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Re: Death of farming in Japan?

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  • Dieter Brand
    There is no point in lamenting the demise of traditional farming if we at the same time continue to enjoy all the comforts provided by modern life which are at
    Message 1 of 5 , Apr 8, 2009
      There is no point in lamenting the demise of traditional farming if we at the same time continue to enjoy all the comforts provided by modern life which are at the root of the problem. Those who put their money where their mouth is will have to give up PCs, Internet, cars, traveling, TVs, comfortable homes, far-distant travel, social services and much more.

      Fukuoka started the last work he wrote before his death with the lines:

      First of all, throw it all away,
      the handcuffs of time, the shackles of money.

      Or in Japanese:

      ichiban hajime ni suterya yoi
      tejou no tokei ashikase okane

      Since you are still reading this, I suppose you are not quite ready to take his advice yet.

      The introduction of industrial methods into agriculture took place in the 1950s and 60s in Europe and probably even earlier in the US. This is a logical consequence of the increase in material wealth in other sectors of society. Nobody is going to stay a farmer for long if he can only earn a fraction of what the factory worker's salery next door. Hence, Fukuoka’s works published in the 70s can hardly be described as prophetic nor do they offer any practical solutions. In fact, the few political of social measures he suggested would most certainly have led to total catastrophe.

      In Japan, this process was delayed by a combination of protectionist policies and a monopolistic food distribution system. The coalition of right wing parties that formed the LDP after the war continued to hold government almost without interruption for over 50 years. The rural population and in particular the farmers are the power base of this corrupt and not very democratic system. Farmers tend to vote conservative in most countries. Thus, to keep out foreign agricultural goods has always been a priority of every Japanese government.

      The monopolistic distribution system resulted in exorbitant prices for Japanese consumers. When we first moved to Japan 30 years ago, one neatly wrapped apple cost as much as half a dozen apples cost in Europe at the time.

      Nevertheless, the wealth of Japan and the wealth of its farmers depend entirely on the industrial goods Japan exports to the rest of the World. This created an enormous trade imbalance and penalized in particular poor developing countries. In the 1990s, the US used the Super 401 trade bill to force Japan to open its market for supercomputers, satellites, plywood and oranges. I followed the negotiations in Tokyo on behalf of my then employer. A few years later, the market for rice was opened for the first time to a limited contingent of foreign rice. This benefited mainly Southeast Asian nations. I remember Japanese friends having emotional upheavals at the idea of maybe having to eat some foreign rice, but I think emotions have somewhat calmed down in the meantime.

      There is nothing surprising about the current development except that it didn’t take place 40 years earlier.

      Dieter Brand
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