Japan’s food security has been threatened after World War II amid increasing pressure to liberalize its farm products market. 80 percent of the Japanese people believe it is necessary to raise the nation’s low food self-sufficiency rate. A number of reported problems involving the safety of imported agricultural products have prompted consumers to choose domestically-produced items. The government should be responsible for promoting agriculture to improve self-sufficiency and also ensure food safety. On top of that, the government should work on linking producers and consumers, and establish self-sufficient regions.
Food self-sufficiency rate is an indicator that shows how much of the food consumed by the people of a country is produced domestically. The rate was 79 percent on a calorie basis in 1960, but has been hovering around 40 percent since the 1990s. It is showing a totally opposite trend compared with that of Germany and Britain, which are major importers of farm products but have managed to raise their self-sufficiency rate.
Two large drops were seen in Japan’s self-sufficiency rate in the past. The first one was seen in the period of high economic growth in the 1960s. It was when Japanese people worked hard to become rich, with their diets quickly becoming Westernized and many young workers turning to cities. Rice consumption declined, while consumption of meat and dairy products increased. The nation had been more or less self-sufficient in terms of grains, producing about 80 percent of the consumed amount, but by the 1970s more than half of grain supply was dependent on imports. Most of the rural villages lacked young farmers, leading to a further decline in agriculture, forcing the nation to depend more on imports.
The second large drop in self-sufficiency rate came in the 1990s when trade liberalization proceeded. In a mere five years, the self-sufficiency rate for meats dropped by 13 percentage points and that for fruits by 14 percentage points. Liberalization of Japan’s beef and citrus markets, which came as a result of negotiations between Japan and the United States, had an enormous impact on domestic producers. In addition, an extremely poor rice harvest marked in 1993 forced the government to import large amounts of rice, leading to the failure of the nation’s farm policies pledging to ensure self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs. By partially opening its rice market, the nation’s self-sufficiency system collapsed.
Amid growing concern among the people over the nation’s food security, the government set a target for food self-sufficiency for the first time under the Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas established in 1999. The law represented a major shift from agricultural policies to food policies, and the government began constructing policies to meet the target.
The target is revised every five years in the government’s basic plan, but has never been met. In March the government lowered the target to 45 percent from the initial goal of 50 percent amid criticism that it was unachievable. The government should aim for a more aggressive goal of domestic producers providing over 50 percent of the nation’s food energy intake. The government also established a new food self-sufficiency indicator, which shows how much food Japan can produce domestically if it fully utilizes all the available farmlands, including abandoned lands and those used to grow crops other than food, such as flowers. Along with self-sufficiency rates, the government should also disclose information on the weakening national capacities for food self-sufficiency to encourage public debate on food security.
Global food supply-demand balance is tightening. Even if we are in short supply of food, it will become increasingly difficult to simply purchase food products from overseas as we have done until now. The government must implement policies to increase domestic production by fully utilizing farmlands, and call on consumers to buy more domestically-produced farm products. On a regional level, producers and consumers should work together to expand local production for local consumption through farmers’ markets and school lunches. Developing healthy eating habits will contribute to raising the self-sufficiency rate.
(Aug. 6, 2015)