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Farmland conversion up after disaster, yomiuri, 11/7/11

The number of successful applications to convert agricultural land to some other use in coastal areas of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures jumped about 2.5-fold from April through October this year from the corresponding period in 2010, according to government sources.

This has given rise to concern among local governments and experts that residents may rebuild their houses without reference to any overall plan, thus hindering the efficient reconstruction of infrastructure for water supply and other essential services.

The number of applications has been rising apparently because residents who lost homes due to the March 11 quake and tsunami plan to build new houses on farmland that is on higher ground.

The central government has encouraged local governments to speed up the processing of such applications. Most have been approved, which may lead to the random building of new houses.

Under the current system, the central or relevant prefectural government must grant permission for agricultural land to be converted to some other purpose, such as residential or industrial use.

Local agricultural committees first examine the applications, and the central or prefectural governments decide whether to approve them. The system is designed to preserve high-quality farming land, which is the foundation of the national food supply, by setting restrictions on conversion.

It usually takes about three months for a landowner to obtain permission after an application is filed. However, if the land is highly productive farmland, it usually takes about six months because its designation under a law to promote farming in certain areas must be dissolved.

In coastal regions of the two prefectures, residential areas were concentrated on narrow plains. Many such areas were severely damaged by the tsunami following the March 11 quake.

In Miyagi Prefecture, many residential areas were designated as places where construction of new houses and other buildings was temporarily prohibited, to prevent random construction from obstructing future urban planning.

The Miyagi prefectural government said 15 cities and towns in its coastal areas gave permission in 518 cases for the conversion of agricultural land to residential use between April and October. The figure is about 2.5 times higher than that in the corresponding period last year.

The rise in Kesennuma in the prefecture has been remarkable: The number of authorizations jumped 6.5-fold to 257.

In 12 municipalities on the coast of Iwate Prefecture, the total number of authorizations has more than doubled from last year’s corresponding period to 358.

The prefectural government said almost all the applications were approved, if the farmland in question was not damaged by the tsunami.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry instructed local governments a week after the disaster to speed up procedures to convert the usage of highly productive land, to promote reconstruction.

Government officials believe the measure has encouraged people to file applications.

The home of Tadao Kanno, 67, in Kesennuma’s Karakuwacho district was destroyed by the tsunami. In July, he decided to build a new house on a farming plot behind the site of his former home and three to four meters higher upland.

His application to convert the land to residential land was approved.

Kanno underwent surgery last year, and now lives in a temporary housing unit with his wife near the site of his destroyed home.

“I can’t abandon the land, which I inherited from my ancestors. I want to rebuild my house as soon as possible,” he said.

However, local governments in the area apparently did not expect so many people would convert their farmland to residential land before a comprehensive reconstruction plan had been completed.

An official of the Miyagi prefectural government’s post-disaster reconstruction section said, “If construction of houses progresses here and there in an unordered manner, it may become difficult for us to act in accordance with our reconstruction plans for the use of land.”

(Nov. 7, 2011)

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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