Agriculture is considered to be a declining industry in Japan in view of the aging population, so attracting young successors to rejuvenate the aging workforce is a serious challenge for the farming community. Moreover, the agricultural industry is deemed a “bastion of resistance forces” when it comes to international trade liberalization talks, including the TPP. However, Prime Minister Abe recently told his council on competitiveness that he will strive to turn agriculture into a growing industry through partnerships with a diverse range of businesses, including IT companies.
The seeds of change in this direction have already begun to sprout. TV Tokyo’s weeknight program “World Business Satellite” highlighted on January 28 successful examples of the so-called “sixth industry,” a comprehensive combination of production, processing, and distribution, which is expected to make agriculture more self-sustaining and more profitable, and help farmers to strengthen their business bases by directly connecting producers and customers. The network highlighted a farmers’ market in Aichi Prefecture, where lunch boxes, confectionery, and other items made from local harvests are selling well along with vegetables grown on neighboring farms. According to the program, women hold the key to the success of the “sixth industry” because their ideas, which are free from the conventional approaches traditionally taken by their fathers and husbands, are indispensable for developing this innovative industry.
The broadcaster also reported on a tangerine farmer in Wakayama Prefecture, who successfully utilizes real-time information on weather, temperature, and other meteorological data provided by a weather information company via a computer network. Nikkei ran on January29 an article about the growth of direct food marketing and distribution from producers to customers via Facebook and other social media tools, highlighting a strawberry farmer in Shizuoka Prefecture. The paper wrote that interactive communication between producers and customers is beneficial for both sides and that social media is also useful for producers to market their products to foreign customers.
A Sankei article on January 3 said that there are increasing moves among Japanese colleges recently to open agriculture departments with the aim of training students to take the lead in strengthening Japan’s agricultural sector. According to the article, majoring in agriculture is becoming more popular among young Japanese because they can learn about various fields, including food safety, nutrition, and the environment. According to the paper, Meiji University opened a new experimental farm last year that is equipped with state-of-the-art farming systems. The number of applicants to Meiji’s agriculture department, which has a capacity of 520 students, reportedly increased by 700 over the last three years to 4,875 in the 2012 academic year.