What Japanese agriculture needs is human resources who come up with new ideas

Everyone sees that agriculture is a very important industry, but I believe that few people really understand the current situation of agriculture in Japan.

For example, as the aging of agricultural workers and the shortage of successors are often covered in the mass media, many people may have the impression that Japan’s agricultural production will be in short supply or that its future is uncertain.

However, Japan’s agricultural products are not necessarily in short supply.

Strawberries, for example, are being actively bred selectively to make them tastier and sweeter, and branding is being promoted in each production area. This is an expression of their effort to compete for share in a market where the price will drop if produce is left unsold without any measures taken.

Such efforts and ingenuity are not limited to strawberries, but the same goes for rice and other vegetables.

On the other hand, if we look at the world, there are many countries and regions where food is really in short supply, and there are great expectations for Japanese agricultural technologies and varieties to be introduced in those areas in the future.

Japan’s agricultural population is indeed declining, but even so, the food shortage and anxiety about the future in Japan are merely images arising from ignorance of the reality.

Of course, if we do not take any measures, the agricultural population will continue to decline, which will indeed lead to food shortages. Therefore, efforts are being made to develop technologies for large-scale agriculture and labor-saving agriculture that utilize ICT and AI.

Although those efforts are necessary beyond doubt, they, on their own, are just remedies for the decrease in agricultural producers.

Fundamentally, it is important to develop human resources who can advance the stabilization of global and domestic food production with new ideas.

In other words, I believe that it is urgent to train not only workers who are directly involved in production but also agricultural business operators, researchers and engineers who are engaged in technological development, and administrative officials who can formulate innovative measures.

In order to develop such human resources, I believe that it is important to deepen the knowledge and interest in agriculture among citizens who are not directly involved in the industry, increase the number of those who are highly interested, and accordingly increase the number who intend to be engaged in the field of agriculture.

To achieve that, we can say that higher education institutions such as schools of agriculture in universities play a major role.

In this sense, our Kurokawa Field Science Center is a full-fledged farm facility equipped with production fields, processing facilities, and research facilities. Since it is located in the suburbs of the city, I believe that it has great potential to provide various functions to students, residents in the neighborhood, and producers.

The advantage of urban agriculture is the ability to provide opportunities to get to know agriculture

Urban agriculture based on agricultural land left in urban areas has been positively considered as a natural environment with greenery and viewed as a place to provide leisure and a refreshing change through harvesting experiences such as digging up potatoes and picking strawberries, but on the other hand, it has not been regarded as being important in terms of food production owing to its low production volume.

However, when producers engaging in urban agriculture produce their crops in such an environment as urban areas, they take various measures and introduce technologies to prevent dust from spreading, to eliminate the use of highly odorous agricultural chemicals, and to reduce the noise of agricultural equipment. At the same time, in order to increase profits using narrow farmland, they employ methods of organic cultivation and nutriculture as well as sales methods such as setting up produce stands and collaborating with local restaurants while producing processed products of local brands. As a result of such efforts, they continue to manage their business with the understanding of residents in the neighborhood.

I believe that, for consumers who have been familiar with conventional agriculture that has prioritized stable production at low cost, such a situation will provide an opportunity to understand that the production of safe and high-quality crops, including organic cultivation, requires a lot of labor and costs, and that agricultural management is a job that requires a variety of ingenuity.

In other words, urban agriculture can be one of the opportunities for those who have never been involved in agriculture to become interested in it and deepen their knowledge of it.

Moreover, since the Kurokawa Field Science Center is located in a similar location to that of urban agriculture, I believe that for our students the Center will serve as not only a place for hands-on agricultural training but also a place where they can learn a great deal.

This is because the challenge of Japanese agriculture is not merely to nurture those who will inherit the techniques of agricultural production but rather to nurture agricultural business operators.

The role of our Kurokawa Field Science Center is substantial

The first-year students of our School of Agriculture have hands-on agricultural training at the Kurokawa Field Science Center for one year. Unlike short-term hands-on training, which is only for seeding and harvesting, students can experience a variety of work on the farm throughout the year, which is a valuable opportunity for them.

From the second year, students will learn professional knowledge and theories in classes. Their acquisition of both hands-on experience and knowledge is very important.

When it comes to agriculture, operations and technologies such as seeding and preparing the soil are often considered important. That is certainly true, but they are not the only things needed for agriculture in the future.

What is more, it is also important to have a good sense of management, that is to say, the ability to plan what crops meet the needs of consumers, how to produce them well, how to improve their varieties, and how to effectively deliver them to consumers.

In the future, labor-saving of actual production work and management is expected to be realized if ICT and AI are utilized. When that happens, what we should do is to manage and coordinate the whole picture.

From the perspective of support for agriculture, it is important to have the ability to design how to promote local agriculture and industries as well as the ability to understand the current agricultural situation, see the nature of the problem and reveal the issues, and find ways to solve them.

Our Kurokawa Field Science Center has great potential to provide such learning opportunities.

For example, a research program that combines hands-on training at University Farms and internship programs could be conducted based on the Kurokawa Field Science Center.

There are many farmers who are engaged in urban agriculture in the vicinity of the Kurokawa Field Science Center. As mentioned earlier, these producers are making various efforts to sustain agricultural production in cities.

Examples are expanding sales of agricultural crops and growing crops with the quality that a restaurant requires in order to deliver them directly to that restaurant.

Learning such skills, ingenuity, and know-how from those internship programs will be a valuable experience.

The Kurokawa Field Science Center also serves as a research and experimental facility. The outcomes obtained here can be fed back to actual agricultural production sites, and what happened on actual agricultural land can be fed back in order to proceed with the experiments.

In addition, our Ikuta Campus has both the School of Agriculture and the School of Science and Technology.

In recent agricultural practice, not only ICT and AI have been introduced but also sensing and simulation technologies have been put to practical use. In that sense, it is a great advantage for our University to have an environment that facilitates collaboration between the School of Agriculture and the School of Science and Technology.

At the Kurokawa Field Science Center, agricultural workshops and lectures for the public are held in cooperation with Asao Ward. I believe that deepening exchanges with local residents and members of society is very meaningful, just as it is in actual urban agriculture.

This is because increased interest in agriculture will lead to a sense that agriculture in their own communities should be protected and maintained by themselves.

In fact, there is an example where students who wanted to maintain local terraced rice paddies established a circle, which started with protecting the terraced rice paddies and has led to activities to protect the local nature and landscape.

That means, based on urban agriculture, it is possible to organize a circle that involves not only students but also local residents and members of society and to think about their communities on their own, which will lead to activities to protect and revitalize their communities by themselves.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, I undertook agricultural reconstruction in Watari-cho, Miyagi. I went to the site to meet with farmers and local residents and, while we had discussions, I came to find the direction of what could be done.

I think what was needed at that time was the ability to plan and coordinate in order to find and implement what was required while looking at the reality.

Some regions have challenges due to the earthquake, while some regions in the world have agricultural problems on a daily basis. Therefore, I believe that we must develop human resources with the ability to find and solve problems.

As a place for such learning, I believe that the role our University has to play is substantial, especially with the Kurokawa Field Science Center as the core.

* The information contained herein is current as of April 2022.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

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