Quake-hit Fukushima finds new markets in Southeast Asia Rice, fruits, and other agricultural export grows 40%

FUKUSHIMA, Mar. 11 – The export of agricultural products from Fukushima Prefecture is increasing. According to the prefecture, its shipping of farm products in the first ten months of the fiscal year 2019 (from April 2019 to January 2020) was record-high 265 tons, 40% higher than the same period last year. Rice has been a driving force, while the export of peaches and apples grew dramatically. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, some countries and regions have kept import restrictions on food from the prefecture hit hard in the 2011 earthquake. However, the prefecture has been successful in promoting the sales overseas by exploring new markets primarily in Southeast Asia.

The export of agricultural products from Fukushima declined by 90% in the fiscal year 2011, immediately after the earthquake, and hit the bottom of 2.4 tons in the fiscal year 2012. However, it recovered gradually to exceed in 2017 its pre-earthquake level and reached in 2018 a record high. The export volume in the fiscal year 2019 as of the end of January topped the full-year result in the fiscal year 2018 and, reaching a new high.

Rice is the strongest export product for Fukushima and accounts for more than half of the total export. In 2018, the export of rice from Fukushima rose by 20% year-over-year to 151 tons, up 40% even from the fiscal year 2010, a year before the earthquake. In the first ten months of the fiscal year 2019, Fukushima sold 131 tons of rice, up 1% from the same period last year.

The key to success was a strategy to focus on Malaysia. Before the earthquake, Fukushima’s primary pre-earthquake trading market was Hong Kong, but it shifted to other markets due to bad rumors and fierce competition among Japanese producers in Hong Kong. Currently, 70% of rice exported from Japan to Malaysia comes from Fukushima.

In Malaysia, rice from Fukushima is now sold at not only local Japanese supermarkets, department stores, and restaurants, but also local glossary stores and retail shops.

The consumers are local middle- and high-income earners, who like the taste of Koshihikari rice brand, for example.

Though the anxiety about the impact of the nuclear accident was also seen in Malaysia, Malaysian people are relatively less affected by the rumors, according to an official from the Product Marketing Strategy Division of Fukushima Prefecture.

In terms of growth, the export of peaches grew 70% to 54 tons, while that of apples grew seven times to 36 tons. Fruits sold well in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, there still are regulatory barriers to agricultural products from Fukushima even nine years after the earthquake. Hong Kong, Japan’s largest export destination, still maintains a ban on the import of vegetables and fruits from Fukushima, while China has stopped importing all food from the prefecture. An official from the Fukushima branch of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (ZEN-NOH) said, “Lifting restrictions does not always mean the return of buyers. We’ll work closely with the prefecture to get rid of such harmful rumors.”

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