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The town of Kurikoma in Miyagi Prefecture is a typical mountain community, with terraced paddies on the slopes.

But when conversation touches on the future of agriculture in such areas, local farmer Koya Sato, 64, gets a little upset.

“I don’t want to become discouraged or pessimistic,” said Sato, who has about 2 hectares of farmland, 1.3 of which are terraced paddies.

Level paddies extend from the front of his residence, but the scene offers no assurances for the future of Japanese agriculture.

“Young people have left town,” Sato said. “Now old people strain themselves engaging in farming.”

In addition to sluggish rice prices, farmers in Kurikoma — at the base of the Ou mountain range — cannot expect to expand their paddies, which are typically divided into small patches.

To make matters worse, the number of young people drawn to agriculture is falling, the town office says.

The town’s population has declined from about 24,500 in 1955 to around 14,500 this year. “There are only a few households now that have young people ready to take over as farmers,” an official said.

Kurikoma’s problems are the same as those that have hit farmers in all mountainous regions, which account for about 40 percent of the country’s farming industry.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said about 46 percent of farmers in mountainous areas are aged 65 or older.

According to a survey compiled in 1995, less than 30 percent of the nation’s municipalities reported that they had young people returning home from the big cities to take over their family farms in the five years from 1989.

“Unless we invigorate our region now, there will be no one living here in the future,” Sato said.

Sato is pushing for such change. He attends lectures and is collecting information on selling farm products by direct shipment to consumers and stresses to his peers at town meetings the need to develop distinctive commodities.

“We should create original commodities from the town, such as growing edible wild plants in the mountains that are being unused for cultivation.”

Sato’s two daughters have left town, but he said the younger one, who is 35 and lives in Saitama Prefecture, comes home every Golden Week to help him plant rice.

He hopes she will succeed him some day.

“If we restore the town’s vigor,” Sato said, “young people will return home. The future of the agricultural sector would then certainly be bright. I would like to think so, anyway.”

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