Rice production and agricultural policies in Japan

As same in most Asian countries, rice is the most significant staple food in Japan: “Rice is Life.” Japanese people call their three daily meals in three different ways: Morning Rice (Asa Gohan), Lunch Rice (Hiru Gohan) and Evening Rice (Ban Gohan). The Japanese word “Gohan” means cooked rice. Therefore, rice is equal to meal: It shows how important rice is for the Japanese people. In addition, one of Japan’s nicknames is “Country of Mizuho.” “Mizuho” is the fresh ears of rice. Traditionally, people have named their own country from this crop. Rice is like a symbol and a basis for culture, tradition and custom in Japan.

Japanese rice and agricultural policy before the WTO

However, it was only after the late 1960’s that Japan could produce enough rice to fulfilling its entire domestic consumption. During the World War II, Japan invaded and destroyed many Asian countries, murdering over 20 million people. After this war of invasion, Agrarian Land Reform has been implemented in order to abolish the landlord system that had worked as one of the fundamental pillars of Japanese militarism. In the post war period, agricultural policies were necessary to support the livelihoods of emerging small farmers, family farmers. Freed farmers enjoyed producing in high spirits under the support of the Staple Food Control Act. By this act, rice was
purchased by the government from farmers at a price that was high enough to cover the cost of production. Then, the government sold it to the consumers at a price that was set to make sure it was not a heavy burden on household’s economies. As the result, Japan could become self-sufficient in rice.
In the same period, the U.S. and the Japanese monopoly capital started to corrupt the agricultural policies. The U.S. targeted Japan as a large market to sell its agricultural product’s surpluses and tried to keep this country under its domination with the concept of “Food Umbrella.” On the other hand, the gigantic Japanese large capitalist companies tried to sell their own industrial products to other countries instead of accepting to import more agricultural products from the U.S. They demanded the government to reduce the cost of the agricultural policies. In order to sell the American surpluses, they tried to change the rice food culture into a flower food culture. Some nonsense campaigns were even promoted with slogans like “Eating rice makes you fool” or “You can live longer if you adopt the American food habits”. Before World War II, there was no school luncheon in Japan. In 1954, the system of school luncheon was implemented by a law that said that milk and bread had to be used. The school luncheon including rice has only started in 1976. Now, many schools have rice based school luncheon instead of bread based. Actually, the Japanese school luncheon

Rice and Food Sovereignty in Asia Pacific

was institutionalized in order to use the flower and skimmed milk imported from the U.S. In 1976, a U.S. senator said, that the children who have had school luncheon sponsored by the U.S. and start to like eating bread and milk will become the best customers for American farm products in the future.”
The Japanese government promoted a policy called “Euthanasia Policy” to follow the will of the U.S. and Japanese monopoly capital. The policy was implemented to stop the Japanese farmers to produce wheat, soybean and feed that the U.S. wanted to export. During the 1960’s and 70’s, the Japanese government promoted this policy to make the farmers change their production to the products that the U.S. was unconcerned. The policies of this period were not designed to support the Japanese farmers and consumers. They were designed to please the U.S. Therefore, Japan was a subject nation of the U.S. blindly following its will. There was no food sovereignty at the time. As a result, the current ratio of imported wheat has reached 86%, 97% for imported soybean and 72% for all crops. One Japanese journalist named the U.S. food strategy on Japan the “Wheat Strategy”. But later, the U.S. changed the strategy to open all agricultural markets in Japan (and not only wheat). Its main target became rice.
The End of Food Sovereignty under WTO
Violations of Food Sovereignty by the WTO have been increasing. In the 1970’s, Japan started to produce more rice that it could consume and the government promoted reductions of paddy acreage. Now, paddy fields have been reduced by 40%. Japan produces enough rice and does not need to import. Nevertheless, Japan has imported 6.78 million metric tons of rice as minimum access since WTO was established. The amount of undesired rice that consumers and companies have been forced to purchase by the government is less than half of the total amount of imported rice. A quarter of the minimum access rice is used as
foreign aid, and another quarter has become defective stocks. To emit the defective stocks, the government has started to sell it as feed for livestock.
Nevertheless, the Japanese government has proposed the enlargement of minimum access to 35% in the WTO agricultural negotiation, wich represents 1.04 million metric tons of rice import every year (*1). If this is implemented, it would represent 12% of the total domestic production. Half of the additional 1.04 million metric tons of minimum access rice would be sold for feed at a low price. This is like throwing rice away. Some people in the world do not have enough rice to eat. Needles rice import means robbing food from starving people in other countries to feed animals. This is the worst policy. It is nonsense to discuss why a country that produces too much rice to feed its people needs to import increasing quantities of rice in the name of free trade.
The impact of the minimum access and the abolishment of the Staple Food Control Act hit hard on farmers. The price received by farmers has dropped by 35% since the peak in 1993. If you assume that 500 milliliters of water costs 100, the same amount of rice will become less than 70. One friend from abroad astonishingly said, “The Japanese water is so expensive but rice is so cheap.” Farmers work half a year to grow rice shivering in the cold wind in spring and sweating under the strong sun in the summer. Is the price high enough to reward their work?
La Via Campesina and NGOs in the world consistently demand the abolishment of obligation on minimum access and other Market Access (MA). We also struggle against the minimum access that is one of the most absurd clauses in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). We call the Government to make the price of rice at least higher than the price of water. The daily wage of the Japanese rice farmer has become almost the same as the hourly wage of the Japanese manufacture workers. This unfair gap must be filled, and the government is responsible.

