderly Japanese farmers – but it is one that has also highlighted the problems of an ageing rural population.

The exoskeleten can be strapped-on to farm workers and helps reduce the strain of more physically demanding tasks.

Most of Japan’s farmers are over the age of 60 and many people fear it is a profession that is completely dying out.

Presenter: Helene Hofman
Speaker: Takeo Ogawa, professor at Kumamoto Gakuen University and trustee of the Asian Aging Business Center; Masayoshi Honma, professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Tokyo; Mika Iba, Network for a Safe and Secure Food Environment

Get the full story at Radio Australia

In the News: Research and Markets: Japan Agribusiness Report Q1 2009

DUBLIN–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Research and Markets ( has announced the addition of the “Japan Agribusiness Report Q1 2009” report to their offering.

Japan Agribusiness service provides proprietary medium term price forecasts for key commodities, including corn, wheat, rice, sugar, cocoa, coffee, soy and milk; in addition to newly-researched competitive intelligence on leading agribusiness producers, traders and suppliers; in-depth analysis of latest industry developments; and essential industry context on Japan’s agribusiness service.

Despite having an advanced level of mechanisation and high yields, Japanese agriculture is largely unprofitable and is able to supply less than 40% of the country’s food needs. In this new Japan Agribusiness Report for Q1 2009, we examine the challenges that the agriculture sector in Japan faces over the coming years.

Between 1960 and 2005 Japan’s food self sufficiency in a calorie basis fell from 73% to 40%. Over the same period, the share of agriculture as a proportion of GDP dropped from 9% to 1% and the area of agricultural land fell from 6.09mn hectares (ha) to 4.60mn ha.

While Japanese agriculture has enjoyed some successes, such as achieving self sufficiency in milk and rice production, farming has never really been profitable without protection from imports and heavy government support in the form of subsidies and price supports. Even production of the key staple rice has fallen over the last two decades as consumption has dropped.

Read the full story at Business Wire

In the News: Robot suits to aid elderly Japanese farmers with toiling in the fields

Manual labor is becoming more and more difficult for Japan’s aging farmers, prompting a Tokyo professor to devise a high-tech solution: mechanize the bodies of the farmers themselves.

Prof. Shigeki Toyama of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology’s Graduate School of Engineering is close to perfecting a robot suit that could considerably reduce the physical burden of farmwork on elderly farmers.

People aged 65 and older are a key pillar of the agricultural work force, accounting for about 60 percent of the agricultural population in Japan. Development of the robot suit may come as welcome news to such elderly farmers.

While agricultural machines such as tractors and rice planters have reduced farmers’ physical burdens, many kinds of work still depend on manual labor, such as harvesting fruits and vegetables or pruning the branches of fruit-bearing trees.

Read the full story at

In the News: Masanobu Fukuoka: The man who did nothing

More than 30 years after it was published, farmer sage Masanobu Fukuoka’s cult book One-Straw Revolution, continues to inspire. On the occasion of his second death anniversary, DNA talks toIndian farmers whose lives were transformed by Fukuoka’s radical vision of farming, nature, and life.

Do-nothing’ or minimal interference is a radical idea. Especially for a civilisation obsessed with jumping from one complexity to another while simultaneously idealising simplicity. In 1983, a group of 20 farmers in Rasulia, a small village near Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh, was trying to find an alternative to chemical-intensive agriculture. Since 1978, they had been battling the legacy of the Green Revolution — hybrid seeds, pesticides, fertilisers — to redeem the promise of rishi kheti (farming as practiced by ancient sages), a practice that involves letting nature take its course. They had been successful. But there was more to be done, or rather undone. What that was, they weren’t sure. But they were open to learning.

Read the full story at DNA

In the News: Number of new farmers in Japan increases 11.4% in 2009

TOKYO — The number of people who entered farming in Japan last year increased 11.4% from a year earlier to 66,820 apparently due to a rise in the number of laid-off workers and retired baby boomers, according to farm ministry data released recently. Among them, the number of people who took over farms from aging relatives increased 15.6% to 57,400, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said.

Read the full story at Japan Today

In the News: Japan’s Farmers on the Rise?

Data released this week by Japan’s agricultural ministry showed the number of new farmers in the country rose by 11.4% in 2009, the first increase since it started tracking such data in 2006.

That looks like a welcome development for a nation that imports most of its food. Japan has the lowest food self-sufficiency rate among industrialized nations at around 40%, a position that looks even more precarious in an era of rising resource prices and growing competition for supplies.

The Japanese government released a white paper in 2008 calling for increased food self-sufficiency and the freeing-up of unused farmland, and at first glance the rise in new farmers may be a sign that overworked urbanites are leaving the cities in search of a more easygoing lifestyle in the countryside.

But a closer look suggests the rise has more to do with Japan’s demographic decline and stagnant economy than the desire to grow organic vegetables.

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal

In the News: Japanese PM pledges fighting against livestock disease spreads

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday vowed to do the utmost to curb the further spread of foot- and-mouth disease that has ravaged livestock in Miyazaki Prefecture, according to local media reports from Japan’s southwestern region.

