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Agriculture minister expects structural reforms to diminish JA presence

JIJI

Structural reform will diminish the presence of the Japan agricultural cooperatives group, known as JA, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Yoshimasa Hayashi said in a recent interview.

“Demand for agricultural cooperatives, which have played a key role in the Japanese farming industry, will decrease as Japan undergoes structural reform such as expansion of agricultural production,” Hayashi said.

Instead, he pointed out, it is important to hear from large-scale producers and reflect their requests in agricultural policies. He also expressed hope that an industrywide organization similar to Keidanren, the nation’s largest business lobby, will be established to represent farmers.

To double farmers’ incomes, the ministry plans to help increase added value on products sold domestically, Hayashi said. Developing food for nursing care and growing raw materials for Chinese medicine are two of the new areas the ministry hopes to tap into.

“Producing specially developed farm products on local land, such as new kinds of wheat fit for making ramen noodles and bread, will help increase added value,” he said.

Hayashi also pointed to the importance of collaboration between tourism and medical industries as well as diversifying farming by teaming up with other industries.

“Japan’s farm production is currently about ¥9 trillion and the key to diversifying agriculture is to capitalize on the ¥90 trillion market for related businesses, including food, distribution, retail and restaurant industries,” Hayashi said.

The central government will provide regional governments with measures to boost agriculture and ask them to take on the jobs on their own. “Some regions may try to go ahead of others in converting farming into a growth industry, a move which will create competition,” he said.

The original purpose of JA was to consolidate individual farmers’ selling and purchasing power and to make them act collectively to increase incomes, he noted, adding that basically the group should be responsible for reforming itself.

“It will be important for JA to earn a good reputation among producers through expansion of sales, among other things,” he said.