Japanese Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture has been popular in US cities for quite a while.  Just recently however Japan has noticed a growing interest in urban agriculture.  A recent LA Times article described this trend of urban dwellers with no backyard of their own renting plots on the edge of Japanese cities to farm. The philosophy of jisan jisho, or ‘local food for local consumption’ underlies the trend.  An excerpt below describes the process:

For an annual fee of about $500 per parcel, Mochida [a life long farmer] shows the elderly couples and young families how to plant seeds twice a year and when to water and harvest. They take home their vegetables, and Mochida receives government subsidies to help pay for water, seeds and tools.

The Tokyo government recently reported that requests to rent the 15 feet by 10 feet plots on public land in residential areas exceed the supply 3 to 1.  Even though it is still “more convenient and cheaper to buy food in a supermarket,” according to one urban farmer, the demand for these plots continues to increase.

The increased interest in urban agriculture in Japan is not the only significant international example of urban agriculture.  Havana also has observed extensive development urban agriculture, however unlike Japan Cubans developed an interest in urban agriculture out of a necessity to survive.

The main reason for this shift to urban agriculture was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the lose of Cuba’s only sourcee of petroleum.  Without petroleum, chemical pesticides and fertilizers were not obtainable and tractors had no fuel.  Therefore a dramatic shift was necessary and Cubans began growing their own food. Today 70 percent of the vegetables grown in Cuba are organic and are usually raised within walking distance of those who will consume them.

In Japan one of the main reasons for increased urban agriculture is government intervention to persuade farmers to better utilize unused farmland.  As of February 2010, 979,00 acres of Japan’s farmland was empty.  According to the LA Times article, high import tariffs, an outdated distribution system and a lack of scale are to blame for the inactivity of many farmers. To promote the use of this land the government has been offering subsidies to farmers if they rent out land and knowledge to urban residents interested in growing their own food.

Even if Japanese city dwellers have developed curiosity for urban agriculture simply as a hobby promoted by government subsidies it is a step in the right direction towards more sustainable cities that are less dependent on food imports.

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