Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ayumi Kinezuka: "TPP and the dismantling of Japanese Agriculture"

Preface: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), perhaps the world's most ambitious free trade agreement, is currently under negotiation. What began as a small regional free trade agreement has become one of the primary tools in the United States' geopolitical pivot towards the Asia-Pacific region...

This "Food First Backgrounder" outlines the agreement's assault on democracy and food sovereignty and examines the TPP's likely impacts on food and agriculture in Japan, the latest country to join negotiations.

TPP and the Dismantling of Japanese Agriculture

By Ayumi Kinezuka

According to the Buddhist concept of “shindo-fuji,” a healthy body comes from healthy soil, so one must appreciate the environment one lives in. Japan has a strong food movement, rooted in shindo-fuji, promoting local production and consumption.

However, agricultural imports have been on the rise since World War II, severely undermining Japanese food production: in 1965, Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate was 73 percent, but by 2010, it had dropped to 39 percent. Japanese food self-sufficiency—now one of the lowest among OECD countries—is often explained as merely the result of changes in dietary preferences. Often missing in this discussion, however, is the tremendous pressure the US applied on Japan to accept surpluses of wheat, soybeans and corn following WWII.

The traditional Japanese diet—rice combined with locally produced vegetables and fish—constituted one of the biggest barriers to post-war US imports. To open up a market for US food products, Japanese diets had to change to include bread, meat and dairy products. Through the US-funded “Nutrition Improvement Action” program, people were told, “Eating rice makes you stupid! Eat Bread!” School lunch menus were westernized and “American Trains” and “Kitchen Cars” crisscrossed the country to promote a western diet.

Today, Japanese people consume 9.5 percent more wheat, 152 percent more animal products and 131 percent more fat than in the 1950s. According to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAFF), TPP would drop food self-sufficiency from 39 to 14 percent. Rice production would be hit severely. This could destroy Japanese agriculture and its rural culture.

Additionally, important land reform laws passed in the 1940s and 50s that safeguard farmers’ right to land have come under attack. Under pressure from the private sector, the government passed a revised land law in June 2009 cancelling the principle of “land to the tiller,” allowing non-farmers to own farmland and foreign capital to lease farmland. Deregulation under TPP would grant foreign investors further influence over national policies that protect farmers, farmland and rural communities.

The opposition against TPP in Japan encompasses a wide range of groups from progressive to conservative forces such as the Japan Agriculture and Fishery Organization, the Japan Medical Association and others. As much as 94 percent of prefectural assemblies and 80 percent of local city assemblies have passed resolutions against TPP. In Hokkaido, the opposition encompasses almost all groups and organizations in the prefecture, including the finance community.

Of the 13 political parties, seven are opposed to TPP and only one party is vocal about its support to TPP. Opposition transcends traditional political divisions, demonstrating that a broad political coalition against TPP is possible. To do that, we must increase international solidarity among farmers, citizens’ groups and local communities. The farmers of Japan hope to build strong alliances with groups and farmers in other TPP negotiating countries to stop corporate interests from destroying our agriculture and eroding our work for food sovereignty.

Ayumi Kinezuka is a young organic farmer in Shizuoka Prefecture. She studied psychology and sociology at UC Berkeley before returning home to carry on her family's tea farm.

She wrote this article for the Summer 2013 (Volume 19, No. 2) edition of Food First Backgrounder: "The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Threat to Democracy and Food Sovereignty."  Food First Backgrounder is published by the Institute for Food and Development Policy, an Oakland-based think tank.

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