Food self-sufficiency

Editorial, Mainichi Shimbun, 21 March 2004

The nation's food self-sufficiency ratio, measured in caloric terms, has declined from 73 percent in 1965 to 40 percent in 1998.

Today, Japan has the lowest food self-sufficiency ratio among the advanced industrialized nations and is the world's largest net importer of agricultural products.

By some estimates, 17 million hectares of arable land are needed to grow the food consumed by the population, so the nation is forced to rely on 12 million hectares of arable land in foreign countries.

Since 800 million people from around the world suffer from malnutrition, it is unlikely that this country will be able to remain so highly dependent on foreign producers for its food supply. The nation's low food self-sufficiency ratio raises pressing food security concerns.

These concerns led to the insertion of a clause into an agricultural bill that was enacted last July calling for the establishment of food self-sufficiency targets.

An agriculture panel that advises Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi responded with a report establishing a food self-sufficiency target of 45 percent by the year 2010 and also set a long-term target of above 50 percent. It is the panel's desire to raise the ratio to as high a level as possible.

If we extrapolate from current consumption and production trends, however, the self-sufficiency ratio will decline to 38 percent by 2010. To boost the current ratio by 5 points, we will have to not only reverse the present trends but also take additional measures to boost domestic production.

Two-thirds of the decline in the food self-sufficiency ratio can be attributed to the Westernization of the Japanese diet. Today, consumers eat less rice and more meat, oil and fat.

Changes in eating habits have contributed to increased imports of feed grains and plants which are used to produce oil and fat products. The failure of domestic producers to keep up with changes in the marketplace accounts for one-third of the decline.

A concerted effort by producers, consumers and policymakers will be necessary to achieve the target of 45 percent. Producers will have to increase domestic production of wheat, soybeans and feed grains, most of which are now imported.

The panel hopes to achieve a 3-point increase in the wheat self-sufficiency ratio to 12 percent over the next 10 years.

Consumers will need to develop healthier eating habits.

Our fondness for Western-style dishes has led to unbalanced diets and excessive consumption of fatty foods, many of which are made from imported ingredients.

And households, restaurants, and food retailers will have to find ways to save some of the nearly 7 million tons of food that are discarded every year from trash bins.

The government will have to consider new programs to utilize land that now lies fallow due to rice-paddy acreage reduction policies. But subsidies would have to be kept to a bare minimum, however, to avoid a backlash from critics at home and abroad.