(Nikkei: January 15, 2016, Evening edition – p. 2)
A government project aimed at utilizing the expertise of female farmers to come up with new agricultural products and business opportunities has been picking up steam since it was launched about two years ago. It started with about 30 women at first, but membership has expanded to about 400 women. Collaboration with companies is also expanding. These female farmers, who hail from various backgrounds, are spreading their networks across the country.
Iseki & Co., a farm machinery maker based in Ehime Prefecture, in September rolled out a smaller farm tractor catering to the needs of female farmers. The idea was materialized based on requests from about 30 female farmers in their 20s to 40s. The product has not only won over women, but is also growing popular with senior farmers due to its compact size.
“Female farmers have a lot of flexible ideas and knowledge on improving life,” said Takiko Katsumata, who helped launch the government project while on loan to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries from Hakuhodo. “They would be wasted if they only worked in their own regions.”
The project is now sponsored by 25 companies. Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, for example, markets wagashi Japanese sweets made using fruit and vegetables grown by female farmers. Many of the women involved in the project have unique career backgrounds; one used to work at a hotel and another was a nurse.
The project is led by Kazue Sato, director of Women and Elder Affairs Office in MAFF’s Women and Younger Farmers’ Division. She wants to turn farming into an ordinary occupation for women to choose. “People tend to think that women in the agriculture sector are those who married into farming households and live under a lot of constraints, but I want to let others know there are women who are using their ingenuity and working enthusiastically,” she said.
The circumstances surrounding Japan’s agriculture are set to become tougher as farmers grow older and decline in number. Competition with foreign agricultural products will intensify once the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact goes into force. Women, who account for half of farmers in Japan, may become a way to breathe life into Japan’s agriculture. (Abridged)