Japan: Poor rewards for organic farmers

Japanese farmer Yuya Shibakai produces organic lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables for a market that has tasted nothing like the success of the sector in other advanced economies.

On his farm outside Tokyo, the 32-year-old doggedly trudges along a line of lettuces, pulling up weeds by hand.

Shibakai says it is a "daily struggle to find ways to make a profit using a system you could call inefficient, where you have to pull all the weeds out by hand."

"We need a different supply system in Japan, a sustainable structure for farmers that would also change the way our profession is seen," added Shibakai, who took over the business from his parents in 2009.

Organic farming occupied just 0.5 per cent of Japan's entire arable area in 2016. The country hopes to double this by 2019, Akimi Uenaka, an official in charge of organic farming at the agriculture ministry, told AFP.

However, Uenaka admitted the development of the sector in Japan was "slow", as weeding and pest control take more time and organic farms struggle to produce a "stable" output due to technical limitations.

Shibakai is one of 12,000 organic farmers in the whole country, according to statistics from 2010, the last time the agriculture ministry collected figures from the nascent sector.

While a craze for healthy eating has fuelled lucrative sales around the world, the market for "bio" or organic food in Japan is estimated to be worth just over US$1 billion.

The world's third-largest economy has a mere fraction of the global market of around US$90 billion and is dwarfed by the United States (US$45 billion), Germany (US$11 billion), France (US$8 billion) and China (US$7 billion).

Moreover, while even most of these mature markets are enjoying solid growth, the sector in Japan is stagnating.

Click here to read the full article.

Photo credit: AFP/Martin Bureau

06/13/2018 - Channel NewsAsia

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