Destructive agriculture policies

The government tries to withdraw more and more: rather than improving the price for the farmers, it is implementing a policy called “Structural Reforms in Agriculture”. “Japan cannot be a country isolated from the global agricultural markets,'” said by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who gets nervous about the stagnant situation in WTO/FTA and steamrolls Structural Reforms in Agriculture. On April 4th 2006, the government adopted “New Agricultural Policies 2006 for the 21st Century.” This government’s scheme is the worst vision for the country.
The Structural Reforms in Agriculture aim at abolishing the price support system for all farmers, blamed for overprotecting farmers. That will take down family farming that has been at the basis of the Japanese agriculture for a long time. Along with this scheme, the government tries to get three quarters of the farmers out from production. The remaining quarter would receive “direct payment support,” filling the gap between the price of the domestic products and the goods imported at a dumping price, such as wheat and soybean. There is a Japanese proverb saying: “whether you chose to leave or stay, the direction is heading to the end.” The farmers who stay cannot manage their livelihood, and it is obvious that they cannot avoid stepping down toward the end. The aging of farmers and the lack of successors in agriculture have already been serious issues in Japan. Under this situation, the policy forcing three quarters of farmers to give up farming will directly lead to the end of Japanese agriculture.
Furthermore, the “New Agricultural Policies 2006 for the 21st Century” aim at opening all domestic markets instead of restricting Japanese imports only to the rich Asian countries. It also creates more opportunities for transnational
companies (TNCs) that are responsible for “hunting for foods” supported by the plan called “East Asia Agribusiness Consolidation Project.”
“We should protect sectors that should be protected, we should yield sectors that should be yielded, and we should attack the sectors that we need to attack.”. In this slogan of the “New Agricultural Policies 2006 for the 21st Century,” the “protected” sectors are the large companies that are pursuing more benefit throughout the world, the “yielded” sectors are the Japanese food and agriculture markets, and the sectors to “attack” are the farmers and consumers in Japan and Asia. Asia has become “the biggest importer of agricultural products in the world”. Asian markets are highly depending on crops and soybeans from other regions. Asian peasants are forced to produce cash crops for export instead of producing their own food.
Although the promise to halve the number of hungry people in the world has been made in the international arena, this number kept on increasing in 2003 and 2004. Asia, the larges agricultural area in the world, is partly responsible for this tendency.

In 2003, 45 NGOs and civil society organizations, including La Via Campesina, issued the following statement:

The real conflict over food, agriculture, fisheries, jobs,the environment and access to resources is not a North-South conflict, but a rich-poor divide. It is a conflict between different models of agricultural production and rural development, a conflict that exists in both the North and the South. It is a conflict between centralized corporate-driven, export-oriented,industrial agriculture versus decentralized, peasant- and family farm-based sustainable production.

[Présentée! by Yoshitaka Mashima, Japan Family Farmers Movement, NOUMINREN]