Creed raises global challenge of rural depopulation with officials in Tokyo

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has offered input to Japanese officials on how to tackle rural depopulation, family farm succession challenges and ageing farmer populations.

On day two of the government of Ireland, agri-food trade mission to Asia, Minister Creed held talks with Japan’s Minister of State for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Yousuka Isozak, in Tokyo.

During the meeting the ministers discussed the challenge of rural depopulation – a trend common to both countries; however, the problem is on a much larger scale in Japan, where 93% of the population live in urban centres.

Minister Creed extended Minister Ioszak an invitation to visit Ireland where he could have an opportunity to see how the country is working to tackle the issue on the ground.

The global challenge of declining rural areas – including issues around family farm succession and land abandonment – was also referenced during Minister Creed’s meeting with Japan’s Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare, Minister Katsunobo Kato, yesterday.

“Isn’t it interesting that the world over, countries to one extent or the other, are facing similar challenges on age profile issues in agriculture. Across the European Union it has become a cause of common concern and here land abandonment is a big issue.

“Considering they are only 40% self-sufficient in food, it’s a difficult problem to grapple with. There is an increasingly urbanised society here, they are dealing with a whole range of stuff that we hear about at home; in rural Japan it is the same,” he said.

There is a commonality around some of the issues for agriculture globally. We were in the environment tonight of sharing things that we are trying to do to address these issues. You could say to some extent that that is an opportunity as well.

The number of pig farmers in Japan has fallen drastically from 83,000 in 1985, to an estimated 5,000 today, according to official statistics.

Although Japan is the third biggest economy in the world – with 50% of the world’s middle-class population is projected to live in south east Asia by 2050 – various government officials, agri-industry consultants, and dairy and beef experts have highlighted the long-term threat of demographic decline this week.

It is understood that the issue is one of the main reasons that the country’s dependency on imports is set to rise substantially over the coming years – particularly in light of the new Japan–EU trade deal which will see a significant reduction in tariffs on food and drink.

Japan imported 4.5 million tonnes of dairy products between April 2016 and March 2017 – of which cheese accounted for 3.2 million tonnes.

Speaking at a trade mission event at the Embassy of Ireland, in Tokyo, Mr Shuichi Kameyama, a leading dairy consultant, said:

Domestic production is coming down because dairy farmers don’t see a future, there is no succession. Their children are going to the cities and they are not interested in taking on the farm.

“It means the Japanese will have to import more dairy products to meet growing demand. We are seeing a steady growth in consumption of dairy through yogurt, powdered soup, sports nutrition products.

“Growth in cheese consumption is also partly down to young Japanese people travelling abroad and returning with new consumer trends,” he said.

Today, over sixty Japanese influential dairy buyers, importers and food service operators joined the Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia, Teagasc and Ireland’s leading dairy exporters in Tokyo for the inaugural Ireland – Japan Sustainable Dairy Forum’.

The seminar focused on building sustainable trade relationships between the two nations; and included detailed presentations from senior Irish and Japanese officials on food safety controls, dairy market updates and trends, free trade agreements and Origin Green, Ireland’s food and drink sustainability programme.

Ireland’s total dairy exports to Japan in 2016 came to over €17 million, with cheese accounting for an estimated 70% of value. In volume terms, Ireland exported 5,568t to Japan in 2016, an increase of 23% on the previous year and a doubling in 5 years.