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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 | , , | Leave a comment

Farmers in Fukushima plant indigo to rebuild devastated town

March 2, 2021

MINAMISOMA, Japan — Because of radiation released by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster a decade ago, farmers in nearby Minamisoma weren’t allowed to grow crops for two years.

After the restriction was lifted, two farmers, Kiyoko Mori and Yoshiko Ogura, found an unusual way to rebuild their lives and help their destroyed community. They planted indigo and soon began dying fabric with dye produced from the plants.

“Dyeing lets us forget the bad things” for a while, Mori said. “It’s a process of healing for us.”

The massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, caused three of the reactors at the nuclear plant to melt and wrecked more than just the farmers’ livelihoods. The homes of many people in Minamisoma, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the plant, were destroyed by the tsunami. The disaster killed 636 town residents, and tens of thousands of others left to start new lives.

Mori and Ogura believed that indigo dyeing could help people in the area recover.

Mori said they were concerned at first about consuming locally grown food, but felt safe raising indigo because it wouldn’t be eaten. They checked the radiation level of the indigo leaves and found no dangerous amount.

Ten years after the disaster, Mori and Ogura are still engaged in indigo dyeing but have different missions.

To Mori, it has become a tool for building a strong community in a devastated town and for fighting unfounded rumors that products from Fukushima are still contaminated. She favors the typical indigo dyeing process that requires some chemical additives.

But Ogura has chosen to follow a traditional technique that uses fermentation instead as a way to send a message against dangers of modern technology highlighted by nuclear power.

Mori formed a group called Japan Blue which holds workshops that have taught indigo dyeing to more than 100 people each year. She hopes the project will help rebuild the dwindling town’s sense of community.

Despite a new magnitude 7.3 earthquake that recently hit the area, the group did not cancel its annual exhibition at a community center that served as an evacuation center 10 years ago.

“Every member came to the exhibition, saying they can clean up the debris in their houses later,” Mori said.

Ogura, who is not a member of the group, feels that a natural process is important because the nuclear accident showed that relying on advanced technology for efficiency while ignoring its negative aspects can lead to bad consequences.

“I really suffered during the nuclear accident,” Ogura said. “We escaped frantically in the confusion. I felt I was doing something similar again” by using chemicals.

“We seek too much in the way of many varieties of beautiful colors created with the use of chemicals. We once thought our lives were enriched by it, but I started feeling that wasn’t the case,” she said. “I want people to know what the real natural color looks like.”

Organic indigo dyes take more time and closer attention. Ogura first ferments chopped indigo leaves with water for a month and then mixes the result with lye which is formed on the surface of a mixture of hot water and ashes. It has to be kept at about 20 degrees C (68 degrees F) and stirred three times a day.

Part of the beauty of the process, Ogura says, is that it’s hard to predict what color will be produced.

With the support of city officials, Ogura started making silk face masks dyed with organic indigo.

She used to run an organic restaurant where she served her own vegetables before the disaster, but now runs a guesthouse with her husband in which visitors can try organic indigo dyeing.

Just 700 meters (2,300 feet) from Ogura’s house, countless black bags filled with weakly contaminated debris and soil are piled along the roadside. They have been there since after the disaster, according to Ogura’s husband, Ryuichi. Other piles are scattered around the town.

“The government says it’s not harmful to leave them there. But if they really think it’s not harmful, they should take them to Tokyo and keep them near them,” he said.

The radiation waste stored in the town is scheduled to be moved to a medium-term storage facility by March next year, a town official said.

https://www.startribune.com/farmers-in-fukushima-plant-indigo-to-rebuild-devastated-town/600029579/

March 6, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Evacuated Fukushima town begins efforts to have produce restrictions lifted

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People are seen planting produce during a cultivation test in the Morotake district of the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sept. 2, 2019, in this photo provided by the Futaba Municipal Government.
September 9, 2019
FUTABA, Fukushima — Vegetable cultivation trials began in September in this town, which has been completely evacuated since Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station melted down following the earthquakes and tsunami in March 2011.
The prefectural government has been putting on the trials with cooperation from the town office as well as farmers who were based in the town in northeastern Japan.
At a full staff meeting of the town assembly on Sept. 5, it was explained that if the crops can be confirmed to be safe, then the aim will be to have shipping restrictions removed on a part of the town whose evacuation orders are expected to be lifted next spring. It is thought that doing so will help revive farming in the area.
According to the town office, seeds and saplings for five produce items, including broccoli, cabbage and spinach, were planted at three locations in the Morotake district on Sept. 2. The district is currently classed as an area preparing for the lifting of an evacuation order, from which orders may soon be lifted.
It is the first planting in the town to produce food since the onset of the nuclear disaster in March 2011. Harvesting is expected to take place from late October to mid-November, but because the aim is to confirm data, all of the crop will be disposed of and not distributed.
If the inspection can confirm that the radiation dosage is lower than the national standard of 100 becquerels per 1 kilogram, then the prefectural government will make a request to the national government to have the shipment restrictions on the area removed.
Shipment restrictions are aimed at leafy and non-leafy headed types of vegetables, as well as mustards such as broccoli, and turnips. Immediately after the start of the nuclear disaster, these items all across the prefecture were under restrictions, but as areas have each confirmed the safety of their crops, they have been lifted.
Excluding areas deemed “difficult-to-return” zones, only the parts of Futaba that are classed as preparing for the lifting of evacuation orders remain as areas yet to have the restrictions removed.
(Japanese original by Tatsushi Inui, Iwaki Local Bureau)

September 14, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese government to send staff to disaster-hit Fukushima towns to help restart farming production

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Yoshiyuki Takahashi(left), the head of an agriculture promotion association in Fukuoka Prefecture, examines vegetables produced in the prefecture at a grocery in Tokyo’s Minato Ward in March
Sep 3, 2019
The agriculture ministry said Tuesday it will send officials to 12 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that were hit by the 2011 nuclear disaster to help farmers there resume agricultural production.
From April 2020, one official will be stationed in each of the 12 municipalities near Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, including the facility’s two host towns.
The ministry officials will create teams with prefectural government and local agricultural cooperatives officials.
The teams will hold discussions with local farmland owners and farmers hoping to expand their operations in order to devise and implement farming resumption plans.
The ministry hopes to consolidate abandoned parcels of farmland in cooperation with local agriculture-related organizations and start large-scale farming there using advanced equipment.
Due to the nuclear disaster, farming had been stopped on a total of 17,298 hectares of land in the 12 municipalities. As of the end of March 2018, farming had resumed on 4,345 hectares, only a fourth of the total.

September 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment