Reform of Agricultural Land System to Speed Concentration of Farmland in Hands of "Core Farmers"
On January 20, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) published outline proposals for a reform of the Agricultural Management Framework Reinforcement Law to be presented to the ordinary session of the Diet convened on January 21. The reforms, based on the new Basic Plan for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas, center on (i) the concentration of farmland in the hands of "core farmers", including community farming entities, (ii) the introduction of measures to prevent farmland lying idle, and (iii) permitting ordinary joint stock companies to enter the agriculture sector by renting farmland. MAFF is keen to see the proposed measures enacted without delay on the grounds that it is important to set about fostering "core farmers" well before the farming business stabilization measures come into force in FY 2007.
The measures to promote the concentration of farmland in the hands of "core farmers" include expanding the operations of the agricultural land holding rationalization corporations (JA cooperatives, prefectural and municipal corporations, etc.). A farmland trust system is to be used to broker the leasing of farmland so as to obviate the need to obtain the consent of the owner if a would-be tenant is located (leasing). MAFF believes this will make it much easier to ensure that farmland is used. Measures will also be introduced to allow agricultural land holding rationalization corporations to invest in agricultural production corporations so as to help strengthen their financial base and boost the scale of their operations.
To promote the organization of community farming, targets for the efficient use and concentration of farmland, provisions setting out the division of labor among local farmers, etc. are to be incorporated in the bylaws of agricultural land use improvement associations formed by local landowners. The "visions for local paddy-field farming" drawn up by the JA Group will be given legal status and targets for community farming will be published with a view to raising awareness.
Measures to deal with landowners who leave farmland idle, with a negative impact on farming concerns in the surrounding area, will also be included. Such landowners will be encouraged to lease their land to specified agricultural corporations (community farming organizations), and if negotiations run into difficulties, prefectural governors will have the power to order compulsory leasing. If the ownership of disused farmland is unknown, municipal government bodies will have to power to undertake emergency maintenance work such as grass cutting.
As to the entry of ordinary joint stock corporations into the agriculture sector, the system of "special zones for structural reform" will be extended nationwide, and will be positioned by MAFF as part of its measures to prevent farmland from lying idle. Ordinary joint stock corporations will be permitted to participate in agriculture only in areas where, according to municipal government farmland utilization plans, it is thought that there is a strong likelihood of farmland being left uncultivated. To help prevent farmland being used for other purposes than agriculture, a system is to be created whereby contracts for the leasing of farmland can be terminated in such cases as joint stock corporations departing from their agricultural business plans.
National Public-Private Initiative to Foster "Core Farmers"
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), JA Zenchu (the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives) and the NCA (National Chamber of Agriculture) decided on February 4 to launch a national joint public-private initiative to foster "core farmers" in sectors of agriculture such as paddy-field farming where "core farmers" are in short supply. In spite of their disagreement over the drafting of conditions for the application of farming business stabilization measures (a Japanese version of the system of direct payments), they "share a belief in the importance of fostering core farmers" (Kikuhito Sugata, Director-General, MAFF Management Improvement Bureau) and will pull together with a view to enhancing local motivation.
The decision was taken at a joint meeting, held at MAFF, of the MAFF "Project Team on Local Initiatives for the Fostering of Core Farmers" (Chairman: Mineichi Iwanaga, Senior Vice Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) and the preparatory committee for the "National Council for General Support in the Fostering of Core Farmers" (Chairman: Toyoaki Ota, Chairman, National Chamber of Agriculture), which is to be established in April.
The national initiative will focus on three activities: (i) increasing the number of "approved farmers", (ii) promoting the organization and incorporation of community farming and (iii) encouraging farmers to register for direct payments under the business stabilization measures for core farmers. Specifically, the aim is to encourage farmers who are positioned as "core rice farmers" under the "visions for local paddy-field farming" but are not designated as "approved farmers" (approximately 140,000 farms), and farmers whom municipal governments believe could become "core farmers" in the future (approximately 190,000 farms), to become "approved farmers". Efforts will also be made to encourage the incorporation of community farming entities (approximately 5,000 in number) assigned a role or position in the "visions" and commission farming organizations (approximately 10,000 in number).
The initiative will also seek a major expansion of the number of farmers registered for business stabilization measures for core rice farmers. (At present only 30,000 farmers are registered). MAFF believes that approximately 90,000 farms may meet the cultivated area requirements for receipt of direct payments.
