Food Security: Swiftly Devise Measures to Address Growing Risks

How to secure stable food supplies is becoming a global issue due to international conflicts and increasing droughts caused by climate change. The government should quickly strengthen measures in keeping with the changing international situation.

To strengthen Japan’s food security, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry plans to revise the Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas, which sets the direction of agricultural policy, for the first time since it was enacted 25 years ago. It also intends to create new legislation to prepare for situations such as import disruptions. The related bills will be submitted to the current Diet session.

After Russia launched its aggression against Ukraine, a food crisis broke out around the world. Tensions in the Middle East have caused confusion in maritime shipping. Crop failures due to climate change have also become conspicuous. There are concerns that Japan’s economic power is declining, as well as its ability to purchase food in the world.

Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate on a calorie basis is 38%, the lowest level among major developed countries. The environment surrounding food is changing drastically, and it is necessary to be fully prepared for a crisis.

The revised basic law will position food security as a key issue. The new legislation will provide for a three-step response plan in case procuring food becomes difficult.

First, the government will designate key food commodities such as rice and wheat, and when there are early signs of a decline in the supply of those items, a government task force headed by the prime minister will be established to request private sector entities, such as farmers and trading companies, to increase shipments and production.

At the stage where the supply of an important commodity declines by 20% or more from normal levels, the government will instruct the private sector to devise plans to increase production and imports of that commodity.

Finally, the government will be given the authority to ask farmers to switch production to foods with higher calorie content when it becomes difficult for the public to consume the minimum needed calories. This is the most serious stage.

The implementation of rationing, price controls and measures to prevent hoarding will also be considered within the scope of current laws.

However, such measures may restrict private rights. The government must thoroughly explain the necessity and significance of the measures and gain the understanding of the private sector in order to smoothly obtain their cooperation.

Various measures should be taken, including the expansion of stockpiles and the diversification of import sources for such items as feed that is indispensable for livestock production.

However, even if the government asks farmers to increase food production, it will be meaningless if producers do not have the ability to do so. Farmers are aging and there is a serious labor shortage. For the new legislation to be effective, it will be necessary to increase the number of workers in the farming industry and strengthen the production base.

It is important to make agriculture a more attractive industry for young people to work in, by using information technology and other means to implement labor-saving measures and improve productivity.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 6, 2024)