With a rapidly aging farming community and fertile land left unused, Japan is under pressure to find ways of preserving their agrarian landscape to help increase future self-sufficiency in food production.
While the Japanese countryside is dotted with picturesque farmland, an large number of farming households in rural communities are comprised of elderly people, and once retired leave the productive land unworked – around 380,000 hectares (10 per cent) of farm land is currently left abandoned.
Very few Japanese children and grandchildren are interested in continuing work on the family farm and the government’s efforts to boost interest, which include measures like farm plot lending, have largely helped those people already active in farming rather than encouraging new, young farmers. Students, however, are creating a new wave of interest with their own projects, with one in particular started by students of Yamaguchi University in the Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures.
The program, managed by the non-profit organization Student Farming Corps, began by sending enthusiastic students to work on farms. Following this, a growing number of members opted to make a career out of farming and were consigned to look after entire productions.
In addition, the group developed a program matching ambitious youths with farmers who do not have children to inherit their farm. After first learning a trade, these individuals can take-over properties, thus creating a new generation of part-time farmers. One example includes a farmer-carpenter whose primary income is from construction work who also manages a tea plantation. The part-time nature of the labour helps resolve the problem of low-incomes of farm work.
This is not a wholly new idea: in the past family farms were often sustained by adopting an outsider as a son. Under this new program young people with desire and drive are welcomed to the farm despite having completely different backgrounds. In addition to students, there is an increasing number of city-workers wanting to leave their urban lives to work in the outlying provinces, or return to their rural hometowns.
The Asahi Shimbun