豊作でも高値 矛盾だらけのコメ政策見直せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 6, 2012)
Government should review contradictory rice policy
豊作でも高値 矛盾だらけのコメ政策見直せ(11月5日付・読売社説)

At this time of the autumn harvest, when new rice is being marketed, the contradictions of the country's rice policy have become glaringly apparent. There is no time to waste in carrying out agricultural reform.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has forecast a good harvest for this year's rice crop, the first in four years. The harvest is expected to reach about 8.2 million tons, surpassing demand by more than 200,000 tons.

However, rice prices have gone up despite the surplus. Interdealer rice prices in September were about 10 percent higher than those in the same month last year. This is because the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) increased the amount of its advance payments to rice farmers.

Zen-Noh probably aims to maintain its influence over rice farmers by purchasing their grain at high prices because the volume of rice it collects from farmers has been falling as more and more producers sell directly to major consuming areas.

Driving rice prices higher despite a good harvest is logic peculiar to agricultural cooperatives. It will never win the understanding of the public.


Imported rice drawing attention

It is also problematic that there is a shortage of reasonably priced rice used by restaurants and bento shops even though there should be enough rice to meet demand. This has made imported rice more attractive. In bidding in September, demand surpassed the 25,000 tons of imported rice to be sold by 3.6 times.

Due to the deflation that has taken root in the country, demand for cheap rice is becoming stronger year by year. As a result, price competition within the restaurant and bento industries--which currently account for 30 percent of rice demand--has become increasingly fierce. The popularity of imported rice illustrates the reality that domestically produced rice does not meet the market trend toward low-priced rice.

There is also concern over a possible shortage of rice for processing, which is used to make rice snacks and miso, among other things. Despite the fact that the production of rice for livestock feed has jumped, that of rice for processing has not increased. Last year, the production of rice for livestock feed surpassed that of rice for processing.

As a result, prices of rice for processing surged, and the farm ministry took the emergency measure of marketing about 40,000 tons of old rice produced in 2006 from the government's stockpiled rice. This is an unusual situation.


Subsidies driving crop choices

The government pays rice farmers a subsidy of 80,000 yen for every 0.1 hectare of rice for livestock feed, but only 20,000 yen for rice for processing. This is why planting of rice for livestock feed, which is easy to manage and enables farmers to receive more subsidies, is increasing.

Livestock, including cattle and pigs, raised with feed produced overseas is not recognized as having been domestically produced and is therefore not considered in calculating the country's food self-sufficiency rate. The government appears to be trying to raise this rate by giving favorable treatment to rice for livestock feed. However, it is hard to understand why old rice is used for processing and new rice is used as feed for livestock.

What is needed is a rice policy that meets consumer needs. If nothing is done, consumers may shift away from rice even further.

A fundamental problem lies in the current system under which the government and agricultural organizations maintain high rice prices through production adjustments and high tariffs on imported rice.

Simply doling out subsidies to farmers will never strengthen the country's agricultural industry. The government should quickly carry out reform to establish agricultural administration for rice whose policies will focus on farmers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 5, 2012)
(2012年11月5日01時29分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2012-11-07 05:51 | 英字新聞

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