Individual Paper: Light the fire of “Degrowth” –towards the transition of agrifood systems in Japan
Japan’s society today is both aging and depopulating. According to projections, the population will decrease to less than 100 million inhabitants in the 2040s, and in the 2060s 40% of the population will be over 65-years old. No country in the world has ever experienced such a rapid aging process.
Depopulation does not occur everywhere equally, with rural areas suffering from more severe depopulation than urban areas. According to the forecast by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, most rural hamlets will lose more than half its population by 2050. Agricultural indicators paint a similar picture of the decline of rural areas. After 1985, both agricultural output and incomes have kept declining. Likewise, people engaged in farm work are aging and their numbers decreasing. More than 60% of farmers today are older than 65 years. On the one hand, the number of landowners not engaged in farming has increased, while the area of abandoned farmland is expanding. People seem to flee rural areas and agriculture.
The agrifood system – food production and consumption – is the foundation of society. A decline in agriculture and shrinking rural areas can also threaten sustainability. However, in Japan, such a shrinking society has the potential to contribute to a more sustainable agrifood system. Over the years, Japan’s low self-sufficiency rate has been an issue. As the world biggest net importing country of agriproducts, the self-sufficiency rate is currently below 40% (calorie basis). From the viewpoint of national security, people’s current diet is problematic as it is heavily reliant on imports. One cause for low food security as well as environmental and social problems, including environmental health, public health, and diversity loss, might be the globalized long food chains characteristic for industrial food systems. Shortening these food chains is thus vital in creating a sustainable future. Japan’s shrinking society is following down the path laid out by the decline of agriculture. Yet here lies hope: could lower food consumption open a path to independence from food imports and self-sufficiency?
Unfortunately, the government of Japan does not take this perspective. It is convinced that the industrialization of agriculture and its adaptation for globalization are the solution for both agriculture and rural development. After 2000, the government has implemented various neo-liberalized policy measures, including the reform of the Agricultural Land Act, promotion of exporting, and the establishment of the organization for farmland consolidation. The government envisions the future of agriculture as one thoroughly industrialized and subject to corporate management. Yet most people migrating to rural areas do not want to be employees of an agricultural business. They seek a new way of living with agriculture as part of their lifestyle. They regard agriculture as a means for subsistence, not industrial production.
Society itself is shrinking and a certain number of people are seeking alternative agriculture. Nevertheless, the national government is unable to respond by changing its policy direction, a result of its addiction to economic growth. A gap then exists in the vision for the future of rural areas between the government and rural in-migrants. The key to agrifood system transition is thus empowering those alternative seekers. For that purpose, the concept and discourse of degrowth is essential. Strengthening international degrowth networks to linking up local actors with the global degrowth discourse and movement are thus vital in kicking off the transition of Japan’s agrifood system.
Start time: 14:30
Room: ABF (209)
Track: Degrowth: Culture, Power and Change