National

Japan's food self-sufficiency rate hits lowest level in 25 years due to drop in wheat production

Kyodo

The nation’s food self-sufficiency rate on a caloric intake basis was 37 percent in fiscal 2018, the lowest level in 25 years, after domestic wheat and soy bean production dropped sharply due to bad weather, the latest data compiled by the farm ministry has revealed.

The self-sufficiency rate fell 1 percentage point from the previous year to equal the lowest total on record, the ministry said in a report released Tuesday. Self-sufficiency was last recorded at the 37 percent level in fiscal 1993 due to a poor rice crop that year.

The drop underscores the government’s challenge in reaching its goal of 45 percent by fiscal 2025.

The food self-sufficiency rate refers to the ratio of domestically consumed food supplied by producers in the country. The government reduced the target rate based on caloric intake to 45 percent from the initial target of 50 percent amid criticism that the earlier goal was not achievable. It also moved the target date back to 2025 from fiscal 2020.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry also attributed the decline in the fiscal 2018 food self-sufficiency rate to increased imports of beef and dairy products.

When measured by production value the rate in fiscal 2018 was 66 percent, unchanged from a year earlier, with the decrease in prices of vegetables and eggs offset by increased sugar beet output, the ministry said.

The decadeslong downward trend in the rate reflects changes in the Japanese diet, with consumption of domestic rice on the decline and that of meat on the rise.

The agriculture ministry also released calorie-based self-sufficiency rates by prefecture for fiscal 2017. Hokkaido topped the list with 206 percent, up by one notch from the second slot in the previous year when Japan’s northern farmland suffered severe typhoon damage. Akita, which was in top place on the fiscal 2016 list, gave way to Hokkaido to come second, with 188 percent.

Japan has one of the lowest food self-sufficiency rates among major world economies. Its rate by caloric intake was 79 percent in fiscal 1960 but hit bottom in fiscal 1993. It bounced back to 46 percent the following year but has since stood at around 40 percent.

The government is looking for ways to reach its goal but has also concluded free trade agreements with trans-Pacific economies and the European Union. The pacts have opened its market wider to foreign imports.

Japan also has the fastest-aging agricultural labor force, with an average age of 66.6 in 2018. Automatization and attracting women and young people into the agricultural sector have been proposed as ways to help reverse the trend seen in the food self-sufficiency rate.

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