Macaques are causing crop damage in Mie Prefecture to the tune of about ¥150 million annually, the largest amount nationwide.

The mountains running through Mie bring the primates’ habitats in close proximity to farms.

Mountain villages, whose residents are mainly elderly, have yet to find a way to alleviate the nuisance.

“Until a decade ago, monkeys never came down to a village from the mountain,” said Takao Niuta, 64, who farms in the Katada region, about a 20-minute drive from the prefectural capital, Tsu.

“The monkeys eat up everything, including rice and vegetables,” he said. “I don’t even want to glimpse a monkey” because they tear up the fields to eat rice, vegetables and fruit.

Niuta, who heads a group trying to counter the scourge, dashes out of his house whenever he is alerted of an encroachment, carrying an air gun or tourbillion, but to no avail.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said the total amount of damage to agricultural products amounted to ¥1.5 billion in fiscal 2008, and 10 percent of that total occurred in Mie Prefecture.

Mie stands head and shoulders above other prefectures on the damage scale. In Aichi the figure has been put at ¥38 million, and in Gifu, losses have been calculated at ¥54 million per year.

Contrary to declining damage nationwide, Mie is the only prefecture that has seen an increase: from ¥100 million in 2006 to ¥120 million in 2007.

The reason macaques are causing such a large amount of damage in Mie is unclear.

Experts cannot find evidence that macaque numbers are higher in the prefecture. A study found there are about 130 troops in Mie, each with around 50 animals.

Mie has many traditional farm villages in the foothills of the Suzuka and Oodai mountains. In recent years, their populations have significantly declined as the society ages.

Since 2009, the Mie government has waged “the operation to oust monkeys” involving villages. It launched a task force mainly of farmers for the operation in each town and city. The members give advice on setting up guard fences around each village, but such measures have not been totally successful.

To add to farmers’ woes, meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has slashed the 2010 budget for comprehensive measures against bird and animal damage by 20 percent — involving a total of about ¥2.8 billion — as the government’s budget screening process judged that each local government should take the initiative based on actual conditions on the ground.

In fiscal 2009, Mie introduced countermeasures worth ¥250 million from the national budget, but the amount was cut by about 30 percent in fiscal 2010.

“Farmers would be discouraged if the vegetables they toil to grow continue to be stolen by monkeys just before harvest. Some farmers even gave up farming because of the damage,” said a prefectural official.

Professor Shunichi Mukasa, who specializes in regional sociology at the faculty of humanities and social sciences of Mie University, said there are no opportunities for villages with aging populations to combat the primates.

“More people come to abandon their farmland after monkeys devastated them, which eventually led to the increase of monkeys,” he said. “It’s a vicious circle.”

He proposed consolidating areas of agricultural land in the mountains and letting young people farm them. The plan, however, does not have a good chance of succeeding due to the fact that fewer people want to engage in agriculture. “It is not easy to find people who will take over that task,” Mukasa said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published July 24.

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