nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Fukushima farm products still dealing with negative image

Toshio Watanabe, seen here in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 8, grows rice on an approximately 20-hectare farm.

April 24, 2022

NIHONMATSU, Fukushima Prefecture–Rice farmer Toshio Watanabe felt strongly embarrassed when he saw the estimate for the selling price of rice to be harvested in 2022.

Farm products of Fukushima Prefecture faced consumer pullback and canceled orders following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster of 2011.

“People drive a hard bargain against rice from Fukushima Prefecture, which they buy only at lower prices than products of other prefectures, even for the same quality and taste,” said Watanabe, who farms in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture.

“We could have put up a good fight if only it had not been for the nuclear disaster. As things stand now, however, we have ended up as the sole loser.”

More than 11 years on, farmers like Watanabe and the public sector in this northeastern prefecture still continue to struggle with lingering reverberations of the effects of negative publicity due to radiation fears.

FUKUSHIMA RICE THE ‘SOLE LOSER’

A document distributed by a local farming association in late February said this year’s rice crop is likely to sell at only 9,500 yen ($77) per 60 kilograms, falling below the 10,000-yen mark for the second straight year.

A rice farmer risks posting a deficit when the take-home selling price is less than 10,000 yen per 60 kg, considering the current production cost of nearly 9,000 yen per 60 kg.

Farmers will likely have to endure difficulties this year like they did in 2021, when rice prices dropped sharply due to a general oversupply and weak demand in the restaurant industry.

Rice harvested in Fukushima Prefecture disappeared from many supermarket shelves following the nuclear disaster, as consumers avoided Fukushima labels due to radiation fears.

More than 11 years on, rice grown in the prefecture has seen its market ratings always stuck in the lower reaches, with trading prices hovering below the national average.

Rice of the Koshihikari variety from the Nakadori (central strip) area of Fukushima Prefecture, which contains Nihonmatsu, was being traded at 11,047 yen per 60 kg, down 17 percent year on year, according to a preliminary report on the “direct trading prices” of rice harvested in 2021, which the farm ministry released in February.

The average price of all brands from all areas of Japan stood at 12,944 yen per 60 kg, down only 11 percent from the previous year. That means the gap has only spread.

CONSUMERS SHOWING MORE UNDERSTANDING

Apart from rice, peaches, grapes and other farm products, which face harsh competition from rivals grown in other prefectures, have also seen, over the past several years, their market trading prices remain stuck nearly 10 percent below the national average.

“Dealers from other prefectures sometimes decline to take products of Fukushima Prefecture when there is too much of products from a good harvest,” said the president of a wholesaler based in the prefectural capital of Fukushima that has dealt in fruits and vegetables from the prefecture for more than 50 years.

“Negative publicity effects remain deep-rooted overseas,” said Koji Furuyama, a 46-year-old farmer who grows peaches and apples in the prefectural capital.

Furuyama has aggressively been venturing into overseas markets. In 2017, for example, he exported peaches to a department store in Thailand.

Following the nuclear disaster, however, food products from Fukushima Prefecture came under embargoes and other import restrictions by 55 nations and regions of the world, 14 of which continue to impose restrictions of some kind or another. 

The central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, have decided to release treated contaminated water from the plant into the ocean.

The water release, which will start as early as spring next year, could cause additional negative publicity effects, Furuyama said.

By comparison, effects of the negative public image are seldom perceptible these days in food items for which product differentiation is feasible, such as by supplying the items in large amounts when there are few shipments of rival products from other prefectures.

Figures of the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market show that vegetables from Fukushima Prefecture, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, have been priced above the national average over the past several years.

Consumers are coming to show more understanding toward the prefecture’s food products.

In a survey conducted by the Consumer Affairs Agency in February 2022, only 6.5 percent of the respondents said they hesitate to buy food products from Fukushima Prefecture for fear of radiation. The percentage is the lowest ever and is below the 10-percent mark for the second straight year.

SALES PROMOTION CAMPAIGN ALONE ‘NOT ENOUGH’

The government of Fukushima Prefecture has so far allocated large chunks of post-disaster rebuilding budgets for campaigns against negative publicity and for sales promotion.

A centerpiece of the latest years, among other things, is a program for promoting sales on major online marketplaces operated by Amazon.com Inc., Rakuten Group Inc. and Yahoo Japan Corp. Dentsu East Japan Inc., an ad agency, has been commissioned to operate the project.

In fiscal 2020, the program earned proceeds of about 3.4 billion yen, a record since the project started in fiscal 2017, although more than 500 million yen was spent on subsidizing the initial costs for sellers on the marketplaces and issuing discount coupons worth 10 to 30 percent.

In fiscal 2021, the prefectural government project earned sales of more than 2.6 billion yen on a consignment budget of only 360 million yen.

That is not bad in terms of cost-effectiveness. However, that is tempered by the fact that marketing efforts that rely on coupons do not necessarily help empower the production areas, and no information is provided to sellers that would allow them to analyze what kind of customers purchased which products.

“This program is premised on the availability of the post-disaster rebuilding budgets,” said an official in charge of the project. “It is certainly not sustainable.”

“Fukushima Prefecture’s products stuck in low price ranges would need to venture into new markets other than the existing ones, but such a venture can seldom be achieved through public relation efforts of the public sector and an ad agency alone,” said Ryota Koyama, a professor of agricultural economics with Fukushima University.

He added: “More money should be spent on production areas to support efforts for improving breeds and the equipment.”

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14592481

May 1, 2022 - Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: