【Editor’s column】 Gaining farmers’ support essential for agricultural co-ops reform (Feb. 10, 2015)


 

Editor in Chief, Kazushiro Tamiya

The government, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu) have reached basic agreement on reforming agricultural co-ops. During last-minute talks, LDP lawmakers with close ties to the farm sector barely managed to push back some of the radical proposals made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Office and the government’s Regulatory Reform Council. However, it is true that the overall debate on agricultural co-ops reform, which focused mainly on fiddling around the edges of restructuring JA-Zenchu, has made farmers feel doubtful and leery about for whom and for what the reform will be conducted.

We are not convinced by the content of the reform, and even more so by the decision-making process for the reform. The Regulatory Reform Council, which is made up of representatives of business circles, completely ignored the concerns of people in the farm sector and hastily came up with radical proposals including stripping JA-Zenchu of its legal authority, converting the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations (JA Zen-Noh) into a joint-stock corporation and restricting non-farmer members’ use of JAs’ services. The agriculture ministry, which has been acting as a go-between when the prime minister’s office and the LDP work out an agenda, this time sided with the Regulatory Reform Council. We cannot deny the fact that the process of deciding agricultural policies under the LDP administration has changed significantly.

Such an unreasonable policy-making has led to a loss of trust for the government. A head of an agricultural co-operative in the Kyushu region said farmers share the feeling that Abe’s administration is forcing its idea of agricultural reform with the aim of dismantling the JA group and blocking criticism against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks.

Reforming agriculture and agricultural co-ops to increase farmers’ income is, in itself, a process which takes a steady effort and patience. In order to put it into practice, it is necessary to gain consensus of related parties after carefully explaining to them the damage they could suffer. The government should go back to the traditional way of deciding agricultural policies by listening to farmers’ voices and reflecting them in the policy-making process.

The people in the JA group are all well aware of the urgent need to reform agricultural co-ops in an effort to revitalize the farm sector and foster prospective farmers. They also have the responsibility to maintain and develop their role of serving as an infrastructure to support the lives of people in rural areas. In order to keep working as co-operatives which help sustain rural villages, the group’s biggest goal is to conduct self-reform as an organization which receives support and understanding of the public.

We should think with a cool head and really get back down to the grassroots of reform.

(Feb. 10, 2015)

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