【Editorial】 Work together with young farmers, support their pioneering spirit (Jan. 10, 2014)


Clear signs of reform are expanding in rural villages, with more young people settling in, starting to engage in farming and participating in efforts to revitalize the area. Collaboration with them will work as the driving force to clear the path for the future of the nation’s agriculture and farming villages. Movements for a better society should rise from local areas.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is implementing a growth strategy based on a radical monetary easing policy, economy-boosting measures focusing on public works projects, drastic deregulation and facilitating investments. However, such a strategy of stimulating growth has become a thing of the past, as Japan’s income redistribution function is weakening amid the aging of society and hollowing out of industries. A growth strategy which again intensifies centralization on Tokyo could worsen such problems as widening gaps between urban and rural districts, dehumanization caused by the system of employing workers on a temporary basis and deterioration of primary industries and rural areas. People who are concerned over such situations began to turn their eyes on agriculture and rural villages.

The number of young people working as volunteers in depopulated villages to revitalize the area totaled 617 in 207 areas in fiscal 2012, up from 89 in 31 areas in fiscal 2009 when the program to invite young people from urban areas started. 80 percent of them are in their 20s or 30s. The number for fiscal 2013, which the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is expected to announce soon, is likely to have increased further. What is striking about many of them is that they are people who have acquired various social experiences and skills through living in urban areas and working at companies, and who have come to rural villages on their own strong will based on their view of life and society.

According to a survey conducted by a nonprofit organization Furusato Kaiki Center on 100 municipalities nationwide in a period between August and October last year, inquiries from people living in urban areas who are considering moving to rural areas increased in more than half of the surveyed municipalities after the March 2011 earthquake. 25 percent of the inquiries came from people in their 20s and 30s who have children, according to the survey, which indicates the earthquake became an opportunity for many people to turn their eyes to rural areas as a safe environment to live in.

In December, a Tokyo-based citizens’ group which offers farming experience programs in cooperation with villages with rice terraces held a symposium on agriculture and life in mesomountainous regions for the first time. People from various generations with different occupations showed interest in the invitation for the symposium made through Facebook and other media, and 40 people, more than the group had expected, attended. This is a sign that there are many potential supporters of rural villages in the vast urban areas and they will take action if there is an effective mechanism to attract them.

It is important for rural villages to respond to such movements, as Japan’s goal of ensuring balanced nationwide development through economic expansion has not been achieved after the bursting of the bubble economy and the “lost 20 years” which followed it.

Now is the time to explore more broadly and deeply how to think and work together with people who share the view on the significance of rural development. We must turn a pinch into a chance. We must seek a new way to sustain rural communities and build a relationship between urban and rural areas which is suitable for a developed nation.

(Jan. 10, 2014)

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