Agricultural Politics of Self-Sufficiency and Dependency

Felice Farina


Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate was 73% in I960, but it fell rapidly and reached 39% in 2011; the lowest among major industrialized countries.1 The food self-sufficiency rate, which is based on calorific intake, refers to the ratio of calorie supply from domestically produced food to the total calorie consumed by each person on a daily basis. In other words, this means that of the 2,415 kcal that each Japanese person consumes every day, only 947 kcal come from food produced within the borders of the country.[1] [2] This drastic decline has been attributed to both a weakening of domestic production, as well as to a radical change in dietary habits in postwar years. On the one hand, the small farm sizes, the aging farming population, the decline of farming income, and a fall in cultivable land have reduced Japan’s capability to produce enough food to meet the needs of its population. On the other hand, the lifestyle of Japanese consumers changed from a traditional diet to a westernized one, with an increase in the consumption of meat, wheat, oils, dairy products, and a decrease in the consumption of ‘traditional’ food, such as rice, that has led to a major consumption of imported food.[3] Some scholars have focused on the political causes behind the decline in Japan’s food self-sufficiency.[4] They assert that post-war agricultural protectionism, in particular the prolonged protection of the rice sector above other goods, has been a hindrance to Japan’s agricultural productivity growth. According to these authors, this protectionist policy has arisen as a result of the Liberal Democratic Party’s strategy to strengthen its electoral support among the rural population. Others have tried to analyse the international causes that affected the increase in Japan’s food dependency, highlighting the influence of the USA and international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) in opening Japan’s agricultural market and, thus, in letting the food self-sufficiency rate decline.[5]

Japan’s high dependence on food imports raises concerns to the government, and in particular to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (Norinsuisansho, MAFF), about Japan’s capacity to ensure stable and secure food supplies in the mid to long term. According to the MAFF, a low food self-sufficiency rate is a risk factor for Japan’s national food security because it makes Japan more exposed to the fluctuations of the international food market, resulting from, for example, food crises due to bad harvests, structural changes in world food markets, or political turmoil altering international trade. Therefore, in recent years the government and the MAFF have put in place a range of measures, such as Food Action Nippon or the Law on Food Education, analysed in detail by Assmann and Reiher in their contributions to this volume, in order to increase the food self-sufficiency rate to 45% by 2025.[6] It is important to note that in Japan there is a strong academic debate between the scholars who support MAFF policy and claim that Japan should increase its self-sufficiency in order to improve food security,[7] and those who assert that food security and food self-sufficiency are not necessarily related (an example often cited is North Korea, which has a food self-sufficiency rate of almost 100% but is not food secure) and that food security can be achieved through friendly international relations with exporting countries, thus securing a food supply system.[8]

The present chapter draws upon a food regime approach and explores the interaction between international food trade dynamics and Japanese policymaking in a long-term perspective in order to explain how Japan became so heavily dependent on imported food. As such, it shows how the food regime perspective, which scholars have barely applied to the Japanese case, is indeed particularly useful in analysing Japan’s dependence on food imports.

The aim of this work is twofold. Empirically, it aims to put the analysis of Japanese food dependence into the historical framework of food regime theory, understanding how Japan reacted to the structuring of the global food system and how it contributed to it. Theoretically, it attempts to relativize the western-centrism of the food-regime theory. Some authors criticize the fact that food regime theorists have concentrated on too few countries for a complete reading of global food development. They claim that those theorists fail to accommodate the differentiated experiences of nation states and underplay national variations, relying heavily on explaining international regulation in terms of

US hegemony.[9] Other scholars have tried to investigate the relation between the dynamics of international food regimes and Japan’s food situation, but they tend to focus on one particular food regime[10] [11] or on a single bilateral relation.11 Here, I assume that an overall and long-term analysis of Japan’s international food trade is essential to understanding the causes of Japan’s low level of food self-sufficiency.

This study attempts to fill this gap in the literature. I will not only apply the food regime theory to Japanese experience, but will also try to show how Japan played a crucial role in the formation of the rules that underpinned the three historical food regimes identified by Friedmann and McMichael, which will be analysed in detail in the following paragraphs.

  • [1] MAFF, ‘Shokuryo jikyuritsu to wa’.
  • [2] There are several methods to calculate the food self-sufficiency rate (e.g. in terms of monetary orproduction value), however the method based on calories is, with minor adjustments, the mostwidely used in academic papers and policy discussions. F. Farina (*) Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japane-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it © The Author(s) 2017 363 A. Niehaus, T. Walravens (eds.), Feeding Japan, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50553-4_14
  • [3] Ministry of Agriculture, Forestries and Fishery. ‘Shokuseikatsu to shokuryo jikyuritsu no kankei’.
  • [4] See George Mulgan, ‘Electoral Determinants’, 875—899 and Japan’s Interventionist State (2005);Yamashita, ‘Tokei no hari’.
  • [5] See: Suzuki, Shokuryo no senso.
  • [6] The target has been reviewed several times, due to the difficulties in achieving it. In 2000, thegovernment announced the Basic Plan for Agriculture and Rural Areas (Shokuryd ndgyd ndsonkihon keikan), where it decided to raise the food self-sufficiency rate from 40% to 45% by 2010. In2010, a new plan provided for an increase in the rate to 50% by 2020. The last plan of 2015provides, as we have seen, a target of 45% by 2024.
  • [7] See: Shimazaki, Shokuryd jikyuritsu; Suematsu, Shokuryd jikyuritsu no naze?.
  • [8] See: Asakawa, Nihon wa sekai; Hayami, Ndgyd keizairon, and ‘Food Security: Fallacy or Reality?’;Honma, ‘Sekai no shokuryo’, 1—30, and Gendai Nihon no ndgyd Tashiro, Shokuryd jikyuritsu.
  • [9] Goodman and Watts, ‘Reconfiguring the Rural’, 1—49.
  • [10] Okada, ‘The Role of Japan’.
  • [11] Araki, ‘Fudo rejimu ron’, 31—49 and ibid. ‘Senzeki chosen’, 15—29.
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