construction, economy, employment, empoyment, environment, farming, fishing, land, yomiuri shinbun

Farmland unproductive 3 years on, yomiuri shinbun, 3/1/14

With the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake approaching, numbers do not match reality in terms of progress on reconstruction, adding to the woes of people affected.

As of late last year, official statistics released by the Reconstruction Agency and other government bodies showed significant progress especially on “town rebuilding” efforts, such as the disposal of debris and reconstructing medical institutions and schools, over the past year. In many areas where collective relocation had been in the planning stages last year, 87 percent of construction has begun on the planned projects, while 91 percent of debris disposal has been completed.

In the fishery sector, which was hit hard by the 2011 disaster, the region’s fish haul has recovered to 70 percent of predisaster levels. Sixty-three percent of farmland damaged by tsunami is said to have been restored.

Despite these figures, local people in the farming sector appear glum.

“Farmland that was filled with debris appears to have been restored over the past year, but…” Yukiyoshi Aizawa, a 63-year-old farmer, said of a plot of land in the district of Rokugo in eastern Sendai.

In fiscal 2012, the central government launched farmland restoration work in the district about 1.5 kilometers from the sea. In addition to debris disposal, work to remove salt by repeatedly pouring freshwater onto the farmland was carried out. Such efforts are supposed to help farmland return to normal.

However, soybeans Aizawa planted in June grew to 20 centimeters before the leaves turned yellow and the plants died. He planted soybeans again in July, with the same result.

In cooperation with other farmers, Aizawa planted soybeans in a nearby 45-hectare field, but they were unable to harvest any soybeans in a 30-hectare area. The concentration of salt in the soil of the farmland might have remained too high.

The percentage of farmland restored, 63 percent, has been calculated on areas of land returned to farmers. The figure does not show whether farmers were able to harvest any produce.

“We don’t have statistics on that,” an official of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said.

Similar complaints have also been heard from farmers in Iwate Prefecture.

“After the disaster, we’ve seen seawater flowing back to five kilometers in the upper stream of some rivers due to land subsidence. Even after restoration work is done, people have been unable to harvest crops on some farmland because of the lack of freshwater,” an official of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives in Ofunato said.

Double-edged sword

The job offers-to-seekers ratios of January in three disaster-stricken prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were higher than the national average of 1.04, meaning there were 104 job offers for every 100 job seekers.

The ratios were 1.09 in Iwate Prefecture and 1.31 in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

By prefecture, the ratio of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures ranked seventh and that of Iwate 17th among the nation’s 47 prefectures.

According to the Miyagi Labor Bureau, the special procurement boom based on reconstruction projects favorably affected the prefecture’s ratio. In addition, emergency employment measures were conducted by the central government to create more than 20,000 jobs only in Miyagi Prefecture in fiscal 2013.

Consequently, the number of job seekers, which is the denominator in calculating the ratio, fell by 20 percent to 44,000 from the February 2011 figure, just before the March 11, 2011, disaster.

These factors boosted the job-offers-to-seekers ratio in the prefecture, the bureau said.

Similar job tendency is also seen in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.

The figures show the unemployment problem seems to have been resolved, but new problems have also arisen—as the government’s employment measures had job seekers turning away from fisheries and other local industries.

“No matter how hard we recruit employees through Hello Work, we can’t get a sufficient number of people,” said Tadatoshi Oshima, 65, president of a marine products processing company in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

The firm’s new plant, which is now under construction in the city, will start operation in September. It formerly employed about 100 people, but the number decreased by half after the disaster, and it remains at that level.

No more than one person in a month receives a job interview for the firm through the Hello Work public job placement offices. It remains uncertain when the company can solve its labor shortage, he said.

In Kesennuma, construction workers are now paid about ¥10,000 a day, and those who get a job via the government’s emergency employment program—such as patrolling temporary housing units—receive about ¥8,000 a day.

The daily wages are attractive for job seekers while the fishery processing firm pays about ¥6,000, observers said.

The Kesennuma Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that while local companies are beginning to be restored, the government’s emergency employment measures have begun to choke off the local key industries.

About liz

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

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