Yoichi Tashiro, Professor of agricultural economics at Otsuma Women’s University
The revised Agricultural Co-operative Society Law, which strongly reflects the intentions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, was recently approved in the Diet. There are many aspects of the law that don’t make sense, and a rule on assigning primary farm co-ops (JAs)’ directors is one of them.
The new law states that more than half of primary JAs’ directors should be certified farmers or professionals of farm product sales and corporate management, and that boards of directors should not be largely imbalanced in terms of age and gender.
However, JAs are not public institutions nor government-funded organizations. They are autonomous and independent private organizations. Giving such specific instructions on JAs’ directors under the law is an unfair intervention that tramples on the autonomy of primary JAs.
Under the law, two-thirds of a primary JA’s directors and three quarters of the members of its management committee, which appoints and supervises directors, should be farmer members. This is to say that a third of directors and a quarter of management committee members can be non-farmer members.
The new rule says more than half of directors should be either certified farmers or professionals of sales or management, but does not restrict the professionals to farmers. If all the professionals who are assigned as directors are non-farmers, up to a third of director’s posts may end up being occupied by non-farmers, meaning they would have a stronger say in the board. It is difficult to believe that such a board of directors will make the best possible efforts to expand farmers’ income, which is the initial objective of revising the law.
Although primary JAs are not classified into any of business categories such as supermarkets and convenience stores, they can be defined as “community-based business.” They are “co-operatives rooted in local areas with focus on food and agriculture.” And it is the directors who support their activities.
It is the directors who work as regional representatives, linking local communities and primary JAs by conveying the needs of local residents to JAs and the JAs’ policies to the residents. Sometimes the directors and JAs’ employees work in pairs to visit customers to promote JAs’ mutual aid products. That is how they run JAs’ businesses.
If the directors are to be selected under the new law which sets strict rules on occupations and age composition, it will become difficult to secure personnel who can represent local communities. This hinders JAs’ role as community-based business operators. During Diet deliberations, Abe has referred to members of agricultural committees, set in municipalities to deal with farmlands, as an honorary post. Maybe he has the same impression about JAs’ directors.
No matter how unreasonable it is, the new law is approved, and JAs must work within the law. JAs’ board of directors will include certified farmers, ordinary farmers, non-farmers, women and young people. While maintaining such categories on one side, JAs should also have representatives of each district as directors to reflect the interests of local communities. Taking into consideration each primary JA’s circumstances, such flexibility should be allowed in implementing the law.
(Sept. 29, 2015)