Collective Farming in Hikawa as a Local Administrative Strategy
Hikawa has gained a national reputation as a role model for consolidating farmland in the hands of ninaite farms. Yet, the lion’s share of Hikawa’s impressive ninaite rate is made up of collective farming, signalling a local interpretation of ninaite policies under which both the inflow of state support to the locality and the number of clients depending on the distribution of this support remains high. As of late 2013, more than 1,000 of the 1,602 farm households in Hikawa were organized in hamlet-based farm cooperatives. Had their farmland instead been concentrated in fewer, but larger individual farms, this would have reduced the number of active farm households more drastically. Instead, the high share of land under collective cultivation effectively blocks the further expansion of large individual farms, let alone the entry of ‘externals’ into the local farm sector. Collective cultivation also facilitates agricultural governance. For instance, hamlet farms in Hikawa - highly dependent on paddy field diversion subsidies - faithfully follow the paddy field diversion plans from the local administration and JA Hikawa en bloc, thus contributing to an extraordinarily well-organized local system of organizing rice production control. For the local cooperative in particular, hamlet farming is an
‘anchor’ in the local farm sector. Hamlet farms in Hikawa have never stopped selling rice and diversion crops exclusively via their local cooperative, and they also remain closely attached to the co-op in other ways. This includes forms of direct influence (e.g. JA Hikawa acting as a shareholder), loans made via the cooperative bank, but also informal ways of ‘administrative guidance’, for example, help with accounting, or applying for subsidies, and information in general. The role of the local cooperative as a gatekeeper for state support is thus reinforced.
Importantly, the strategy of promoting collective cultivation already emerged in the early 1990s. At that time, exclusive subsidization for ninaite was not yet on the political agenda; but preferential access to state funding - that is, infrastructural projects - was. On the basis of massive land improvement projects, a first wave of hamlet farms was already founded from 1991 onwards, following the model of the pioneer hamlet farm mentioned above. In 2004, Hikawa already had 28 hamlet-based farms, more than half of which engaged in collective cultivation. None of the farms met the formal requirements to receive the exclusive subsidies introduced in 2007. Yet, they served as the basis for a quick and comprehensive local reaction to the policy change. Already in 2006, the agricultural administration began promoting the formalization of pre-existing hamlet-based farms. On top of that, several new hamlet-based farms were founded. By December 2008, more than 30 hamlet-based collective farms met the formal requirements for the 2007 subsidy scheme - the inflow of national subsidies to the town remained steady despite a more exclusive subsidization.