Homegrown food production

Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate in calorie intake improved by about 1 percentage point to 41 percent in fiscal 2008, for the second straight annual rise. But, as farm minister Shigeru Ishiba said, one cannot hail the rise once various factors are taken into consideration.

Of the 1.1 point rise, 0.4 percentage point came from a rise in the self-sufficiency rate for sugar cane. This was because Okinawa Prefecture, a major grower of sugar cane, suffered less damage from typhoons than in the previous year. Meanwhile, the rate for animal-derived products increased 0.3 percentage point after high prices reduced cheese imports. Thus, actual improvements in Japan’s competitiveness are not apparent.

The food self-sufficiency rate in calorie intake stood at 73 percent in fiscal 1965 but fell to 37 percent in fiscal 1993. After holding to about 40 percent from fiscal 1998 to 2005, it dropped to 39 percent in fiscal 2006 but recovered to 40 percent the next year. In contrast with Japan, the rate was 128 percent for the United States and 70 percent for Britain, in 2003.

The food self-sufficiency rate in calorie intake has tricky aspects. The figure for vegetables is relatively low because high-calorie items such as rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes carry a large weight. And a production increase in the livestock industry causes a decline in the self-sufficiency rate because of substantial reliance on imported feed for animals.

The self-sufficiency rate in terms of economic value fell 1 percentage point to 65 percent in fiscal 2008, for the third straight annual decline, while the rate for staple diet cereals went up by one percentage point to 61 percent.

Since there are several ways to measure the self-sufficiency rate, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito’s call for increasing it to 50 percent is almost meaningless. At least, the Democratic Party of Japan’s call for attaining full self-sufficiency in main cereals appears more feasible.

Since trade liberalization is almost inevitable, the government and political parties should strive to boost domestic agricultural production in the face of competition from imported food.