1 mil. hectares of organic farming planned by 2050

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Muji Ginza’s fruit and vegetable section filled with items, organically grown or with reduced pesticides, is seen in Tokyo in April 2019.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has set a goal of dedicating more area to organic farming, which emits less carbon dioxide, as part of a new strategy to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact. The ministry plans to designate 1 million hectares to organic farming by 2050, or more than 40 times the current level.

Organic farming does not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers made from imported raw materials or fossil fuels, meaning expanding the area of organic farming will lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions.

The new strategy calls for raising the share of organic farming in Japan’s total farmland area from 0.5%, or 23,700 hectares, in fiscal 2018 to 25%, or 1 million hectares, in 2050. There are plans for chemical pesticides to be halved by 2050, and chemical fertilizers to be reduced by 30%. To reduce pesticide use, the ministry will encourage the use of drones for localized spraying and the development of an image diagnosis system for pests and diseases using artificial intelligence.

The strategy also includes electrifying farm equipment and shifting to fossil fuel-free greenhouses.

The United States and the European Union have taken the lead in environmentally friendly agricultural strategies. In May 2020, the EU set a goal of increasing organic farming to at least 25% of all farmland and reducing the use of chemical pesticides to 50% by 2030. In January this year, U.S. President Joe Biden declared he would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture to net zero. Japan aims to take the lead in Asia, where the farmland is often small and wet.

However, the price of agricultural produce grown using organic farming is currently 40-50% higher than regular produce, according to the agriculture ministry. As production will not expand without sales, costs must be reduced by improving efficiency and asking consumers for their understanding.

Yoshihiro Suzuki, president of Suzunari Inc. in Shizuoka Prefecture — a large-scale agricultural corporation that grows about 160 hectares of crops in his group — had been trying to introduce organic farming and expand it for about 20 years. However, he stopped several years ago due to the labor and cost involved in weeding and pest control. Suzuki plans to consider introducing organic farming again in the future.

“We need a strategy for each region such as national and local governments supporting the construction of horticultural facilities and selecting the crops to be produced,” he said.