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Organic farming, which does not involve any agricultural chemicals or synthesized fertilizers, is attracting attention in Japan, especially because it puts less strain on the environment.

While the government has launched a strategy to promote organic agriculture, there are still many challenges to overcome, including ways to reduce physical burdens on farmers and costs, and expand sales channels.

“We’ve recently been seeing an increase in the number of environmentally aware young customers,” said Naoya Okada, president of Bio c’ Bon Japon Co., which operates an organic food store in Tokyo’s Ebisu district.

Organic farming uses compost for soil cultivation, with farmers digging up weeds and not relying on agricultural chemicals.

Momentum for compiling international organic agriculture standards is building, especially in Europe, as the farming method is believe to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and the fight against global warming.

In line with the overseas moves, the Japanese government announced in May a goal of increasing the proportion of farmland for organic farming to 1 million hectares by 2050.

As part of efforts to achieve the goal, the farm ministry plans to promote the development of agricultural products resistant to pests and the use of robots and drones for weeding and fertilizing.

But the proportion of farmland used for organic farming in Japan currently accounts for just 0.5% of the total, after production efficiency was prioritized due to the small size of the country.

As Japan is hotter and more humid compared with Europe and the United States, farmers in Japan need to use larger amounts of agricultural chemicals to prevent pests.

While organic agricultural products are attracting demand, an official of a major food supermarket said that “they can’t be mainstay items because it’s difficult to ensure stable supplies” due to small amounts of production and nonstandard shapes.

According to a 2016 survey by the agriculture ministry, prices of organic agricultural products are some 40% to 80% higher than those of their conventional counterparts.

“Prices should be lowered to some 20% to 30% higher levels to attract demand on a daily basis,” Okada of Bio c’ Bon Japon said.

“The way people see organic farming has changed,” said Yoshito Owada, who has been engaged in organic agriculture for over 30 years in the city of Kagoshima.

“Many people come to my place to learn it,” Owada said. He underlined the need for better ways to distribute organic agricultural products to consumers.

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