The Decentralization Reform Committee of the Cabinet Office held the tenth meeting of the Farming Land and Villages Committee on Thursday, September 11, and argued about the transfer of clerical jobs and rights from the central government to the local governments. The specialists attended insisted the local governments be responsible for the issue of conversion permission. Although agricultural land might decrease in case of excessive development, the committee members also made positive remarks supporting the decentralization. The Farmland and Villages Committee plans to proceed with further examination regarding specific measures to secure farmland preservation. The point is whether they can propose effective measures or not.
Now, large-scale conversion of farmland covering an area exceeding 4 hectares needs permission from the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. As for conversion of farmland covering an area of 2 to 4 hectares, prefectural governors have to consult with the minister. These procedures are for preserving farmland, which is necessary for steady supply of food. The procedures are also effective to put the brake to a certain degree in case governors give priority to developments.
Masaru Nishio, president of the Japan Agency for Local Authority Information Systems attended the meeting and presented his view saying, “the ongoing system is far from the international standards” as local governments has conversion rights in America and Europe. Nishio called for early realization of decentralization. However, some object to this idea because we cannot ignore the fact that in Europe, strict land use plans are needed based on the idea, “no plans, no developments.”
Hitoshi Kashiwagi, chairman of the Farmland and Villages Committee (also CEO of the Recruit Holdings) said “both the central and local governments recognize the importance of preserving farmland. However, most members of this committee hold a similar opinion that the rights should be transferred to local governments.” He explained that there is a big gap between reality and the present target gross area of preserved farmland stipulated in the Basic Plan for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas, and demanded that local government sustain their efforts.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), on the other hand, is taking a cautious attitude toward decentralization because the conversion has been a major cause of farmland decrease. To control disorderly conversion, the MAFF thinks the central government, which is not subject to intentions of local landowners or companies advancing to local areas, should keep the right, and even when the rights are transferred to local governments, the system for full preservation of farmland is necessary.
The additional cause of the revised Agricultural Land Law enforced in 2009 prescribes that the entity issuing the transfer permission should be reconsidered in about five years. So the Farmland and Villages Committee aims at reaching a conclusion within the year. What is important is not just decentralization, but to propose specific measures that can secure farmland preservation.
(Sept. 13, 2014)