The drive to foster "core farmers" will continue until the summer, just prior to the final consultations on specific conditions for the application of business stabilization measures.
Japanfs First Death From Variant CJD
On February 4, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) announced the death of a Japanese man who has been suffering from variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD), thought to be the result of infection with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prions. The man was the first person in Japan known to have contracted vCJD.
According to MHLW, the man first began showing the psychological symptoms of the disease — impatience and irritability — in December 2001. Thereafter, as the disease developed, he became bedridden and eventually died in December 2004. An MHLW committee chaired by Professor Tetsuyuki Kitamoto of the Tohoku University School of Medicine diagnosed CJD in September 2004. However, as the possibility of vCJD remained, testing continued and vCJD was confirmed later the same day.
The man, who was 40 when he contracted symptoms of the disease, spent approximately 1 month in the United Kingdom in 1989. As the BSE problem was at its peak in the United Kingdom at that time, and the man had not undergone brain surgery or received any blood transfusions in Japan, the committee judged it highly likely that he contracted the disease in the United Kingdom.
Japan Conditionally Accepts US Proposal on Methods for Verifying Age of Cattle
On February 8, the Study Group on Methods for Verifying the Age of Cattle, a committee of specialists established by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) to consider matters relating to the reliability of methods of verifying the age of cattle on the basis of criteria such as the quality (maturity) of their meat, a key issue in the negotiation of conditions for the lifting of the ban on imports of beef produced in the United States, issued a report that conditionally accepts the US proposals. Having examined data supplied by the United States, the Study Group concludes, "It may be possible to adopt [the proposal] as a standard by which to eliminate the carcasses of cattle aged 21 months or over". However, it maintains that additional tests to confirm efficacy or follow-up measures will be required after the adoption of the US proposal.
On the matter of whether or not to adopt the method of verifying the age of cattle by the quality of their meat, the report suggests that "it will be necessary to take account of the risk of BSE infection in beef produced in the United States" and leaves the final decision to the Food Safety Commission.
MHLW, MAFF and US government officials will hold practical level talks to work out the concrete details of conditions for the lifting of the import ban, including whether or not the methods used to verify the age of cattle should be subjected to further testing.
To ensure that as many cattle as possible qualify for export, the United States is keen that, in addition to the conventional system of documentation by birth records, Japan should also accept a method of gauging the age of cattle by the maturity of their meat. The United States is pressing Japan to accept any cattle (carcasses) falling into the "A40" or "lower maturity" classification, which generally applies to young cattle, as being less than 20 months old.
The key factor behind the conditional acceptance of the US proposal by Japanese experts was that a survey in the United States found that, out of 237 cattle aged 21 months or over, which would not have qualified for export to Japan, none fell into the"A40" category.
At a press conference given after the meeting, Study Group chairman Professor Akihiro Okitani of Nippon Veterinary and Animal Science University said, "The method of verifying age by quality of meat has the same value as verification by means of birth records, and will give consumers peace of mind".
New Basic Plan to Set Dual Target for Food Self-Sufficiency
On February 10, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) presented a draft outline of its new Basic Plan for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas to the Planning Sub-Committee of the Council on Food, Agriculture and Rural Area Policies. In the key area of food self-sufficiency, it is proposed that a value-based target ratio be set in addition to the traditional calorie-based target ratio. Specific numerical targets are to be decided in March after discussion by the Council and consultation with the ruling parties. The new Basic Plan also makes it clear that, in addition to "approved farmers", community farming entities that fulfill certain conditions, such as having plans to become incorporated, will qualify for support under the cross-product sector farming business stabilization measures (a Japanese version of the system of direct payments).
The object of setting a new value-based target ratio for food self-sufficiency is to reflect production efforts that cannot be expressed as a numeric value on a calorie basis, such as the growing of fruit and vegetables and organic farming. The current Basic Plan had already given a value-based target for reference in FY 2001, which called for Japan's self-sufficiency ratio on a value basis to be raised by 3 points to 74%, and the status of this proposal would be upgraded under the new Basic Plan.
To promote the growth of domestic production, the new Basic Plan calls for the structural reform of agriculture, with an emphasis on (i) preserving the necessary area of agricultural land, (ii) fostering "core farmers" and (iii) improving farming technology. Consumption-side initiatives to promote food self-sufficiency include food awareness education with a view to encouraging traditional Japanese dietary habits and the nationwide extension of the local consumption of local products.
