Agriculture / Food Safety / Livelihoods / Southeast Asia

Japanese 400-year-old farming tradition in peril due to nuclear crisis

Japan Times 2011/03/30 #6497

A page from the Japan Times, 30 March 2011 (photo credit: Flickr Photostream: Nemo’s Great Uncle).

From the New York Times come this report on how Japan’s nuclear crisis is affecting farmers in the stricken region.

‘If Japan’s leaders regard the collapse of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex as this nation’s greatest crisis in decades, Saichi Sato has a different perspective. From where he sits in this leafy village of 8,000 about 25 miles from Daiichi, he says, this is the greatest crisis in 400 years.

‘Mr. Sato, 59, is a 17th-generation family farmer, a proprietor of 14 acres of greenhouses and fields where he grows rice, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables. Or did grow: Last week, the national government banned the sale of farm products not just from Towa, but also from a stretch of north-central Japan extending south almost to Tokyo, for fear that they had been tainted with radiation.

‘Already, Mr. Sato stands to lose a fifth of his income because of the ban. If the government cannot contain the Daiichi disaster, he could lose a farm that his family has tended since the 1600s.

‘“Even if it’s not safe, I need my fields for my work,” he said. “I have no other place to go. I don’t even want to think about escaping from my land.”

‘Here and elsewhere in Fukushima Prefecture, the region hit hardest by the nuclear crisis, farmers are worried about their future—and convinced, like Mr. Sato, that the government is not on their side.

‘In interviews, several said they believed that leaders in Tokyo had mishandled the Daiichi disaster, sending conflicting signals on radiation dangers that fed panic among citizens. And they nurse a grievance, justified or otherwise, that in this moment of national peril the powers that be have thought first about Tokyo and only later about the hinterlands that are hurting the most.

‘And they are clearly hurting. Japan depends heavily on foreign suppliers for most food, but up to 80 percent of all vegetables are locally grown. Fukushima’s 70,000 commercial farmers produce more than $2.4 billion worth of spinach, tomatoes, milk and other popular foods a year.

‘The government’s ban on produce sales last week stopped that industry—and those in three adjacent prefectures to the south, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma—in their tracks. Across the region, farmers are dumping millions of gallons of milk and tons of ripe vegetables into pits and streams, unable to sell their products legally on the open market.

‘“I can’t keep going for too long,” said Kenzo Sasaki, 70, who milks 18 cows on a farm outside the city of Fukushima, the local capital. Mr. Sasaki estimates that he is losing nearly $31,000—not including the cost of feeding his herd—for every month that the sales ban continues.

‘Across town, Shoichi Abe, 62, milks about 30 cows in his own dingy barn. He has been unable to sell his 1,100 pounds of daily production since the March 11 earthquake damaged the milk-processing plant at the local farm co-op.

‘Now the government has extended that prohibition indefinitely. . . .

‘Japanese officials began by banning the sales of only certain foods, including spinach and milk, which are especially prone to absorbing radiation. But the ban was later extended to a broad range of produce, even as officials stressed that the radiation level in any single product was not dangerous for anyone who consumed it at ordinary levels.

‘Farmers say the ambiguity has effectively shut down their sales. . . .

‘At least one farmer has been pushed over the edge. The newspaper The Asahi Shimbun reported recently that a 64-year-old farmer in Sukagawa, a city in Fukushima, killed himself one day after the government imposed a ban on the sale of cabbages from the prefecture.

‘The farmer, who was not identified, was reported to have lost his house in the earthquake but had a field of 7,500 organically grown cabbages ready for harvest when the prohibition was announced.

‘“Vegetables in Fukushima are finished,” his son quoted him as saying.’

Read the whole article at New York Times: Japan’s nuclear crisis erodes farmers’ livelihoods, 29 March 2011.

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