Japanese Agricultural Policy: Present Problems and Their Historical Background
Japan’s agricultural policy needs to address several extremely difficult tasks. Three major problems are pressing for solutions. The first is the overproduction of rice. Rice is Japan’s most important agricultural product, accounting for approximately 40 percent of total agricultural production in 1975. Excess supply of rice began to appear from about 1968, and even though a policy of restricting supplies by means of large public subsidies to farmers was applied, the problem has persisted. Tendencies to overproduce have also appeared in products such as milk, mandarin oranges, and vegetables.The second problem is the improper and inefficient use of farmland. While Japan has a surplus in certain agricultural products, it imports a great deal of wheat, soybeans, and feed grains. Self-sufficiency in grain has declined from 83 to 43 percent between 1960 and 1975.Much of its farmland has been either poorly utilized or transferred to other uses, with the cropping ratio declining significantly. According to the Sakumotsu Tokei (Statistical Yearbook of Crops and Farmland), the total acreage of farmland has decreased from 6.07 million hectares in 1960 to 5.77 million in 1975, and the cropping rate, which
rose to a peak of 130 percent in 1960, declined to a mere 100 percent in 1975.1The third problem is the high cost of agricultural production. Although there are some exceptions such as pork and broilers, which are dependent upon imported feed grains, the cost of domestic agricultural production is high by international standards, resulting in relatively high consumer prices for agricultural products.The three problems are linked to structural changes in the agricultural sector, the most important characteristic of which is the increase in the number of class B part-time farmers.2 For these farmers, agriculture is no longer their major economic pursuit, but has become a supplemental occupation. In general, the major labor resources of their households are utilized in the nonagricultural sector, and agriculture has become less important as a source of family income. Such farmers lack the motivation to develop ways to reduce production costs and improve profitability through technological innovation.According to the Census of Agriculture, the percentage of class B part-time farmers was 25.7 percent in 1960; but it rose to 61.7 percent in 1975 and 70 percent in 1980. Even though these farmers have their economic base in the nonagricultural sector, they use 50 percent of the total farmland in Japan. Furthermore, the productivity of their land is remarkably low compared with full-time farmers.The increase in the number of class B part-time farmers results from a combination of postwar socioeconomic development, agricultural policy, and other factors. The following sections will detail the postwar history of Japan’s agricultural policy and explain why and how it caused the increase in the number of class B part-time farmers and, in turn, resulted in the three problems. Solutions are also suggested.Although agricultural policy may be evaluated from various points of view, in this chapter the evaluation of the effect of a policy will be based upon five points: (1) price, (2) production, (3) farm household income, (4) food consumption, and (5) agricultural structure. The term, “agricultural structure,” refers to how the productive force of agriculture is constituted in terms of land ownership, size of farms, productivity, responsiveness to demand, and the like. Long-term levels of both prices and production of agricultural products, as well as of farmers’ income are all influenced by the structure of agriculture. 1 The cropping rate is the percentage that acreage cropped is of the acreage farmed. The planting of more than one crop per year makes it possible for the cropping rate to exceed 100.2 A statistical term that means the type of farm household whose dominant income is of off-farm origin.