January 2, 2014
Rice 2018 [ouch]
No two rice taste the same, it is complex to understand, rice in the west is a commodity that is often sold based on price. In most countries a staple of survival, in Japan rice is not an ordinary staple, it is the eye of their culture.
Each rice paddy has its own distinctive points of interest, e.g. sun’s exposure, wind, water and rice variety. The use of small paddies has enabled the Japanese to produce some of the highest-quality rice in the world. The rice in Japan tastes as good as it does precisely because of the mountains, water and the knowledge farmers have of flavor, and cultivation techniques.
I was once asked by a foreigner, “Wouldn’t rice be cheaper if it were grown on a larger scale and on larger tracts of land?” The answer is yes, and the Japanese government announced plans to end its policy of limiting rice production and to phase out related subsidies by 2018 in a major shift from the decades-long program aimed at keeping up rice prices but which has been criticized for over protecting farmers from competition.
But it will take much more than just ending the output control policy coupled with subsidies to turn Japan’s agriculture into a growth sector as envisioned by the Abe administration. The decision comes just as Japan feels pressure to liberalize farm imports under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, including heavily protected rice.
The future of Japan’s agriculture remains uncertain, with the farming population rapidly aging due to a shortage of young people joining the shrinking industry. It is hoped that the abolition of the production control system will encourage ambitious farmers to expand rice production on their own initiatives and lead to the consolidation of the nation’s small-scale rice paddies often blamed for the lagging competitiveness of Japanese rice into larger-scale, more efficient farming plots.
I have mixed feelings about the future of rice in Japan – the consolidation and subsidy changes will change the marketplace. I am hopeful that the Japanese are able to maintain the standards they are used to and find a pathway to protecting quality.
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