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.

I am doing my best to assess the damage to my fields. With a Geiger counter, I measure the levels in my fields. I then avoid planting in places where the radiation is particularly high, and remove the topsoil where possible. Harvested vegetables are divided according to type and field grown before being sent to inspection agencies to measure radioactivity. While government agencies carry out the tests for free, the waiting list for this service is very long. This means that the vegetables do not reach the market in fresh condition. In order to get the vegetables to the market as soon as possible, I rely on private inspecting agencies, where each batch tested costs around 5000 yen to 30000 yen.

The Japanese government has set the upper limit for radioactive cesium at 500 Bq, but after discussing the matter with the local cooperative, we decided to lower the upper limit to one-tenth of the government’s standard, at 50 Bq. Vegetables with readings below this level are those which are ultimately sold. However, because the testing is done on a single sample from a large field, there is the danger of different readings occurring within the same plot, and customers have voiced their doubts regarding this problem. In order to provide a solution, I am planning to buy a dosimeter in order to measure the radioactivity of my produce. This is a very expensive piece of equipment, and I am relying on donations from Ainou kai to pay for it. However, the dosimeter is in high demand and currently out of stock, so it will be some time before I get one. Even after taking such drastic steps however, the fact remains that my products come from Fukushima Prefecture.

Schools, nurseries and kindergartens in Fukushima are also taking various steps to protect children from radiation. Soil from the playgrounds has been scraped off and cleaned, and lunches provided by the school make use of agricultural produce from outside Fukushima to prevent any chance of internal radiation. Further, about 10,000 school-going children have moved out of Fukushima because their parents feel that it is safer to do so. At the same time, there are families whose financial conditions do not permit voluntary evacuation. Because of such circumstances, there are some who think that the decision to evacuate must not be made by individual families, but instead be made by the city. In order to achieve this objective, there is currently a trial under the name of Fukushima Mass Evacuation going on in K?riyama. As an example, of the 600 students enrolled in the local primary school, about 200 are expected to transfer out. I had the chance to talk with the parents of the students at this school, and whether the family was moving out or staying behind, there was a common grievance that a large emotional strain was being placed on the children because of the need to adapt to an unfamiliar environment.

There is still a lot to learn about the dangers of radiation, but exposure to some amount of radiation is inevitable in Japan. It is physically impossible for the million people living in and around the worst affected areas to evacuate out into a safer place.

The presence of radioactive cesium in Fukushima beef has added fresh fears about the safety of other produce, and the outlook for farming households is grim, but I feel that it is my duty to protect the land and produce healthy and safe products as long as there are people in Fukushima.

-J?kichi Ishizawa (25th July 2011)

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