The farming business stabilization measures to be introduced in FY 2007 are principally geared to closing the gap in production conditions between Japan and the rest of the world. The inclusion of measures to soften the impact of fluctuation in sales revenue on farming business management is to be considered.
The new Basic Plan will include community farming in the scope of application of farming business stabilization measures, one of the key issues. However, it specifies that in order to qualify, community farming concerns "should, as a rule, be substantial business entities, e.g. they should have centralized bookkeeping, they should have plans to become incorporated, and they should be expected to develop into efficient and stable farming business concerns in the future". The language is broad and inclusive, but specific conditions are to be finalized through consultation with the ruling parties.
Besides these measures, the participation of women in agriculture and the activities of elderly farmers are to be further promoted as a response to population aging, and measures to encourage eco-friendly farming and the establishment of systems for the conservation of resources such as land and agricultural water supplies are to be included.
20,000 Tons of MA Rice to Aid Tsunami Victims
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced, on January 28, that it is making available 20,000 tons of MA (minimum access) rice by way of aid to the victims of the Asian Earthquake and Tsunami. 12,500 tons have already arrived at the port of Medan in Indonesia and distribution to tsunami victims will begin shortly.
Some $20 million of Japan's total contribution of $60 million to the World Food Program (WFP) will be allocated to the project, including transportation costs.
The WFP will purchase the MA rice from the Japanese government at the international market price. The difference between this and the price at the time the rice was imported to Japan will be made up out of the Food Control Special Account.
Russia Cuts Tariffs on Agricultural Products in Preparation for WTO Accession
On January 29, the results of talks between Japan and Russia preparatory to the latter's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) were revealed. Russia will be reducing its tariffs on imports of almost all agricultural, forestry and fishery products. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) believes there are now prospects for growth of Japan's exports of onions, potatoes, mandarin oranges, etc. to Russia.
Russia declared its intention of joining the WTO in 1993. Since 1998, it has been negotiating import tariffs to be applied after accession, among other issues, with countries that have an interest, on a bilateral basis. Negotiations with the EU and China have already been concluded. Japan and Russia reached an effective agreement on trade in goods in mid-January.
Russia initially took the position that it would be difficult to reduce tariffs on agricultural, forestry and fishery imports and proposed the reduction of its average tariff rate on imports from Japan to 29.5%. Japan pressed for further tariff cuts on agricultural, forestry and fishery products with a view to securing the possibility of exporting them. Eventually, the two countries agreed on an average rate of 10.3%.
For example, Russia originally insisted that the tariff on potatoes (currently 25%) should be 67.5%, but the final figure agreed was 10%. The proposed tariff on onions (currently 15%) has also come down from 30% to 10%. Tariffs on mandarin oranges, apples, nashi [oriental pear], etc. are also to be reduced to 10% or less.
As Russia is close to Hokkaido, which is one of Japan's principal production areas for onions and potatoes, and produces no mandarin oranges, etc., MAFF hopes that the agreement will open up opportunities for export growth.
In parallel with these bilateral negotiations, Russia is negotiating its accession to the WTO through a multilateral working group. Both sets of negotiations must be successfully concluded if accession is to be possible. Bilateral negotiations with the United States have yet to be concluded, but Russia hopes to accede by the end of the year.
WTO Aims to Complete New Round by 2006, Agree Modalities by Summer 2005
Ministers from influential WTO (World Trade Organization) member countries, including Japan, the United States, Europe, and India, attended an informal meeting regarding the new round of WTO (World Trade Organization) multilateral trade talks, in Davos, Switzerland, on January 29, at which they agreed to aim for the completion of negotiations by the end of 2006.
In his Chairman's Statement on the gathering, Dr. Joseph Deiss, Switzerland's Minister of Economic Affairs emphasized that the countries present had agreed to focus on speeding up negotiations in five key areas, including agricultural and non-agricultural market access. With a view to ensuring the completion of negotiations by the end of 2006, the ministers expressed a determination to strive for substantial progress, agreeing, for instance, to aim to reach a basic agreement on modalities for agricultural and non-agricultural market access at the ministerial conference in Hong Kong, scheduled for December this year.
A further informal meeting is to be held in Kenya in March. Opportunities such as the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) ministerial summit in May are to be used to continue ministerial-level consultations, with the aim of drawing up a draft basic agreement on modalities (standards for the reduction of protective measures) on agriculture and non-agricultural products by the end of July.
