Could new laws mean cheaper rice in Japan?
Japan has just headed into the rice season, however this year, there has been a large change in the law. In place for almost 50 years, the “rice cultivation reduction policy” has now been abolished. The policy was originally set up to prevent the over-production and waste of rice.
Now, this law has been abolished and farmers are free to produce more rice. Many believe this could lead to cheaper rice for consumers.
The policy, in place since 1971 was created in order to reduce the rice surplus. Under this system, the Japanese government buys all rice produced in Japan but also gives limits to how much a farmer can sell.
Now abolished, there is a free market that can now contend with imported rice. Farmers who wanted to produce more rice but weren’t allowed are now free to produce as much as they want.
But will rice production actually increase?
According to the ministry of agriculture, 36 of Japan’s 47 prefectures report they will produce the same as last year, while 7 prefectures aim to increase production. Of course, actual production amounts will also largely be influenced by this year’s weather and climate conditions.
Farmers already at their limit.
Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture reports it will produce similar amounts to last year. One large 33-acre farm says it would be difficult to increase production and are aiming to maintain current levels.
With only three members in his family, he often gets help from his local town. However, in just 10 years, the population of the town has decreased by over 20%, making it difficult to find new employees.
It’s not only Hokkaido that is suffering from a lack of workers, but many parts of the country are. A report last year discovered that the average age of farmers in Japan is 66.6 years old.
With a simultaneously ageing and decreasing population, finding new hands to work on farms is becoming ever more difficult.
So will prices actually change?
One of the main reasons for an increase in rice prices in recent times is due to much of the rice being bought for business purposes.
One bento meal shop in Tokyo says the price of rice has increased by 30% since last year, making it difficult to keep profits up.
Without the aid of the government’s rice buy-out system, coupled with the fact that farms around the country are struggling to keep production up, with businesses buying more and more rice, this could be a lose-lose situation for both farmers and consumers.