Japan’s agricultural law offers British politicians a fine model in social, environmental and health terms

Lancashire organic farmer Tom Rigby (right, campaigning for all those affected by organophosphates used in agricultureposted a link to a most interesting July article by Jonathan Baker, currently working for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). JB is ‘driven’ to better understand what he sees as a strategic challenge for the land use sector: how to provide food in a sustainable way (full text below). He opens:

“If Michael Gove gave you a piece of paper and asked you to draft the UK’s forthcoming Agriculture Bill I imagine you, like me, wouldn’t know where to start. This is partly to be expected, we’ve not had to do any such thing for almost 40 years. For this reason, and although the contexts are in many ways different, it is worth looking at how the Japanese approach this problem”.There have been two Basic Laws relating to agriculture in the post war era. The first Agricultural Basic Law came into force in 1961 and was focused on increasing production and maintaining the post WWII land reforms. It also looked at increasing the incomes of rural populations who were starting to be left behind by the rapidly developing urban centres. The current Basic Law – well worth reading – is less than ten pages long. This is the pdf I found, which lists many amendments – the 1999 version?

In social, environmental and health terms it offers a fine model for British politicians to follow today.Scrolling forward, in the early 1990s it was recognised that the situation had changed, driven by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) facilitated Uruguay Round and reforms of the EU’s CAP and US agricultural systems. Jonathan recounts that an Investigative Committee on Fundamental Issues in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Industry was set up and reported in 1998, outlining four major ‘changing conditions’ to be addressed:

  • Falling self-sufficiency rates – driven in part by richer consumption habits.
  • Reduced agricultural land and aging farmers.
  • Loss of vitality in rural areas.
  • Changing public awareness with consumers having greater interest in stable and safe food and concerns about environmental and cultural sustainability.

In 1999 debates started in the national Diet and a number of key features of the ‘Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas’ emerged and ultimately were put into the final law:

  • The law would be divided into food policy, agricultural policy and rural area policy.
  • The law would create four basic principles
  • A ‘Basic Plan’ would be created and this would be revised every four years. The Plan would have to be consistent with the law and specifically the four basic principles.
  • The law stipulated the responsibilities of the different levels of Government, farmers, consumers and businesses involved in the food chain.

The four principles are:

  • Securing a stable food supply – Article 2 notes the ‘unstable factors’ in world food trade and talks about the importance of stockpiles of food and maintaining Japanese agricultural production. The law requires the creation of a food security ratio that must be published annually and should be improved over time. The current Basic Plan includes a self-sufficiency potential ratio.
  • Fulfilment of multifunctional roles – Article 3 refers to ‘the multiple roles that agriculture plays through food production in rural areas, from the conservation of national land, water resources and the natural environment to the formation of a good landscape and maintenance of cultural tradition’. These multifunctional rules ‘shall be fulflilled sufficiently for the future’.
  • Article 4 is not about environmental or cultural sustainability, but about ensuring that agriculture remains viable, that there is sufficient workforce and infrastructure.
  • Development of rural areas – Article 5 talks about the importance of rural areas and their ‘conventional role as primary food supplier and the multifunctional roles’.

The rest of the law sets out a series of policy areas (women in agriculture, food safety) and high level policy objectives.

We add news of urban developments – roof-top agriculture on Tokyo’s highrise apartments here:

Jonathan ended “The 1999 Basic Law marked quite a big change, creating a five year planning cycle, broadening out the objective of agricultural policy and focussing more on what the consumer wanted. The law also codified the idea that sectoral (food and agriculture) and regional (rural) policies should be distinct and although its questionable the extent to which this has happened it set a framework that is now starting to be used. This was the start of the liberalisation of agriculture that is now entering its late phase”.

About Jonathan Baker: I currently work for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) as a Senior Land Use Policy Adviser. My job involves working with officials, stakeholders and members on improving and informing land use policy with a focus on conservation. I also provide advice to CLA members as needed. I come from a research background and have worked in consultancy and Government on environmental and land use policy. I studied environmental science at Bath Spa and Environmental Technology at Imperial College London. I’m driven to better understand what I see as the land use sector’s two strategic challenges; how to provide food in a sustainable way and how to create business models for non-food production. I am also a Fellow of the Centre for Evaluating Complexity across the Nexus (CECAN) and bring a analytical point of view to my current role and to the Scholarship. My project will look outside the EU to see how other developed countries delivering environmental enhancements from private land. I hope to expand our sector’s horizons and bring back lessons, ideas and experiences to inform the ongoing debates about post-Brexit land use policy. I am grateful to the John Oldacre Foundation and Nuffield for providing me with the opportunity to study this important and timely issue.

 

 

 

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