The Davos meeting was attended by ministers from more than 20 countries and regions, including Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Shoichi Nakagawa, US Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, who is to be the next Deputy Secretary of State, and EU Commissioner for Trade Peter Mandelson. The Davos meeting was the first ministerial conference since the framework agreement reached in August last year and marked the start of the real negotiation process.
The draft basic agreement will include concrete figures for the scale of reductions in average tariffs on agricultural and industrial products. Negotiations on amendments to the draft text will begin in the autumn and, according to Dr. Deiss, ministers will aim to reduce to a handful the number of political issues to be brought to the ministerial conference in Hong Kong.
Thai PM Ready to Make Allowance for Sensitive Products
On February 14, a deputation from the JA Group visiting Thailand met Prime Minister Shinawatra Thaksin and a number of other Thai government ministers for a series of talks on their respective responses to the proposed EPA (economic partnership agreement), including an FTA (free trade agreement), between Japan and Thailand. While pressing Thailand to make special allowance for sensitive items such as sugar, starch, chicken meat, which are a focal issue in the negotiations, the deputation expressed the JA Group's willingness to take an active part in cooperative initiatives to relieve poverty in Thai farming communities. With regard to Japan's sensitive products, Prime Minister Thaksin told the JA representatives that Thailand would strive to ensure that the EPA did not disadvantage either country and did not impact on Japan's balance of supply and demand.
The JA deputation had talks with the Prime Minister Thaksin, Minister of Finance Jatusripitak Somkid, who is chairman of the FTA Strategy Committee, and Minister of Commerce Watana Muangsook. They also met Mr. Kittiampon Ampon, Secretary-General of the National Economic and Social Development Board and trusted advisor of Prime Minister Thaksin.
Japan and Thailand decided at a summit meeting in October 2004 to exclude rice from their negotiations. In these latest talks on other sensitive items, JA Zenchu President Isamu Miyata told key Thai government figures directly that, in line with the shared perception of the need to maintain a balance between liberalization and cooperation, the JA Group hoped that Thailand would make special allowance.
Mr. Somkid said that Thailand preferred to avoid the word "liberalization" and hoped to make the EPA a basis for cooperation, and expressed a keen interest in the JA Group's offer to cooperate with the Thai government, making particular reference to the improvement of agricultural productivity in Thailand.
In connection with liberalization, the Thai government expressed a willingness to make allowance for sensitive product sectors. Prime Minister Thaksin said that Thailand was anxious not to cause turmoil in the Japanese market, Minister of Finance Somkid that Thailand did not want its exports to have a negative impact on [Japanese] farmers. Both expressed a willingness to facilitate quarantine measures. With regard to sensitive products sectors, Secretary-General Ampon revealed that Thailand was considering other means of expanding exports than the abolition of tariffs.
Volume of Lunchtime Leftovers Falling; Unpopularity of Vegetables Conspicuous
The results of a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) survey of trends in food leftovers, carried out in 2004 and published on January 26, 2005, reveal that the average weight of leftovers from lunchtime meals served in diners and restaurants was 19.4 grams (3.3% of the average meal weight of 581.7 grams), down 0.3 points on the level recorded by the previous survey in 2003.
The 2004 survey was the third of its kind, following on from previous surveys in 2000 and 2003, and is part of a program of research by MAFF on ways of reducing table waste. The 2004 survey was conducted in September and October, in 11 major cities including Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.
Staff from local statistics and information centers visited mid-range diners and restaurants of the kind where salaried company employees usually take lunch with scales that they used to weigh the leftovers.
By type of establishment, restaurants serving Japanese food generated the highest proportion of leftovers, at 4.6% of total meal weight. A breakdown by menu item among Japanese restaurants found that the food generating the highest proportion of leftovers was vegetable tsukemono [pickles], at 13.8% of serving. ] These were followed by vegetable aemono [vegetables chopped, boiled and dressed with miso or other condiments] at 13%, indicative of the unpopularity of vegetables. Rice (white) leftovers accounted for 6.4% of serving.
By type of establishment, restaurants serving Western-style food generated the next highest proportion of leftovers at 3.3%, followed by Chinese restaurants at 3.2%. The proportion of leftovers at "Yakiniku [Korean style barbecue] restaurants and other Asian restaurants" was the lowest, at only 2.5% of total meal weight.
It is not certain why the proportion of leftovers has fallen since the last survey, but a MAFF official said it was possible that the recent sluggishness of the economy had made more people aware of the value of food.
