Japan’s Food Security Situation Becoming Increasingly Severe

Food security is an extremely important issue for Japan, which is reliant on food imports. To ensure a stable supply of comestibles, basic policies must be reviewed in line with the changing times.

An expert panel of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has released an interim summary report aimed at revising the Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas — the country’s basic agricultural policy. The summary emphasizes that a food security system should be established during normal times. The government intends to submit a bill to revise the law to the ordinary Diet session next year.

The current law, which was enacted in 1999, reflects low awareness of food security issues as it was likely molded on the assumption that Japan would be able to import as much food as it needed in light of its economic strength at that time.

In recent years, however, crop failures have been increasing due to climate change-driven droughts. Additionally, Japan’s purchasing power has declined. The coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have further exacerbated the situation.

It can be said that food procurement is at a turning point. It is quite natural that food security should be emphasized during normal times.

The current law has placed improved food self-sufficiency at the center of agricultural policy.

However, in addition to foodstuffs, Japan relies heavily on imports of raw materials for fertilizers, such as urea and phosphoric acid, which are essential for agriculture. The crisis in Ukraine had led to a fertilizer shortage. Though this does not affect food self-sufficiency, it has hindered aspects of agricultural production.

Following revision of the law, the government intends to set targets for fertilizers, too. The sludge from treated sewage contains raw materials for fertilizers. It would be effective to utilize this resource and expand domestic fertilizer production.

Japan is also highly dependent on certain countries, including China, for the majority of its fertilizer procurement. Diverse sources should therefore be sought out.

The interim summary also emphasizes the importance of securing agricultural workers. Farmers are aging, and based on the current age structure, the number of people whose primary job is farming is expected to decrease from about 1.2 million in 2022 to about 300,000 in 20 years.

It is essential to promote labor-saving measures through the use of information technology and robots. It is hoped that the government, research institutes, IT companies and other entities will work together to accelerate technological innovation for that purpose.

It is also vital to make agriculture a profitable industry that is attractive to workers. To this end, the value attached to agricultural products must be increased and the government must support their export.

The interim report also identifies the issue of dealing with contingencies, such as conflicts and poor harvests. The government plans to consider the establishment of a law that would allow it to instruct farmers to increase grain production or to demand the sale of grain.

However, careful discussions will be necessary to avoid possible restrictions on private rights. It is hoped that relief measures will be included for those who could be disadvantaged by the legislation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 9, 2023)