Japan Crisis as Agricultural Crisis

On some level, all disasters are agricultural disasters. When seawater washes over land, when the earth cracks and collapses buildings, when livelihoods and lives are lost, farmers die and lose their jobs. It is easy to forget this, of course, but it is always true - and there's something immensely sad about people loving a place and having to leave it at any time. But there's something particularly poignant about this:

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."

One of the things Japan has done fairly well is provide support for agriculture - it would be easy to do what many small industrialized places have done - to drive agriculture out entirely. Japan has not done so, and has offered strong incentives to keep farming. The very fact that Mr. Sato is a *17th* generation farmer says something enormously important. Let us hope that an 18th generation is possible.


More like this

It is very interesting, and valuable, to observe the way in which all of the systems fail (or not) or resist or are found amenable to restoration, in the region.

Social networks are being used to assist with information flow, but I'm not sure if that is just a lot of talking and tweeting and little action. I'm betting that the bicycle becomes the hero of the day, especially to address problems like getting life-sustaining pharms to elderly (or other) patients in cut off areas. To be a farmer, retailer, government worker, whatever, at some point you need ID. Tens of thousands of survivors apparently lost all of their ID, so now a major function of government is to come up with a system from scratch re-ID people. Etc.

Wow, family farm since the 1600s! Amazing. And brought to a screeching halt due to this latest nuclear accident. Indeed terrible. I guess a lot of people living in that area have had their life's work, their ancestors' lives' work brought to a screeching halt. Tragedy upon tragedy, we just don't think long and hard enough about the consequences of things.

Whilst I admire the tenacity of Japanese Farmers, I do not appreciate the cost we have to pay for their produce. Prices are kept high by both Japan Agriculture - a government funded monopoly, exorbitant duties on imports which directly compete with Japanese produce, and the small scattered plots which most Japanese Farmers farm.

It's ironic that an earthquake followed by tsunami won't destroy a farm, but a rumour will.

I couldn't help noticing that the 4 people mentioned in the article are 57, 59, 62 and 70. I also wonder how many of those have kids that were staying on the farm...

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 30 Mar 2011 #permalink

There are going to be so many horrific stories coming out of Japan- for the next couple decades. I'm not looking forward to it.

Richard- if you're familiar with Japanese farming- their successor problems are worse than those in the US; very few young people want to farm. Top to bottom, Japanese agriculture has had problems for years; they're going to be much worse now. As Eamon notes, their realities have been skewed by strange subsidies and quota systems that have had little to do with "food" or EROI considerations.

They're going to have to pay attention now. My guess for the next ag commodity to hit Japanese news - pork. A huge amount of Japan's pork is raised between Fukushima and Tokyo; and much of that area is, is going to be, or is going to be believed to be, contaminated. Nobody is going to want to butcher a radioactive pig; or ship it, or sell it. Whether the pig is actually contaminated or not won't be very important.

Farmers; and local fishermen; are going to be forced to move, and find some other way to live; and it's going to be even more heartbreaking than it already is.

It is so easy to forget as a resident of the "New World" that there are family histories that extend beyond a mere century. The tragedy for me is the loss of all that knowledge. Mr. Sato KNOWS his land and now it is lost to him.

The layers of sadness just keep piling up...