The European rural model
[ Index ]
Rural development, the European model
and the LEADER Initiative:
4 views from the outside
Agriculture and rural
by Yoshihiro Oyama,
Deputy Director, The Japan Centre,
University of Birmingham [United Kingdom]
Japan has a population of about 126 million on a land area (377 765
km2) a third larger than the UK. However, due to its mountainous
topography, agricultural land occupies only 13% of the total area
and average farm size is only 1.6 ha. About 6% of the working
population is engaged in farming; 48% of farmers are over 65 years
The staple food for the Japanese remains rice. While large-scale
production is concentrated in the lowlands, traditional terraced
paddy fields extend deep into the mountains and are symbolic of the
cultural landscape to which Japanese people have a very special
attachment. The fields are also effective ways of holding water
resources and protecting the downstream urban areas from flood-
Although farm sizes are small, farm incomes can be surprisingly
large. There are many intensive vegetable farmers who specialise in
supplying fresh produce to the huge urban market. Some fruit farmers
also prosper, growing extremely high-quality produce by taking care
of each individual fruit.
The need for rural development
The key issues for rural policy are the sharp fall in the national
food self-sufficiency rate and the decline of remoter regions. The
former dropped from 79% in 1969 to 41% in 1998 (calorie base).
Remoter rural areas suffer depopulation and ageing communities, with
little prospect of younger generations taking up farming or
remaining in the regions. The number of fields taken out of
production is also increasing. This process can be traced back over
many years, but issues have been brought into sharper focus as the
Japanese are eating more imported foods, and since the GATT
agreements have reduced import duties and started the liberalisation
of the rice market.
The introduction of the Basic Law for Food, Agriculture and Rural
Areas in 1999 is the latest attempt to reverse the downward trend.
It has brought in many new concepts. The multifunctional role of
agriculture and the need for overall rural development are stated
for the first time. The old price-support system is replaced by
market principles, but the Law accepts that the market alone cannot
measure the value of agriculture. This has led to the introduction
of direct payments to farmers in disadvantaged regions in return for
their work in conserving environmental and cultural resources.
The Law also emphasises the need for closer collaboration between
farmers and consumers. It states that consumers have a role to
understand rural issues and the impact of their eating habits on the
nation's self-sufficiency. The Ministries of Health and Agriculture
have started working together to review dietary patterns and
developed, for example, computer software to help consumers think
and calculate how everyday meals affect the balance of diet as well
as the self-sufficiency rate.
The need for new mechanisms
In future, disadvantaged rural regions will rely more on rural-urban
collaboration than ever before. There exist some pioneering
examples. There are many Co-operative movements throughout Japan
where urban households guarantee to buy safe produce from particular
groups of farmers. The leading network is called 'Seikatsu Club'
which has about one-quarter of a million members. These are usually
organised by housewives who are conscious of the safety of what
their families eat and its influence over the environment.
Another example is the Terraced Paddy Fields Ownership schemes where
urban people invest in these fields to support their survival. The
mechanisms vary but they usually pay rents and carry out farming
work with the advice and help from local farmers. In return, they
receive the rice grown in the fields and enjoy new experiences.
There is now a national association to promote the movement
We need to explore these types of innovative approach more. In
Japan, the conventional way of addressing farming issues has been to
invest more public money in the industry. This has encouraged a
dependency culture among farmers and tended to internalise issues,
without any challenge to open up new dialogue and business
Our experience is beginning to show that bureaucratic leadership
alone cannot solve all our problems. A new mechanism is necessary
which can encourage entrepreneurial attitudes and innovation within
rural communities. It is also crucial that a broad range of
stakeholders become involved and work together to develop new ideas
Lessons from the LEADER Initiative
Through seminars in Japan, publications and regular study visits by
Japanese experts and country people to Europe I have been
introducing LEADER to Japan. I see it as an effective new mechanism
to develop and deliver innovative solutions to meet the needs of
rural areas. It has shown that problems can be solved in different
ways, and that rural communities themselves have capabilities if
provided with opportunities, networking, training, advice, funding
and the necessary powers. Japan needs a similar venture and could
learn a lot from the success of the LEADER experience.
EU and Japanese rural policies are becoming remarkably similar. Both
aim for sustainable development, for sustainable communities, and at
raising the quality of life for the whole nation. Both aim to make
rural economies market responsive while reducing price subsidies.
Both seek rural diversification into new forms of agriculture, new
amenity based activities such as rural tourism, and the repopulation
of rural areas. And both seek to encourage local involvement in
initiatives rather than a top-down approach.
It is surely worthwhile to explore what and how EU countries and
Japan could learn from each other to address our common problems.
Yoshihiko Oyama has worked on rural issues in both Japan and
the UK for over 20 years. He leads Japanese study groups to Europe,
regularly reports to Japanese audiences on European rural
development initiatives, and has gained valuable experience of local
action in the field through his close involvement with the UK's
Groundwork Trusts. He has a special interest in the LEADER
programme, which he believes is a model with potential for
applications far beyond Europe.
Yoshihiko Oyama, Deputy Director,
The Japan Centre, University of Birmingham,
Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT (UK).
Tel: +44 121 414 3304 - Fax +44 121 414 3270
source: LEADER Magazine nr.25 - Winter 2000/2001