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The European rural model

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Rural development, the European model
and the LEADER Initiative:

4 views from the outside


Agriculture and rural
developmentin Japan

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 old.

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- related disasters.

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 nationwide.

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 opportunities.

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 and solutions.


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

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