Food sovereignty is earnestly needed for “developed country” of Japan

Nyeleni 2007
Forum for Food Sovereignty
23 — 27 February 2007, Selingue, Mali

Position paper
National Coalition of Workers, Farmers and Consumers for Safe Food and Health, Japan

Food sovereignty is earnestly needed for “developed country” of Japan

. Background
We are a coalition of farmers, women, consumers and workers in Japan, who work for food safety and a stable food supply system, as well as for the sound development of domestic agriculture, which is the basis of achieving the former goals.

The realization of food sovereignty is an important task also for our movement in Japan.

This is because that stable supply of wholesome food is a basic requirement for the sound livelihood of our children and of the entire nation. As a result of Japan’s heavy dependency on U.S. grains and soybeans for its people, Japanese consumers have been made into guinea pigs for genetically modified food. To break away from this alarming situation is not only the hope of Japanese farmers but also of the people at large. This is well reflected in one opinion poll in which as much as 87% of the people affirm the need for drastic improvement of the country’s food self-sufficiency. This public opinion plainly speaks of the significant importance of gaining food sovereignty in our country.

Another reason is that food sovereignty is needed in order to create an economy that would contribute to world peace and to peaceful coexistence of nations.

One of the significant features of Japan’s political structure is that it is unusually subservient to the United States and is under blatant reign of transnational corporations. Consequently, our economic policies are designed for a vast amount of export of industrial products in exchange for a vast amount of food import. It should also be noted that while already playing a role in the implementation of U.S. war strategies, the Japanese government and Japanese TNCs are trying to drag the country into a path of becoming a major military power: in addition to the deployment of Japan’s military forces in Iraq, they are seeking a constitutional amendment to allow for full military participation in future war. (The present Constitution of Japan renounces the sovereign right of the nation to wage war.)

One of the hard lessons we have learned from the history of WWII and the Japan’s invasion of Asian countries, which caused untold suffering to the people of the region, is that the imperial Japan’s rational for the invasion was the scarcity of national territory and lack of resources, including food. Japan’s food policy, therefore, must be build on the historical lesson, and it is the people’s responsibility to demand that our government come up with policies that will improve the country’s food self-reliance and policies that will be in pursuit of independent foreign relations, not those in favor of the interest of the U.S. and Japan’s TNCs at a cost of our food and agriculture.

It is true that the Japanese people do not face impending food scarcity. But the situation where 60% of our entire food in terms of the caloric intake and as much as 72% of our grain consumption relay on import makes the country a potential food-lacking nation. On top of this, it is simply not sustainable nor just for a country with a mere 2% of the world population to buy up 10% of the food on world trade today. We believe that our country needs to gain food sovereignty in order to ensure secure and safe food supply to the people of Japan and of the world and in order to preserve our land and natural environment.

2. The reason of the diversity of the movement

Our movement is promoted by people of many different walks of life. Farmers, women, workers of multiple sectors, consumers, and small-scale food processors and distributors join together in pursuit of one common agenda, i.e. safe food, good health, a sound agriculture system and environmental integrity. Food issues are what bind these different groups together, whose main preoccupations are quite different one from the other.

Under the economic globalization, bolstered by the WTO and FTAs among others, the Japanese government has flooded foreign markets with Japan’s industrial products, whose competitive edge are made possible by low wages. And this is in exchange for Japan’s ever deepening dependency on food import at a cost of destruction of domestic agriculture.

As a result, the country’s agriculture is severely undermined on the one hand and workers are working at lower wages for long and intensive hours to a degree of dying because of it. Deregulations have stripped farmers of the once guaranteed producer produce price, and thus forcing them out of agriculture because the business has become no longer remunerative. So as workers are feeling the adverse effect of deregulation; many of them are paid below subsistence wage and impoverished. Both workers and farmers have one thing in common against the globalization: they want remunerative pay for their work. They do not want to live a life on the edge of subsistence. In other words, it is government guaranteed producer price for farm produce and subsistence wage for the workers. The two groups demands are complementary to each other and that is why they are working together in this movement.

We are also joined by teachers, who aspire for children’s sound growth through healthier school lunch based on local farm products. They consequently aspire for the development of local agriculture, which provides an excellent educational opportunity to the children to learn of their local agriculture that produce what they eat and of the value of farmers (some of whom are family members of the children themselves).

The small-scale food processors and distributors in the movement work for a more reliable food production and supply in solidarity with consumers. Their way of doing business is completely different from those of TNCs and major food companies who unscrupulously put profit over food safely, which is a major concern in our society today.

These different sectors of people are complementary parts of our movement, who are united in achieving common goals as well as their own. We lobby the national government and local municipalities and hold festivals and other get-togethers. We are bounded by the demand for food sovereignty.

3. Specific tasks of the Japanese movement

We began working in solidarity with our counterpart groups in other countries in the late 1990s, which has since introduced us to the idea of food sovereignty. It is now our firm belief that the work based on this notion will open a path to solving food problems in Japan as well as in the world. We also believe that establishment of alternative policy to the globalization policy through joint efforts of multiple sectors of society is a way to redressing unique problems each of the groups is facing today.

Our day-to-day activities in our place of work and region are grassroots. What those of us grassroots activists should do today is multiple: we need to inform our fellow citizens of the accomplishments of international movements for food sovereignty and bring about a change in our communities building on the achievement; we need to build consensus between our movement and local municipalities on immediate food issues with a view to improving local education, agriculture and economy; and we need to press the government to reflect our demands in its policies by utilizing the citizen’s awareness and local consensus.

While we remain vigilant in criticizing government policies designed for boosting TNCs and US interests, we will be working to build consensus in our communities on the need for policy change by building a ever more vigorous movement participated by people of all walks of life.

Contact: National Coalition of Workers, Farmers and Consumers for Safe Food and Health, Japan (SHOKKEN-REN)
2-5-5 Shinjuku Nokyo Kaikan 4F, Yoyogi, Sibuya, Tokyo 151-0053, JAPAN
Tel: +3-3370-8327 Fax:+3-3370-8329 E-mail: