Kyushu farmers join forces for Hong Kong fair

Kyodo

Producers of agricultural and fishery goods in the seven prefectures of Kyushu on Wednesday and Thursday are jointly holding their first export promotion event in Hong Kong to promote a regional brand in place of lesser known local names for their wide-ranging commodities.

About 60 organizations will exhibit products such as vegetables, fruits, meat, seafood and processed foods, expecting to attract at least 200 visitors,. including buyers and restaurant chefs.

The event is sponsored by the All-Kyushu Agriculture Business Promotion Council, with the cooperation of Hong Kong businesses. The council comprises around 500 academic, industrial and government entities.

A producer group from Minamishimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture, will exhibit strawberries grown by group members. So far, it has not been able to export the produce on a regular basis.

“Having a large number of buyers is attractive,” an official of the group said of the Hong Kong fair. “An event of this scale is not possible without involving all producers in Kyushu.”

An official of the JA agricultural cooperative in Kumamoto Prefecture with some experience of exporting rice, said: “We’ve exported only a limited amount so far. It’s better for various prefectures to work together.” The organization will promote its locally grown rice and tomatoes at the event.

Kyushu, which also includes Fukuoka, Saga, Kumamoto, Oita and Kagoshima prefectures, accounts for 20 percent of the nation’s agricultural output measured in value.

Given the sizable production, “it would be nice if we can achieve name recognition like Hokkaido,” Seiichiro Aoyagi, a council member, said, referring to the northern prefecture known for its dairy and farm produce. “But when we say Fukuoka or Kagoshima, nobody knows.”

He said it may be better to promote Fukuoka’s strawberries under the all-Kyushu Amaou brand rather than the prefecture’s own label.

When the seven prefectures tried to market their agricultural products on their own, clients told them they did not have the time for all the individual, separate promotions, according to the council.

The council started preparing for the Hong Kong event more than a year ago.

It has already distributed about 300 brochures in both Chinese and English, and asked participating organizations to prepare quotes for delivery costs.

Meanwhile, Nippon Express Co.’s Fukuoka branch has been leading the effort to develop a technology to keep produce fresh for delivery by ship — a very economical method that may work for Kyushu, which is closer to Hong Kong and other key Asian cities than most other regions of Japan.

The method uses a device to maintain humidity inside containers at 90-100 percent.

Surface transportation costs from Hakata port, the main seaport of Fukuoka, to Hong Kong can be reduced to 10-20 percent of what air shipment costs, according to one estimate.

In an experiment using a ship to deliver produce, items typically air-shipped, such as “mizuna” greens and strawberries, were still fresh even after 10 days.

The Hong Kong business promotion event will also display items shipped by sea.

A Nippon Express official said some hurdles are keeping the method from being more widely available. “We’ve noticed varying degrees of result depending on products and we also have to secure storage locations after delivery,” the official said.