Raw Materials for Plastics and Hydrogen for Fuel Cells from Livestock Manure
A group of scientists at the Hokkaido University Catalysis Research Center, led by Professor Dr. Masaru Ichikawa has used catalyst technology to extract benzene and hydrogen from methane derived from livestock manure. Benzene is a raw material used in the production of plastics, artificial fibers and other petrochemical products, while hydrogen can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels. Professor Ichikawa is confident that the technology will lay the foundations for the energy self-sufficiency of farming communities.
The technology in question is known as "methane direct reforming". When methane is passed through a catalyst (zeolite) with tiny holes the same size as benzene molecules, benzene is extracted from the methane by the "casting mold effect".
With methane derived from biogas from livestock manure, the fist stage is to remove impurities such as sulfides. The methane is then condensed and passed through the catalyst at a temperature of 750C and a pressure of 5 atmospheres to obtain benzene and hydrogen. As there is no combustion stage, the process does not generate carbon dioxide.
The Civil Engineering Research Institute of Hokkaido conducted validation trials of this technology in the autumn of 2004. The Institute confirmed the practicality of the technology through an experiment in which 50 kg of benzene and 120 cubic meters of hydrogen were extracted from methane derived from biogas from livestock manure (200 cubic meters per day), which ran successfully for 100 hours.
Hydrogen extracted from methane derived from biogas can be used to supply the electrical power needs of dairy farms and food factories, and the biogas derived from the manure and food waste generated by these establishments can be used to produce more hydrogen to serve once more as fuel. Professor Ichikawa believes this catalyst-based technology can play a key role in the recycling of resources.
Making Fertilizer from Chaff, Generating Electricity from the Production Process
Scientists at the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) of the National Agriculture and Bio-oriented Research Organization (NARO) in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, announced on February 7 that they had developed a technique for making silicate fertilizers (see Keyword) from rice chaff.
To date, some of the 2 million tons of chaff produced in Japan each year have been incinerated at rice centers, but disposing of the resulting ash has been a problem. When chaff is burned at high temperatures, the silicic acid it contains becomes less soluble and the ash loses its potential value as a silicate fertilizer. The NARC team discovered that ash produced by burning chaff at low temperatures becomes an easily soluble silicate fertilizer, and has applied for a patent to the production process.
Silicate fertilizers are said to protect rice plants from disease and are used by farmers aiming to grow rice using fewer agricultural chemicals. It was found that using chaff ash produced by the method developed at NARC, results in a higher level of silicic acid in the soil than is achieved with silica gel, and also gives a higher crop yield.
The NARC team has also proposed a system by which the energy generated by the burning of chaff could be used to generate electricity and the waste heat could be used to heat the plant.
Estimates suggest that by processing the 3,000-4,000 tons of chaff generated by 4,000 hectares of rice paddy, rice centers could produce 600-800 tons of silicate fertilizer. At the same time, they could generate 360 kilowatts per hour of electrical power. The plant would use 100 kilowatts per hour and the remainder could be sold on. The waste heat could also be used in indoor agricultural facilities.
Keyword: Silicate fertilizers
Calcium silicate, a representative silicate fertilizer, is used as a soil improver. Silicic acid accounts for the largest proportion of the nutrients absorbed from the soil by rice grown in paddy fields, and absorption is particularly high from the young ear formation stage onwards. Compounds suited to additional fertilization such as fused silica phosphate and silica gel fertilizers have also been developed.
2004 Statistics Show Sharp Rise in Imports of Cut Flowers, Especially From China
Figures released on February 10 show that imports of cut flowers rose sharply in 2004. According to the Plant Quarantine Statistics published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the three major product sectors all saw substantial growth with imports of chrysanthemums up by 42% while imports of carnations and roses grew respectively by 32% and 20%. As with vegetables, domestically grown product was scarce owing to the poor weather, and reliance on imports grew. Exporting countries have adopted a variety of different strategies, ranging from high quality to year-round availability to low price. The rise in imports of chrysanthemums and carnations from China was particularly noteworthy.
Imports of chrysanthemums rose by 42% in 2004, to 143,490,000 stems. Shipments from Malaysia saw the greatest growth, up 81% to 65,930,000 stems. Malaysia has exploited its climate as a country with cool highland regions lying directly on the equator, to provide high quality and a year-round supply, and is focusing on the production of spray-type flowers.
