Getting involved through sustainable farmingOrganic farming is still a minor industry within the Japanese agricultural sector. The hot and humid climate during summer poses challenges to sustainable agriculture. The rainy season in early summer brings heavy rain and floods, washing away soil and slowing down root growth. The extreme heat of the following months accelerates weed growth and insect propagation. To counteract the spread of weeds and insects, chemical fertilizers are oftentimes employed, which in turn damage the soil. Soil health, however, is essential for organic farming. Yet, a small ‘back to farm’ movement can be observed in recent years. The demand for organic food continues to rise among Japanese consumers, indicating a growing awareness of the importance of sustainable farming methods among the population.
The Japanese Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries established the Act of Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) in 2000, certifying organic farmland, organic plants, and organic plant-based processed foods. Since 2020, the JAS logo also verifies organic livestock products and organic animal-derived processed products, which follow the official guidelines of sustainable production, processing, labeling, and marketing.
Another governmental effort to boost awareness of and involvement with sustainable agriculture is through initiatives, which not only teach about the importance of organic farming but also offer firsthand experiences in agribusinesses, thereby connecting farm households with the urban population and younger generations.
Can vertical farming save Japan’s agricultural sector?In light of Japan’s double threat to traditional agriculture, urbanization and a greying agricultural workforce, the sector is turning to technological innovations. One of these is vertical farming. With this method, large quantities of produce can be grown indoors, stacked in layers on ceiling-high shelves. Almost no human labor is needed since the produce is shifted automatically by machines. Artificial light and smart machinery equipment guarantee consistent output and quality throughout the year. This independence from seasons and weather also allows for stable prices, making vertically farmed food an attractive alternative to traditionally cultivated produce for Japanese customers.
Under vertical farming conditions, neither soil nor fertilizers are needed. Together with a comparably low water usage, vertical farming seems to be a promising alternative to traditional methods. However, energy demand for lighting and machinery are, together with high initial costs, aspects that keep investors hesitant. Shifting to renewable energy could be a step to make vertical farming more environmentally friendly, affordable, and therefore, commercially successful.
In a country, where land and labor are running short, vertical farming might solve some of the most pressing issues the Japanese farming sector is currently facing.