The Council of Food, Agriculture and Rural Area Policies, an advisory body to the farm minister, has begun discussing a new basic plan for the nation’s agriculture. The Cabinet is expected to adopt the plan by March 2010. Since the plan could lead to a drastic change in the nation’s agriculture policy, the council should hold discussions without being swayed by outside pressure.

In initial discussions on Jan. 27, many council members sought a review of the policy of reducing the amount of land used for rice cultivation. As the policy, which has been in force since 1971, maintains rice prices and subsidizes farmers who reduce rice cultivation, agricultural lobbies are against the review. Council members who seek the review said the policy has not lifted farmers’ incentive or income. The opinion was also expressed that since excessive liberalization of rice markets could push down rice prices, a new regulatory mechanism should be constructed.

Since the nation’s calorie-based self-sufficiency rate for its food supply measured only 40 percent in fiscal 2007, some council members have called for improving the nation’s total food supply capabilities.

The problems the council must tackle are serious: a weakened agricultural production system and impoverishment of agricultural villages due to the graying of the farming population, an increase in the hectarage of abandoned agricultural fields and a decline in the total value of agricultural production.

The current basic plan, calling for larger agricultural production units with support to farmers who have ability and strong incentives, was adopted by the Koizumi administration in March 2005. But the opposition parties, who were against the plan, trounced the ruling parties in the July 2007 Upper House election.

The council needs to work out a basic plan that can win people’s support and is rational. It should consider creative ways to increase employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, leading to greater food production. It can also push an agricultural policy combined with an energy policy characterized by dispersed energy sources such as biofuels.

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