(Mainichi: December 16, 2015 – p. 10)
By Ken Yamada, Osaki branch, Sendai Bureau
How will the TPP agreement change the local communities?
The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) doubled its number of seats in the Miyagi Prefectural Assembly election held in October right after the TPP agreement was reached. While careful analysis still needs to be made to determine whether opposition to the TPP contributed to the JCP’s electoral gains, there is no doubt that the voters are increasingly anxious and opposed to the growing trend toward a market economy.
The government announced its domestic measures in late November, but they have not alleviated the rural area’s apprehension. The political authorities have to provide not only measures to improve agriculture’s viability as an industry, but also a vision for sustainable rural villages.
The Miyagi Prefectural Assembly election (59 seats being contested) was held on Oct. 25. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 27 seats, 1 seat less than the number it previously held, while the JCP increased its seats from 4 to 8. In the Osaki district (four seats), a major rice-producing area, the LDP retained its three seats, but the JCP won its first seat in a rural area in Miyagi.
A former agricultural cooperative director who shifted his support to the JCP said: “I think many voters agonized (about dropping their support for the LDP) in the prefectural assembly election. Opposition will grow stronger as the contents of the TPP accord are revealed,” in reference to the House of Councillors election next year.
In the Kurihara district (two seats) in the northern part of Osaki City, a Social Democratic Party (SDP) member who ran as an independent candidate grabbed a seat previously held by an LDP-affiliated lawmaker. He recalls that during the campaign, “farmers all talked about their losses due to low rice prices. We explained that prices will drop further under the TPP. While we are not sure how much they understood, the farmers’ anxiety and discontent indeed surfaced during the election.”
A 57-year old man who raises cows and plants rice in the Kurikoma district of Kurihara City close to the border with Iwate Prefecture pointed out that, “People in their 60s to 80s form the backbone of Japan’s agriculture as they care for the elderly while receiving pension. Since they are not making a profit, few people in the younger generation want to follow in their footstep.”
This situation is the same in the whole of Japan.
During the election campaign, the above SDP candidate referred to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth strategy of “doubling farmers’ income in 10 years” at the time Japan joined the TPP talks two years ago, telling the voters: “Even if the income of agricultural corporations doubles, that does not mean the income of individual farmers will also double.”
I also believe that “agriculture” and “rural villages” should be discussed as separate issues.
An effective way to strengthen agriculture’s competitiveness as an industry is to cut labor cost through rationalization of production. This means that the price for agriculture to survive is to reduce the number of farmers. Yet, this will only result in the further degeneration of rural villages. No wonder people are opposed to it.
Even if the secondary and tertiary industries become more competitive, there is concern with regard to whether conservation of land and the natural environment — a function taken up by farmers without consideration for cost — or stable food supply can be sustained.
So, what is to be done? The man from Kurihara City said: “If farmers are unable to earn a living while preserving their hometown, the rural villages will disintegrate. Introducing an environment tax is an option.” He suggested translating contribution to environmental conservation into tax revenues that will be used for developing the rural villages. A man who operates an agricultural production corporation in Tome City noted that in addition to policies, “it will not be possible to protect this country unless the Japanese people realize that they need to buy Japanese products, even if they are more expensive, in order to support agriculture,” pointing out that change in consumer behavior is indispensable.
Agricultural policies that do not focus on people’s life or attach new value to the rural villages’ role will be inadequate. (Abridged)