Focus more on ‘satoyama’: expert

by Setsuko Kamiya

To stop ecosystem degradation in farmland and coastal areas, bureaucrats and scientists must join hands to design new policies that can improve the situation, warns a United Nations official who has worked closely on the issue in Japan.

According to Anne McDonald, director of the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies Operating Unit Ishikawa/Kanazawa, the 10th Conference of the Parties of the Convention of Biological Diversity (COP10) is a crucial opportunity to move things toward better “satoyama” management.

The short Japanese term refers to a traditional production landscape in which forests and farmland maintain a balanced coexistence that requires a crucial human touch to maintain.

“We’re not proposing to go back to the old days or ways of things because that’s not realistic,” McDonald told The Japan Times on Sunday. “What is important is to look at how human societies have interacted with the natural environment and how they’ve used nature’s resources to live and survive.”

The institution has served as the secretariat for the Japan Satoyama and Satoumi Assessment, which embodies a series of studies on Japan’s satoyama and recommendations for preserving ecosystems. Details of the assessment will be released this week.

The institution is also examining the ecosystems of various “satoumi,” or coastal marine areas, that are experiencing degradation, McDonald said.

Both Japan and the U.N. have been pushing for adoption of the Satoyama Initiative, which aims to promote and support satoyama that experts agree are in a dire need of preservation.

Satoyama have been in decline since the 1970s, when lifestyles began to shift as oil began replacing wood for fuel. Overexploitation triggered by urbanization then reduced human management of the forests. The few who chose to remain in satoyama have been dwindling as depopulation continues.

McDonald, who has spent 80 percent of her 22 years in the Japanese countryside, said she witnessed significant changes to remote areas in the late 1980s when she began living here to study folklore and record the oral history of traditional artisans. But things have gotten to the point where more people are aware that satoyama are suffering, she said.

“Human management is a critical element of satoyama. But if those people are going to disappear, then the satoyama landscape is going to disappear,” she said.

“We have to start thinking about workable solutions on how to manage satoyama in a sustainable way in the society we’ve become,” she said. “That might sound funny coming from a Canadian, but I believe we’re global citizens, so wherever we live, we have a civil responsibility to try and contribute to that society.”

The partnership with the Satoyama Initiative will promote analysis and examination of the best practices from each country and village. It will also push local governments, international organizations and NGOs to collaborate on conserving and recovering satoyamalike nature.

“COP10 is a wonderful opportunity not only for global leaders but for your local leaders to get together and really have some critical, much needed discussions on what can be done,” McDonald said ahead of a governor’s meeting on the issue Wednesday.

Satoyama preservation has relied on individual efforts so far, but McDonald said local governments will eventually be the key players. They should try to involve various parties cross-sectionally to bring about more creative and sustainable approaches on resource use and preservation.

Parties include people from forestry and farming, as well as from education, business and NGOs, not to mention the people who enjoy the nature, she said.

McDonald also urges people to link satoyama and satoumi more closely together because she feels land and sea should not be separated when talking about biodiversity. Research shows that one of the causes of the degradation in marine biodiversity comes from land-based threats, including factory waste and agricultural runoff, she said, adding that multidisciplinary approaches will be increasingly important.

“I think all of us value nature on an aesthetic and emotional level. But how do we add the green factor and nature factor to everyday economics — that’s a really big challenge. And I don’t think we’ve come with all the working solution.

“But I hope that at the COP10 in Nagoya, the International Satoyama Initiative will be adopted by the convention. That’s going to be wonderful impetus not only for Japan, but also for other nations that are looking at very similar challenges,” she said.