China is expanding its chrysanthemum production areas, especially in the production of large-bloom flowers for commercial use. Imports from China rose by 47% to 22,710,000 stems. Vietnam, which is also stepping up its exports to Japan, saw shipments soar by 62% to 10,440,000 stems.
Imports of carnations rose by 32% to 141,990,000 stems. Colombia used high quality to achieve growth of 19% to 91,590,000 stems. Imports from China rose by a massive 106% to 37,540,000 stems. Imports from Vietnam also rose by 46%.
Imports of roses rose by 20% to 78,900,000 stems. India, Japan's largest supplier of imported roses, saw shipments rise by 25% on the strength of low price, to 38,410,000 stems. Korea, the second largest supplier, saw growth of 5% to 21,950,000 stems. Ecuador saw imports quadruple and moved into fifth place.
In 2003, the shares of the domestic markets for chrysanthemums, carnations and roses commanded by imports were respectively 4.9%, 18.7% and 13.7%.
New Council to Boost Consumption of Rice Flour
A National Council for the Promotion of Rice Flour Food Products whose mission is to promote greater use of rice in the form of flour has been established. Until now, such initiatives have been organized only at a local level. The establishment of the Council will no doubt lend momentum to promotional activities nationwide. Techniques for the baking of bread made with rice flour are gradually being perfected, and the bread, which makes artful use of the properties of rice, is both tasty and attractive-looking. Being made from rice, it also goes well with Japanese cooked dishes. The issues are to inform Japanese consumers of these characteristics, to make rice bread readily available, and to ensure a steady supply of domestically grown rice at a price that will allow the continued use of rice flour for bread making. Rice-related organizations (grower groups, food industry associations, etc.) should also take an active part in fostering a culture of foods made with rice flour.
Foods using rice flour have been around for a long time — for example traditional Japanese sweetmeats made with joshinko [flour made from non-glutinous rice that has been polished, washed and dried before milling]. This coarsely ground flour was not suitable for bread making but advances in milling technology in recent years have made it possible to use rice flour in bread, cake, sponge cake, cookies, noodles, etc. Some rice flour is modified to make it more suitable for bread making by the addition of wheat gluten, which helps the dough to rise, but flour and baking techniques have been developed that give results in no way inferior to those achieved with wheat flour bread, even when 100% rice flour is used.
The availability of bread made with 100% rice flour is good news for those allergic to wheat bread. The protein in rice flour also has a higher amino acid score (a measure of nutritional value) than the protein in wheat flour, so that rice bread can be advertised with confidence as being of good quality.
The first serious efforts to make bread from rice were prompted by the development of a fine-grade rice flour at the Niigata Agricultural Research Institute Food Research Center, which attracted the attention of bread manufacturers. Today, rice flour bread making is particularly widespread in the Kinki Region (Osaka and neighboring prefectures in central Japan). This is due partly to the long tradition in the region of eating foods made with flour, and partly to the diligent efforts of bread manufacturers to popularize the product. Other regions have developed their own milling and bread making techniques and the consumption of rice bread is spreading, especially via the medium of school meals in areas where the local government authority is keen to promote local consumption of local products. The combination of rice and rice bread has enabled some schools to use entirely local staple foods in the meals they provide.
With a view to encouraging the spread of these activities, rice flour food product promotion councils have been established, under the auspices of the regional agricultural administration offices, in every area covered by a regional agricultural administration office, and following the establishment of one in Hokkaido in February this year, now cover the whole of Japan. The nationwide organization thus established includes bodies representing bread manufacturers, confectioners, the food services industry, nutritionists, school meal providers, etc. from around Japan. Its activities will include the gathering and dissemination of information on foods made with rice flour and techniques for the use of rice flour, and the guidance and support of regional organizations. At present, some 5,000-6,000 tons of rice flour are used in bread and Western-style cakes and confectionery each year, but the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFFF) hopes to increase this figure to 7,000 tons.
It is to be hoped that rice flour-related businesses and activities will transcend industries and industrial associations. MAFF and local government bodies should provide active support with a view to encouraging organizations and promoting and establishing the use of rice flour. Rice-related organizations must also work to boost rice consumption, improve Japan's food self-sufficiency and promote local consumption of local products. They should approach their work in the spirit of creating a new table culture of using rice in the form of flour.
(from an editorial in the February 15, 2005 issue of the Nihon Nogyo Shimbun)