【News】 Agricultural reform still halfway through (Dec. 17, 2013)


The government last week announced its agricultural policy plan for the next decade, which includes specific measures to meet its goal of doubling farmers’ incomes in 10 years. However, the plan is scheduled to be revised by June next year to reflect the ongoing discussions by the government’s Council for Industrial Competitiveness and the Council for Regulatory Reform. The debate on agricultural reform, which began after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office a year ago, will continue, as the future vision of agricultural structure, including how to define ambitious farmers, remains ambiguous.

The plan, aimed at revitalizing the agricultural industry and rural villages to have growth potential, comprises four major pillars ? expanding demand for farm products, strengthening functions to link supply and demand, invigorating farmers and maintaining the industry’s multifunctional role including tourism.

It lists 22 goals, some with numerical targets, and 111 specific measures to meet the goals. The goals include consolidating 80 percent of all farmlands to ambitious farmers in the next 10 years and cutting rice production costs of ambitious farmers by 40 percent from the current national average.

The plan has a chapter specifically calling for reforming the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives group in line with the increase of non-farmers and part-time farmers among its members. While acknowledging the significance of the JA’s role, it states the need for the JA to reform itself to expand exports, as well as strengthening sales efforts and cooperation with other industries to create value-added products.

It also focuses on restoration of regions hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The government’s headquarters for agricultural revitalization headed by Abe has been working since May on the plan, which will become a guiding principle for agricultural policies in the next 10 years and also for budget drafting for fiscal 2014.

Reflecting the discussions at the Council for Industrial Competitiveness, the debate regarding the plan has been focused mainly on specific policies, such as creation of farmland consolidation bank, revision of the individual-household income compensation system and other agriculture promotion measures to be conducted under the coordination of several ministries. But the plan fails to indicate a clear vision of how to define and support ambitious farmers who engage in efficient and stable farming business.

The government is expected to start discussing the vision early next year based on the announced plan, with the goal to revise the basic plan for food, agriculture and rural areas, which is to be revised every five years, by March 2015. Agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the revised basic plan will indicate how the future agricultural structure should be like.

Under the announced plan, the government only says that farmers eligible for the revised income compensation system will be certified farmers, community farms and certified beginning farmers, and it does not set minimum cultivation area requirements for receiving subsidies. During discussions among the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, many said the current system of setting a minimum cultivation requirement of 4 hectares for certified farmers and 20 hectares for community farms had been wrong, and decided to make the system virtually open to all ambitious farmers regardless of farm size.

Amid the rapid aging of the farming population, the plan also set a target of doubling the number of beginning farmers.

(Dec. 17, 2013)

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