【Editorial】 Politics must back up farm co-ops’ self-reform efforts to revitalize regions (March 13, 2015)


The Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu) will start full-scale discussions on the JA group’s self-reform plan based on the government and ruling parties’ outline for agricultural co-ops reform. The group holds its national convention once every three years, and the resolution to be adopted at this year’s convention will set the policies for the coming three years. Let us put our heads together for the future of regional agriculture and the society, and politics should support such efforts.

Regarding discussions on agricultural reform, the JA group has strongly called for the need to maintain co-operatives rooted in local communities focusing on food and agriculture, in order to increase agricultural income and revitalize regional areas.

Meanwhile, the government and the ruling bloc have compiled a draft plan to reform the JA group, which includes making its credit business into a separate agency, turning the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (JA Zen-Noh) into a joint stock company, changing prefectural unions into autonomous federations and taking away the JA-Zenchu’s special legal status to make it a general incorporated association. It is necessary to closely monitor the discussion process within the ruling bloc, as well as debates in the Diet, and government and ministerial ordinances that follow, before the revised Agricultural Cooperative Society Law actually takes effect.

For instance, the JA group might come under pressure to transform itself to become more like a craft union restricted to farmers. We should continue emphasizing that the reform should reflect the actual situation of primary JAs which offer a comprehensive set of services rooted in regional communities. The new auditing firm, which will be created by separating JA-Zenchu’s auditing section from the union, must maintain the role of ensuring sound management of primary JAs.

The government is expected soon to present a draft bill to the ruling parties, and the bill to revise the law is likely to be passed in the current Diet session. As the JA group faces an unprecedented conversion, JA-Zenchu President Akira Banzai said the group will conduct thorough discussion as an independent and autonomous co-operative organization and set its future course.

Japan has entered a period of population decline and regional areas are impoverished due to the aging of residents. Under such a situation, the role of primary JAs to support regional agriculture and communities is becoming more significant than ever. As well as assisting regional farmers, primary JAs are functioning as the regional infrastructure by providing a variety of services essential to the community. They are expected to become the driving force of regional revitalization, as they bear the task of activating the overall rural communities through serving non-farmer members in addition to helping increase farmers’ income.

Co-operatives can also work to put the brakes, when necessary, on market economy which is prone to excessive booms and busts. They are also believed to be more tolerant of economic crisis. From the viewpoint of ensuring social stability, it is important to maintain economic diversity.

Nearly 70 years have passed since the Agricultural Cooperative Society Law was first established, but the various roles and value of the JA group have not faded. While maintaining confidence in its past and ongoing efforts, the JA group must ascertain its future changes and determine how to shape its business and organization in compiling a draft resolution for the national convention. In doing so, it should put together numerous ideas from its members nationwide.

It cannot be denied that the government’s moves in deciding the draft reform plan has caused anxiety among farmers. In the process of creating a bill and putting it into practice, politicians must acknowledge primary JAs’ contribution to the community and work on improving the environment for them.

(March 13, 2015)

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