Kan told local farmers that the government is taking this problem very seriously and will supply resources as well as financial aid to held rehabilitate the region’s battered local livestock trade and make every effort to prevent the further spread of the disease.

“We will take steps to reconstruct their farms in a responsible manner,” local reports quoted the premier as saying.

Read the full story at People’s Daily Online

In the News: For Urban Farming Wisdom, Look to Japan

My neighbors are farmers. They regularly bring us cabbages, cucumbers, bitter melon, tomatoes, eggplants, persimmons, and other local specialties, and their arrival on our doorstep with a box of fresh-picked produce is as much an announcement of the changing seasons as the color of the sky or warmth of the wind. Our conversations often turn to rain, mulch, tools for tilling, and fruit yields from the old but still-productive trees they tend. They offer advice on reviving my stunted tomatoes, and we debate the relative merits of baseball caps for working the fields under the hot sun as opposed to the traditional straw kasa. None of this would be remarkable except that we live in the middle of Yokohama, a progressive city of 3.6 million people, and our houses are so densely packed that they almost touch. My neighbors are Japanese urban farmers, and have been for decades.

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In the News: Yarns about yams: Blogging Japanese farmers

Kurashi — the “Eco blog” — has provided a useful post on the rise of Japanese farmers’ blogs. These sites not only let city-dwellers better understand the nature of growing fruits and vegetables but breaks the oft-held stereotype of farmers being country hicks unaccustomed to 21st century technology.

From Hokkaido’s Fujimori — a grape grower — to Okinawa’s Papaya House, Japan’s farmer blogs give a sense of the full diversity of agriculture happening within the nation’s borders. Most blogs are in Japanese, of course, but Pure Land Mountain is an American’s take on farming in Japan.

Read more: Blogging Japanese farmers |

Read the full story at CNN Go

In the News (Japan): Hokkaido’s female farmers toil away in countryside couture

Farm clothes are not known for their sartorial elegance, but a group of Hokkaido women are staging their own catwalk shows with a new line of outdoor farmwear they are calling “Agri-Fashion.”

The women behind “Agri-Fashion,” which sounds similar to “ugly fashion” when pronounced in Japanese, are even touting it as a movement with the potential to attract younger people to careers in farming.

“I always wanted cute working clothes that were more fashionable,” says Kimiko Ikawa, 56, who launched the new line. “I thought by using bright colors and lots of patterns, I could make a new brand of farmwear that hasn’t been made before.”

Ikawa, a fashion school graduate, married a farmer and followed him to the town of Biei, Hokkaido, where the absence of younger residents has become a serious problem.

Read the full story at The Japan Times

In the News (Japan): Yamafuji: Going organic in Hiroo

In the last few years, food troubles have been making the headlines: pesticide-tainted dumplings, contaminated rice and growing concerns over food safety. No wonder more and more in Japan are turning toward organic food. Many restaurants now include a few organic dishes on their menus, but Yamafuji, a casual-chic Japanese bistro near Hiroo station, guarantees that all their ingredients are either 100% chemical-free or grown with the barest minimum of pesticides.

Read the full story at CNN Go

In the News: Biogas attracts attention as new fuel in Japan

TOKYO, JAPAN: A plant established in Shikaoicho in the Tokachi region of Hokkaido in March 2007 to produce biogas from livestock excreta is now the largest production facility of its kind in the nation.

The Hokkaido government built the plant at a cost of about 1.7 billion yen on about four hectares of land surrounded by wheat fields and ranches located about three kilometers east of the center of the town.

The plant is operated by a union comprising the town government and local dairy farmers.

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In the News: Japan to Promote Farm Investment Overseas for Food Security

April 27 (Bloomberg) — Japan, the world’s largest grain importer, will help local companies invest in agricultural production and distribution overseas to ensure stable supply as global food demand increases.

Japan is considering providing loans from a government- owned bank for companies to purchase and lease farmland abroad, Munemitsu Hirano, counsellor at the international affairs department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said. The government may also use foreign aid to improve infrastructure such as storage and port facilities in developing countries, he said.

Food importers such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia are taking steps to increase overseas agricultural investment to ensure food security after prices of corn, wheat and rice surged to records last year. Japan relies on imports for 60 percent of its food and last year purchased almost all its corn requirements from the U.S., the world’s largest exporter.

Read the full article at Bloomberg

In the News: Interest in farming budding regardless of economic winter

TOKYO — Masachika Ogihara, a 29-year-old who once dreamed of becoming an engineer, is now quite convinced that he has made the right choice to be a farmer—a profession he sees as having a huge potential for growth contrary to what many people seem to think in Japan.

‘‘Farming is exciting and cool. It can make a lot of money if you are creative enough,’’ said Ogihara, who manages about 65 hectares of paddies and fields in Nagano Prefecture. ‘‘But not many know these aspects.’’

Even so, there are signs of growing interest in farming in Japan, especially among the younger generation, not necessarily because a long economic winter appears highly likely.

Japan’s agriculture suffered from a negative image over much of the past half century, a period in which its economy grew mainly through the tremendous success of the manufacturing industry.

Farming has often been portrayed as ailing, unprofitable and wearisome, among other things.

Read the full article at Japan Today