Revising Basic Agriculture Law: Can New Policies Strengthen Food Security of Japan?

The environment surrounding Japan’s food supply has changed dramatically in the past quarter century, due to such factors as international conflicts, epidemics of infectious diseases and droughts resulting from global warming. Strengthening the nation’s food security is an urgent task.

Known as Japan’s “constitution of agricultural policy,” the revised Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas was recently passed. The current law, which was enacted in 1999, has been significantly revised for the first time. Securing food security was newly added to its basic principles.

Events including the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine have caused food supplies to stagnate and grain prices to temporarily soar. The price of feed vital to dairy farming has risen, putting domestic dairy farmers in a bind.

The revised law defines food security as a situation in which high-quality food is stably supplied at reasonable prices and is available to every citizen.

It has been said that Japanese economy’s international presence is declining and its purchasing power is also falling. Relying heavily on imports is dangerous. Developing a system for food security in normal times can be deemed a pressing task.

Agricultural policy under the current law put the improvement of the food self-sufficiency ratio among its basic principles, with a goal of raising the ratio on a calorie supply basis to 45% by fiscal 2030. However, as of fiscal 2022, the ratio remained at only 38%, highlighting the reality that the supply capacity has not increased.

The revised law does not focus solely on the food self-sufficiency ratio, and instead sets several additional targets that are important for food security. Progress toward their achievement will be examined once a year.

There are materials essential to agriculture, such as fertilizers. It is also important to increase domestic production of grains such as wheat and soybeans. It is hoped that effective numerical targets will be set for fertilizers and other goods to strengthen the production base.

It will also be crucial to secure potential farmers. In 2023, there were 1.16 million people engaged in agriculture as their main occupation, but their average age was about 69. The number of farmers will certainly decrease significantly over the next 20 years.

To draw new workers into agriculture, the farming industry must be made attractive and profitable. It will be necessary to actively use digitization to conserve labor, and to increase profitability through large-scale production.

In order to stabilize farmers’ profits, one matter to be addressed is the passing on of various costs to product prices. The revised law stipulates that prices should be determined by taking into account not only supply, demand and quality, but also what are considered “reasonable costs.” To that end, increases in the costs of fertilizer and transportation, among other things, should be appropriately passed on to product prices.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is studying how to formulate appropriate prices during meetings with experts. It is said that fact-finding surveys are being planned to visualize costs at the production, manufacturing and retail stages, so that these costs will be taken into account at the transaction level. It is hoped that an effective framework will be realized.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 3, 2024)